Factors Affecting Sensory Testing

There are many factors that must be controlled when running any type of sensory tests.   These factors can be grouped into different categories; site/environment, sensory methods/tests, samples/product and subjects/test participants.

Site/Environment: 
Just as the ambience of a restaurant affects the way you judge your dining experience, the environment of a sensory room can affect the evaluation of a product.  The sensory administrator must be aware of the conditions of the room.  When the sensory area is being designed, one must consider controlling odors, noise, lighting, temperature, separation from the prep area and the overall comfort of the room.

Sensory Methods/Tests: 
The sensory administrator must know the objective of the project to be able to choose the correct sensory method to use in the study.  For example, if the objective is to determine the acceptability of a new formula of a cola versus the current formula, the sensory administrator would choose to run an acceptance test.  If the objective was to determine if the new formula was similar to the current formula, a difference test would be conducted.

Samples/Product:
Handling of samples is critical for accurate data to be gathered.  The preparation time and procedure, temperature, serving procedures, randomizing samples and screening samples prior to testing play a major role in the sensory testing process.  If any of these factors are compromised the results of the test may be misleading to the researcher.  For example, if the temperature is not controlled one sample could be rated differently based solely on temperature.

Subjects/Test Participants: 
Panelists with the correct skills or qualifications must be selected to evaluate the product.  If it is an acceptance test, then the panelist must like and use the product being tested.  If it is a difference test, then the panelist must be known discriminators.

Reference:  Sensory Evaluation Techniques 3rd edition; Meilgaard, Civille and Carr.

Next month’s Sensory Bytes will discuss Tools for Data Collection