High-quality beverages usually have a particular characteristic that attracts consumers, such as the aroma, color, clarity, mouthfeel and, in some cases, the sound of the beverage when it is first opened. These qualities will vary depending on the type of drink, however if they differ in any way to what the consumer is expecting, it is likely their disappointment will result in a reluctance to purchase the product again. The beverage testing industry must delicately balance quality and turnaround; therefore, a robust quality control (QC) process is crucial for ensuring that a product meets expectations and is safe for consumption. In this article, we will explore why sensory investigation and microbiological analysis are among the biggest focuses when it comes to QC.
Quality control and beverage production
Beverage producers face many challenges and must consider many factors, from sourcing high-quality raw materials, to effectively training personnel and adopting qualified testing methods. In addition, to achieve a robust production process, these factors must work together harmoniously.
Fully trained and qualified experts, are needed in QC labs, tasting rooms and during the shipping process, all of whom ideally have a strong passion and love for the craft. Maintaining a ‘thirst’ for the industry is key to making a beverage the best it can be. Whilst raw materials are important, the assurance that these materials are being used within the specifications requested is often overlooked. For example, when buying hops for brewing beer, excessive moisture can lead to spoilage contamination, inefficient yeast fermentation, or even excessive hop creep. By performing moisture content analysis on a sample of the hops, using an instrument such as the Sartorius Moisture Analyzer MA160, you can avoid beer wastage and/or hop rejection. Lastly, qualified methods ensure that raw materials, production processes and finished goods meet your specifications and the consumers’ expectations. Without qualified methods and products in QC testing laboratories, the assurance for a high-quality beverage on the market is low and the brand will likely suffer as a result.
Analytical, microbial and physical testing
There are two key components to QC – analytical and microbiology testing is the first, followed by physical testing, which is a smaller, less significant component. Analytical testing is typically the first and easiest to set up, as the methods are clear, precise and well developed. Firstly, a laboratory water system, such as the Sartorius Arium® Lab Water System, is connected to a high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) system. Tests for alcohol by volume (ABV), syrup concentration or mineral composition are then performed using analytical instrumentation and sample preparation devices such as the Minisart® Syringe Filters.
The QC microbiology laboratory is important for detecting spoilage microorganisms, determining yeast titers and testing water. Although QC microbiology testing is often overlooked, it is the laboratory that is most likely to identify any problems within a production run. Most beverages are filterable, therefore a Biosart® 100 Monitor or Biosart® 250 funnel paired with a Nutrient Pad Set can be used to detect any spoilage microorganisms. Once you know you have spoilage microorganisms and the type of microorganism has been confirmed, you will have a better understanding of where the contamination has come from and consequently will know how to get rid of it.
If you happen to identify a buildup of organic & inorganic precipitate known as “beer stone” you must remove it from the current system via CIP or by installing new piping and set up a robust prevention program for future runs. Beer stones can pose a risk of microorganism harborage and can encourage biofilm, meaning it can have in-direct implications on product quality and safety. One important but often neglected area of QC is physical testing; laboratories test the product to ensure there are no foreign bodies, such as wood, glass, or metal. Using membrane filters with large pores, helps to remove floc haze which accumulates if the beverages have been sitting on the shelf for some time. Whilst floc haze and wood fragments do not necessarily affect taste, they are unsightly and can be off putting for consumers.
Small start-up beverage companies do not often have a QC program in place nor are they required to do so.
Each country will enforce specific mandatory criteria, so, it is important to check requirements with the relevant local authorities. The sooner a robust QC program is implemented into the production process, the easier it will be for the whole organization to adopt it. It will also simplify the process for making necessary changes as your facility evolves. Having flexibility within your site to find and mitigate these quality challenges as they arise, will help you prepare for any type of inspection.
Spoilage detection and water contamination
The presence of microorganisms can cause spoilage, leading to changes in color, taste, odor and mouthfeel. This is common within the beverage industry, however their impact varies depending on the type of microorganism detected; some microorganisms can be harmful to ingest, resulting in a product recall which can be detrimental to a brand’s reputation, even if the company subsequently rectifies the problem.
Another factor to consider with regards to contamination, is the quality of the water. Water is an essential aspect of beverage production, however many companies will only test their water once or twice a month (sometimes only once a quarter). Companies must treat and test their water to make sure that they maintain the highest level of quality in their facility. Water composition is influenced by the presence of chemicals, microorganisms and physical materials, therefore it can differ considerably depending on factors such as location and weather. If you do not treat the water, unwanted variation in water composition can make their way into the finished product and influence quality, in addition to blocking the pipework within the production line.
Here are two scenarios demonstrating the impact of water quality on two different companies.
A large beer company has two production sites: the primary site, located in a major metropolitan city and the other production site, located in a rural site. The primary site receives water from the city water system whereas the rural site uses a well. The “brand” is known primarily by the city production site therefore, the rural production site “treats” its water to match the chemical and physical characteristics of the water at the primary site each day. This way, regardless of where the beer is made, the consumers will not know which site made the beer.
A spirit manufacturer was experiencing floc haze and could not understand why this was happening. Despite conducting the necessary QC tests (e.g. production line, raw materials, oak barrels, etc.), the product developed severe floc haze once it was bottled. Following an investigation into their water tank, it turned out that the company had never treated the water, resulting in the development of biofilm. When mixing the spirit with the water to get the required alcohol by volume, they were unknowingly adding bacteria to the product, which was being destroyed by the alcohol. The product had therefore developed floc haze because of the dead bacteria present. The spirit manufacturer now flushes and cleans the water tank monthly and tests the water for microorganisms daily.
The importance of air monitoring and check weighing
When the product reaches the filling stations, air is blown into the bottles, cans or kegs before they are capped. By testing this air, you can obtain additional data about any potential spoilage microorganisms that could contaminate the beverage. Using the MD8 Airport Air System with the Gelatine Membrane Filters, you can use one membrane filter for your whole filling run and then place the Gelatine Membrane Filter on a media plate for microbial detection.
Check weighing is one of the last QC tests conducted on prepackaged products (e.g. cans, bottles and kegs)
before final boxing and shipping. The Net/Actual Content of the product, is checked and compared with defined upper and lower tolerances, so you can accept or discard the package, as per the specifications in the label/marking. These specifications and tolerances are set by each country’s trade regulations and harmonized worldwide by the World Trade Organization for international trade purposes. The check weighing may be carried out by random sampling of pre-packages in a single batch or by weighing each bottle in line.
Improving product quality and safety with Sartorius’ solutions
Sartorius has two divisions which work together to offer a range of products for the beverage industry; these stretch from the beginning of the process to the final product and everything in between. Among other regulatory requirements, these products comply with Food Contact Compliance (FCC) and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) to ensure and verify that all contaminates are removed from beverages. During production, whether you are using the Aquasart® PS for water filtration or the Microsart® Microbiology manifold to conduct microbiology testing, these products will ensure your beverage is among the finest on the market.
To learn more about key beverage quality control solutions from Sartorius visit: www.sartorius.com/beverages