Not So Basic: How Advances in pH Monitoring Technology Are Enhancing Quality in Food and Beverage Manufacturing
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Monitoring the pH of food and beverages is vital for manufacturers, protecting consumer safety in line with regulatory requirements, as well as ensuring products have the desired quality characteristics that customers enjoy and expect.
Take winemaking, for example, where pH monitoring is essential to ensure the final product has the desired flavor and aroma. Here, pH measurements are commonly undertaken at various stages of the wine production process, including during fermentation, through cellaring and in the final product.
Similarly, in the manufacture of cheese, the characteristics of the final product can vary significantly depending on its acidity. As a result, pH testing is used to determine factors such as the length of time the product should be matured in order to ensure a texture, smell and taste that will appeal to consumers.
pH monitoring is also essential in ascertaining how products should be processed for canning. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration permits acidic foods with a pH of less than 4.6 (such as fruits) to be packaged using water bath canning, while less acidic foods (such as meats and vegetables) must be acidified or canned under pressure. As a result, incoming ingredients like tomatoes are commonly tested for pH before the goods are accepted by manufacturers, as variations in acidity will ultimately impact how they can be packaged.
The challenges of pH monitoring in food and beverage production
Given the critical importance of monitoring acidity in food and beverage production, manufacturers need accurate, reliable and cost-effective technologies for pH measurement. However, whilst the specific pH monitoring requirements will vary depending on the product and production processes that are involved, food and beverage manufacturers face a set of common challenges that can hinder decision-making and batch release.
One of the biggest challenges associated with obtaining accurate and reproducible pH measurements in food and beverage manufacturing can be the product itself. Some foods contain sticky or chunky solid components that may limit measurement reproducibility and make readings, using conventional electrodes, extremely difficult. Additionally, some processes may require pH monitoring at different temperatures, which can affect measurement response times and accuracy. With many manufacturers needing to test large volumes of products in a high-throughput environment, fast measurement responses are essential, and operators cannot afford to wait lengthy periods for results to be obtained.
With food and beverage production lines often in operation 24/7, unplanned interruptions to pH monitoring workflows can cause costly hold-ups or backlogs. As a result, the technologies used by manufacturers for routine pH measurement should be reliable, resilient and require minimal maintenance. Moreover, as the operators responsible for pH measurement may not always have the technical expertise to diagnose and resolve issues, the systems used to perform this vital function must be easy to use and simple to maintain by non-experts. Furthermore, with cost-efficiency a key priority for many manufacturers, these technologies need to have a long product lifetime to deliver an acceptable return on investment.
Innovative electrode technologies meet food and beverage manufacturers’ needs
Recent advances in pH monitoring systems are helping to overcome the challenges many food and beverage manufacturers face in relation to these important tests, with the latest solutions delivering improvements in measurement reliability, robustness and ease-of-use.
Ongoing enhancements in electrode design mean that modern systems offer high levels of measurement accuracy, reproducibility and speed, even when working with challenging food and beverage samples. Robust pH monitoring technologies based on iodide/triiodide double junction references deliver accurate measurements and offer fast response times even at varying temperatures. Other advanced electrode designs, including the latest double junction systems, are ensuring accurate measurements for longer by protecting electrodes from contamination by the sample matrix. Similarly, the latest refillable sleeve junction electrodes, which are resistant to clogging due to their free-flowing, liquid-to-liquid junction, are helping to provide stable, drift-free measurements even when handling food and beverage samples containing viscous, sticky or chunky solid components. These electrode designs are also extremely easy to maintain and can be cleaned simply by pressing the cap to flush the junction area.
By ensuring long service life and reducing maintenance costs, these robust electrode designs are supporting more cost-effective pH testing, regardless of the type of sample matrix being studied. In addition, some vendors actively engage with food and beverage manufacturers to identify the right solution for their needs, and provide the electrodes, buffers and software in kit form to help businesses set-up the system and start measuring pH accurately and quickly.
As well as helping to deliver more reliable and robust readings, recent improvements in electrode usability are making it as easy as possible to record reliable results. Some modern systems guide operators through pH measurement and calibration steps, helping users who do not have a high-level of technical knowledge to resolve issues faster. To further support manufacturers, some vendors have established dedicated technical teams who can help to walk operators through maintenance procedures and other routine processes and offer educational resources to ensure food and beverage producers get the most from their pH testing systems.
Enhancing quality with the latest advances in pH monitoring technology
pH monitoring plays a vital role in the food and beverage industry, ensuring key quality characteristics such as taste, texture and appearance, as well as regulatory compliance around product packaging. The latest advances in electrode design are helping to overcome challenges in pH monitoring to achieve accurate, reliable and cost-effective measurements, and support the highest levels of quality and safety in food and beverage manufacturing.