One of the most important responsibilities in food production is moisture control — particularly for snack foods such as crackers, cookies, potato chips, etc. Moisture content not only impacts the product texture of palatability, but it also affects the shelf life of the product, and can thereby negatively affect the brand in question.
Despite its significance in the production of snack food, only some at-line methods are present to assist producers in verifying the moisture content of products before packaging. In food production, Near Infrared (NIR) Technologies and Infrared (IR) Moisture Balances are the most common moisture analysis instruments.
Image Credits: KPM Analytics
How Do IR Moisture Balances and NIR Technologies Compare?
To quantify the moisture content of most food products, an IR Moisture Balance is a highly reliable method. With a product sample placed within a climate-controlled chamber, these units essentially dry a product with a heating mechanism while simultaneously weighing the product. The instrument shows a moisture reading once the product is dried to a constant weight.
Despite its accuracy, IR Moisture Balances have certain limitations for particular types of products. Initially, every IR Moisture Balance is adjusted to a specific product weight. To attain a precise reading, each sample needs to be weighed before any study, including any other necessary sample preparation (such as grinding, crushing, etc.).
Furthermore, based on the sample’s initial moisture content, the testing process can go on for an unpredictable period (which lasts from 5 to 20 minutes), affecting the efficiency of the company negatively, particularly for retesting products. They also need to function in a controlled lab setting that is void of excessive humidity or vibration.
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NIR instrumentation utilizes particular wavelengths of light to examine samples for characteristic or compositional traits. As NIR light is exposed to samples, chemical bonds absorb some of the energy in the sample at particular wavelengths; hence, the reflected light has less absorption in these areas.
The detector on the NIR instrument collects this data and outputs a raw measurement of moisture, but also several other parameters, including fat (oil), protein, and more.
NIR technology is a simpler and quicker method to quantify moisture content when compared to an IR Moisture Balance.
At-line NIR instruments like the QuikCheck Moisture & Fat Analyzer are robustly designed and can operate in most factory conditions. In addition, there is a lot less sample preparation needed for such instruments – simply ensure the sample bowl is filled, and the analysis can begin.
Nevertheless, as NIR instrumentation is a secondary measurement approach, every device needs to be calibrated to a recognized moisture reading that can be achieved by an IR Moisture Balance. Consequently, NIR instrumentation can aid in streamlining and enhancing IR Moisture Balance protocols, thereby increasing efficiencies in several ways.
Image Credits: KPM Analytics
As the below customer found, with the help of a straightforward moisture (and fat) analyzer, one snack food company could reinvent its methods for controlling moisture with the help of the QuikCheck Analyzer.
About the Company
This particular potato chip manufacturer produces several varieties of flavors at their factory. The operation runs three shifts daily, each with a small team of quality assurance specialists ensuring process control.
As part of their protocol, team members are required to pull grab-samples of each product batch, crush them, and put them into one of eight IR Moisture Balance units in their quality lab.
Every potato chip moisture test lasts for about ten to fifteen minutes, which is why the company has several IR Moisture Balance units in its laboratory. Four of the Moisture Balances are exclusively dedicated to assessing fresh product batches, whereas the other four are meant to test moisture content followed by any corrective actions in the production routine.
Since several IR Moisture Balances can be running simultaneously, the quality assurance team must stay organized and keep accurate records.
The Search for a Simpler Solution to Control Moisture
With an almost new team, now, the quality assurance head of the company struggled to train the staff on the complex protocol, which resulted in out-of-spec products leaving the factory.
This led the company to begin studying alternatives to testing the food products’ moisture. During the search, Near Infrared (NIR) instrumentation and the QuikCheck Moisture & Fat Analyzer were introduced to the quality assurance head.
Three factors of the QuikCheck instantly grabbed were of interest:
- The capacity to precisely quantify moisture content (+/−0.1% based on product type) in just 10 seconds of analysis. However, as a bonus, measuring fat content could also aid the team in regulating ingredient usage and saving costs.
- The sample-preparation method is simple. The team does not need to weigh every sample.
- The tiny, robust unit could be seamlessly transported directly to the production floor instead of having to pull product samples repeatedly and carry them to their climate-controlled testing lab.
How to Use the QuikCheck Moisture & Oil Analyzer - 60 Second Demo
See the QuikCheck Moisture & Fat Analyzer in Action. Video credits: KPM Analytics, Inc.
A KPM Representative Visits the Production Facility with a QuikCheck
To start the demonstration, the KPM representative asked the manager to provide five samples of its potato chips that had already been evaluated by an IR Moisture Balance. He specifically requested in-spec and out-of-spec samples that required corrective actions.
In under 5 minutes, with only these five samples, the KPM rep created a QuikCheck calibration for their particular product. At the same time, the rep also set a standard for fat content — a parameter of quality that the company had not previously prioritized in their program.
To continue his testing, the KPM rep left the QuikCheck unit along with the quality control manager.
After several days of use, the manager started to observe a direct association between products’ readings from the IR Moisture Balance systems and the QuikCheck. As QuikCheck could provide equally accurate results in under 10 seconds, rather than 10+ minutes with his IR Moisture Balance, he realized that this method was a true game changer for his team.
Most importantly, the new staff are able to be trained on QuikCheck in a matter of minutes, which empowered them to make data-driven decisions on product quality.
After that initial demonstration, the QuikCheck unit stayed in the potato chip production facility and has aided the company in reinventing its protocol of quality assurance to be more efficient and precise.
This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by KPM Analytics.
For more information on this source, please visit KPM Analytics.