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Is More Better? The Use of Small Group Consensus In Quality Assurance

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At Mérieux NutriSciences, we provide quality monitoring programs to food service and retail customers that often benefit from small group consensus descriptive analysis. This technique combines the level of detail found in traditional descriptive analysis with the agility of consensus profiling. When applied correctly, this technique results in fast, focused product monitoring.

Supplier Monitoring Programs

With the complexity of supply chains rising, monitoring the quality of products from many suppliers becomes a bigger challenge. Foodservice and retailers often institute supplier monitoring programs to highlight quality gaps in their supply chains. If quality issues are discovered early in the process, the product can be diverted before it reaches individual stores and customers. These programs must provide fast and accurate quantitative data to support retail quality assurance managers. These supplier monitoring programs use sensory and analytical methods to build strong product specifications and assess product quality.

Traditional Descriptive Analysis

The descriptive analysis uses a trained sensory panel to profile and quantifies product sensory characteristics. First, individuals are screened for sensory acuity and group dynamics. Successful panelists are enlisted in several months of sensory training. A panel leader will work with the group to align on scaling techniques and the use of references for specific aromas, flavors, and textures.

After training, ten to fifteen panelists are set as the expert panel. Panelists must show proficiency in identifying these characteristics and be able to rate intensities appropriately. Once proficient, the panel can start to evaluate samples routinely. At a minimum, samples are presented to each panelist in duplicate and individual scores are recorded from each panelist.

Spectrum Descriptive Analysis at Mérieux NutriSciences

We have chosen the Spectrum method for our descriptive analysis panel. In a Spectrum descriptive analysis panel, panelists are trained to rate attributes relative to specific references on given scales. This ensures consistency over time and between different groups of panelists. Further, it allows a group of trained panelists to evaluate a large variety of samples with a small amount of orientation. With the use of descriptive analysis in supplier monitoring programs, the ability of a panel to assess any food is paramount.

Use of Descriptive Analysis as a Quality Monitoring Tool

A good quality monitoring program's foundation is robust specifications that outline the expectations for each product. Specifications should detail analytical values of key quality markers and product defects and describe the sensory experience of consuming the product. All three of these aspects should be monitored, but a deviation from the expected sensory experience correlates most strongly with customer complaints. Therefore, comparing products to their sensory specification is a powerful quality monitoring activity.

Using trained panelists in these comparisons results in an objective product quality assessment. However, the cost of using a full descriptive panel is often prohibitive. As a cost-effective alternative, Mérieux NutriSciences offers small-group consensus descriptive analysis.

What is small group consensus descriptive analysis?

Small group consensus descriptive analysis is a technique that uses trained descriptive panelists to evaluate products. Still, instead of collecting scores from each individual, the group decides on a consensus score for a given sample.

The team starts by familiarizing themselves with a product profile in a specification or creating a product profile from a gold standard sample. Learning this quality standard on one product allows the group to evaluate many samples of this product from different suppliers efficiently. The team understands the standard and what attributes to evaluate in each sample. Samples are presented in at least triplicate to ensure variations can be easily noted.

Three consensus scores are recorded and then averaged for a single score per product attribute. Using trained panelists balances expert sensory skills with a fast product evaluation. Because the score is drawn from consensus, we use a smaller group of panelists (3 versus the traditional 10-15). This keeps the group nimble and cost-effective.

Advantages of Quality Assurance Tool

Mérieux NutriSciences has greatly benefited from using small-group consensus descriptive analysis for supplier monitoring programs. The ability to sample early in the supply chain and divert low-quality products is paramount in all these programs. Therefore, the evaluation of quality must happen quickly without compromising accuracy.

Mérieux NutriSciences uses our Spectrum-trained panelists for these quality evaluations with great success. The panelists are fully trained and monitored for proficiency regularly to ensure accuracy in the results. Also, because the panelists are trained in the Spectrum method, their results can be compared over time. We look at the same products regularly in supplier monitoring programs, so the ability to trend data over time is very important.

The small groups can also work efficiently enough to see each product in at least triplicate, allowing them to score the product for quality and note variation in the lot in just one sampling session.

This efficient, expert evaluation provides actionable quality assurance data on time and in budget. Interested in learning more about consensus descriptive analysis? Contact us today.

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