Advances in lab/testing equipment help ensure product
There isn’t a single
beverage that hits U.S. store shelves without first undergoing extensive
testing on the product itself and the container. Testing for microorganisms
is standard, but beverage-makers also perform myriad tests to determine
such things as the amount of carbon dioxide or sugar in a product, whether
a sodium-free product is actually free of sodium, the strength of a
product’s container, and whether its closure is correctly applied.
Testing methods are basically the same throughout the
industry, but some product categories require different tests, or different
applications of a particular test, than others.
“Oxygen is a good example of something that
would be tested in one environment and not another,” says Marc
Epstein, vice president of Terriss Consolidated Industries Inc., an Asbury
Park, N.J.-based manufacturer and distributor of scientific instruments and
laboratory supplies. “Although a soft drink is not very
sensitive to oxygen, metal cans can still corrode in the presence of
oxygen. This means that soft drinks are tested for oxygen in cans, but not
in glass and plastic bottles. Beer and juice are more sensitive to oxygen
because the product can oxidize and turn color. Just like bananas
eventually turn brown, orange juice can turn brown if there’s too
much oxygen present in the container.”
While some products are more regulated than others,
manufacturers perform the majority of tests to ensure product quality
rather than to meet mandated standards.
“Any food or beverage plant is going to be
concerned with the possibility of microbial activity,” says Epstein.
“Companies are always trying to evaluate and ensure product quality
and make sure that plants are running according to company-developed
protocols. That could be as simple as ensuring a changeover is handled
properly so you don’t create a drink that’s a combination of
For beverage-makers, microbiological testing is
conducted, in part, to ensure that products are free of pathogens, such as E. coli or Listeria, which can cause illness or
even death. But the presence of microorganisms in a beverage, even if
they’re not pathogens, can also affect flavor, quality and shelf
life. Accordingly, microbiological testing is performed by virtually all beverage companies as part of the
Bacteria and fungi are the two major types of
microorganisms for which beverage-makers test. The traditional testing
method involves taking a product sample, placing it in a petri dish, or a
glass plate or slide, incubating the sample, and waiting to see if bacteria
or fungi grow. Lab technicians typically take a 100-ml. product sample, put
it through a monitor and use a vacuum pump to pull the sample through a
membrane at the bottom of the monitor before combining it with the
appropriate media and placing it into an incubator.
Bacteria tests take two to three days, while fungi
tests require five to seven days. Media used in these tests include
MF-Endo; M-Green Yeast and Mold; MI, which is used to test the presence of
total coliform and E. coli; M-FC; and HPC. These media are combined with the samples to
detect the growth of specific types of microorganisms. While this type of
testing and the media are standard, membrane sizes vary by product; for
example, more viscous products, such as those containing syrup, or
carbonated products would use a different size/thickness membrane than
“It’s usually a 100-ml. size sample, and
lab technicians will use a 47- or 56-ml. monitor,” says John Perini,
director of sales and marketing for Keene, N.H.-based Schleicher &
Schuell BioScience Inc., a provider of quality
control materials for bottled water and beverage QC labs, including testing
media and monitors, and filtration equipment
and supplies. “They want to make sure they capture everything in that
sample to ensure they’re getting a very accurate portrayal if
there’s any type of contaminant or organism present in the
product,” he says.
One of the challenges beverage-makers face is that the
testing process can slow the production process. While manufacturers want
to ensure the quality of their products, they also want to complete testing
in a timely fashion so production can continue and the finished beverages
can be shipped to stores. This is particularly true in the case of
high-volume products such as bottled water or soft drinks, and for
perishable products such as milk and orange juice.
At the same time, beverage-makers are under pressure
to hold down both production costs and consumer prices. As a result, many
manufacturers are employing rapid analysis methods and equipment so testing
can be completed faster. “Price in this field is critical,”
says Pascal Yvon, chief executive officer at AES Chemunex Inc., a
Princeton, N.J.-based provider of lab equipment for microbiology analysis.
“Consumers always ask for better products and lower prices. A
beverage company has to be creative and innovative in the way they develop
their products, and at the same time, make sure that they produce better
products at a lower cost.”
To that end, AES Chemunex introduced a rapid analysis
product last year, the BactiFlow compact microbial analyzer, which detects the presence of
microorganisms within a day, and allows for testing of larger sample sizes.
Rapid methods allow beverage-makers to streamline their operations and gain
a competitive edge in the marketplace.
“If a company decides to be very safe and stock
a juice product in tanks for seven days for testing, it’s a lot of
money that’s not moving,” says Yvon. “It’s very
important to beverage companies to be extremely reactive to the market. For
example, if a maker of juices or concentrates has hundreds of liters of
product, but says to a customer, ‘you’ll have to wait two weeks
to get it,’ somebody else is probably going to come along and say,
‘our product is available now.’ So it can be a competitive
advantage to be ready now, which is why rapid methods are so attractive to
Other beverage testing
Beverages aren’t the only thing manufacturers
test. Ensuring that packages are filled properly and meet standards for
safety and strength also requires testing. Zahm & Nagel Co. Inc., of
Holland, N.Y., is among the companies providing CO2 (carbon dioxide) and air
testers for bottles and cans to brewers and bottlers; this equipment tests
a product’s volume of CO2 and head space air, respectively, as well as the purity of
“Beverage-makers perform the CO2 test because
carbon dioxide has such an effect on the flavor of the product. They want
to be sure they have the proper amount of carbon dioxide,” says Zahm
& Nagel President David Koch. “It would be used in a soft drink
or in alcoholic beverages like beer or champagne, anything that is
Tests for carbon dioxide and head space air have been
standard since the 1930s and ‘40s, when products such as beer and
soft drinks began to be mass produced and distributed throughout the
“Head space air is the air that is picked up
during the process of producing soft drinks or alcoholic beverages. They
might pick it up during the filling process through leaky seals or bad
gaskets or something like that,” says Koch. “It’s really detrimental to the product, so manufacturers want to make
sure it doesn’t get in there.”
Like other testing technology and equipment, the
technology used to measure CO2 and head space air has remained virtually the same
since its widespread use began. However, many industry suppliers have
introduced advances that tweak the basic technology or make it easier or
more convenient to use. Terriss, for example, offers an electronic device
to measure head space air, a process traditionally performed manually. But
testing technology has generally been designed to keep pace with processing
technology to ensure compatibility between systems.
“Production equipment is a fixed investment. It
has a life cycle and inherent control capabilities,” says Epstein.
“Analytical equipment has to be able to measure as well as, if not
better than, production equipment. But it doesn’t make sense to
radically change your analytical equipment if you can’t change your
process. If the process can only be controlled to a specified extent,
having analytical ability that goes beyond that doesn’t buy you a
While some of the technology hasn’t changed
much, there has been a move toward employing analytical tools across the
beverage industry, such as software packages that track various plant
metrics that give an overall picture of the production process, including
“The primary thrust for the last five to 10
years has been the use of more sophisticated statistical tools and software
packages to be able to do a better job of slicing and dicing data to see
how a plant’s doing,” says Epstein.
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The February 2020 issue dives into Essentia water, their high-pH and high aspirations for ongoing innovation. Speaking of innovation, this issue also features a special report on how (and why) the zero-proof functional beverage market is growing. Also, check out what types of rifts and shifts are shaking up the wine category and discount variety stores, as well as the latest ingredient highlights (hint: exotic fruits make an appearance). To cap it off, peruse new product releases, the latest appearances in packaging, and holistic approaches to cognitive health. Thirsty for more? Subscribe to get the latest stories delivered right to your inbox.
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