Unveiling the Science of Sensing:

Organoleptic and Sensory Analysis in Food Quality Control

Reviewed and Approved by Howard M. Bogner, Sensory Senior Analyst, Certified Laboratories 

1-Minute Summary 

  • Organoleptic testing is essential for evaluating the sensory qualities of food and beverages. 
  • It provides objective assessments of taste, smell, texture, and appearance to ensure product quality. 
  • Trained experts conduct blind analyses and use standardized criteria for evaluation and scoring. 
  • Sensory qualities are assigned a score of 1-5 on the Hedonic Scale.  
  • You can use the data to optimize shelf-life and ensure your products meet your customers’ expectations, protecting your brand.

Organoleptic Testing Saves Shrimp Product 

Food manufacturers sometimes ask us if organoleptic testing is worth the time and money. Consider this case study and judge for yourself: 

A company we worked with had developed a new way to preserve cooked shrimp, which in theory would extend its shelf-life. To be safe, they conducted a shelf-life study that included sensory analysis. After just 3-4 days, the product began growing stale and decomposing. The company sent us more samples to test, but the issue persisted.  

After we discussed the results with the company’s Quality Assurance personnel, they investigated and uncovered a problem with their packaging. They developed new packaging, which solved the issue. However, if they hadn’t conducted organoleptic testing, they never would have discovered the faulty packaging until the product was already on store shelves.  

In this case, organoleptic analysis averted a potentially expensive recall and damage to their brand.  

Routine Testing Sometimes isn’t Enough to Verify Quality 

Routine testing is vital to your safety and quality programs, but consider a scenario where microbiology and chemistry tests reveal no pathogens, spoilage organisms, allergens, or other concerns, but the sensory qualities of the product fail to meet consumer standards. For instance, a customer expecting a soft cookie bites into a stale one. This dissatisfaction may lead to the loss of that customer. 

This is where organoleptic testing plays a vital role in safeguarding your brand. It offers a cost-effective means to obtain actionable data that can enhance your formulations, protect your brand, and increase profitability. In this post, we address organoleptic techniques and testing. 

Senior analyst performing organoleptic testing on cloves in a laboratory.  

Organoleptic Definition 

First, let's define our terms.  

Organoleptic testing examines the aspects of food and beverages that create sensory experiences, such as taste, smell, texture, and appearance.  

For food and beverage professionals, it's a scientifically structured approach to gauge the sensory characteristics that directly influence consumer preferences and perceptions of quality.  

 Organoleptic definition


Are Organoleptic and Sensory Analysis the Same? 

You've likely heard the phrase "sensory analysis". Is it the same science as organoleptic testing? 

While both organoleptic and sensory analysis evaluate the sensory properties of a product, there is a subtle distinction.  

Organoleptic testing is typically a more technical evaluation aimed at quality control and assurance, while sensory analysis may also encompass broader consumer preference studies. Organoleptic tests are crucial for ensuring consistency in product quality before it reaches the consumer market. 

Organoleptic Techniques: How Testing is Performed 

Organoleptic testing is not merely tasting or smelling a product; it's an analytical process that quantifies the sensory experience to provide objective assessments. How exactly is this intricate procedure conducted? Let's take a detailed walk-through. 

Step 1: Select a Trained Expert 

The first step is to choose trained experts with superior sensory acuity and the ability to articulate their sensory experiences. Organoleptic experts undergo rigorous training to identify taste profiles, textures, aromas, and visual aspects of food and beverages. 

To conduct seafood decomposition analysis for FDA imports, analysts must undergo training provided by the FDA. 

Step 2: Sample Preparation 

Next, samples are prepared under controlled conditions to maintain consistency. This may involve serving the food at a specific temperature or using standardized containers to eliminate visual bias. It's important to preserve the product's inherent organoleptic properties during the preparation process. 

Step 3: Blind Analysis Sessions 

In blind analysis sessions, the analyst evaluates samples without any branding or packaging that could influence their judgment. They rely solely on their senses to evaluate the product. 

Step 4: Evaluation and Scoring 

The analyst assesses the products based on specific criteria like taste, aroma, texture, and appearance. They use a standardized vocabulary to describe their sensory experiences accurately. The analyst scores the product for an overall assessment of its organoleptic properties. 

A sensory analyst scores the attributes of cloves using the Hedonic Scale during an organoleptic test.

Step 5: Analysis and Interpretation 

Finally, a sensory scientist analyzes and interprets the scores and feedback. They use statistical methods to understand the data and draw conclusions about the product's organoleptic quality. 

This step-by-step procedure ensures a thorough, objective, and standardized assessment of a product's organoleptic properties. It goes beyond taste and smell, delving into the intricacies of sensory perception and its impact on consumer behavior. 

On What Products Can Organoleptic Testing be Used? 

Organoleptic techniques can be applied to a wide range of different foods and beverages. Our senior analysts have examined many products, including the following: 

  • Baked goods 
  • Canned foods (crab, tuna, beans, peas, carrots, corn, fruit cocktail, etc.) 
  • Coffee beans and ground coffee 
  • Dairy products (milk, cheese) 
  • Flour 
  • Juice 
  • Meat products (filet mignon, different cuts of red meat) 
  • Pasta 
  • Rice 
  • Sauce 
  • Seafood 
  • Soup products 
  • Spices and seasonings 
  • Tea bags and tea ingredients 
  • Vegan products (vegan burgers, meatballs, sausage) 
  • Water 

How are Organoleptic Properties Classified and Measured? 

At Certified Laboratories, we classify and measure a sample's organoleptic properties using a 5-point hedonic scale: 

1 = Unacceptable 

2 = Below Satisfactory 

3 = Satisfactory 

4 = Above Satisfactory 

5 = Good 

The hedonic scale functions like an instrument that turns subjective sensory experiences into objective measurements. By assigning a tangible measurement, you obtain actionable data to help you modify and improve your formulations.  

So, what attributes are being measured? Our analysts assign a score of 1-5 for the following, depending on the product being tested: 

  • Appearance 
  • Color 
  • Odor 
  • Purge (if applicable) 
  • Texture  
  • Package Integrity 
  • pH
  • Headspace Analysis (Carbon Dioxide, Oxygen) 

What's an Example of How Organoleptic Testing is Used? 

Organoleptic testing is a cost-effective tool for product development and even competitive market analysis. 

Product Development: 

Use organoleptic test data to fine-tune new formulations. A manufacturer of meat products might use it to ensure a shelf-stable product retains its texture, flavor, and freshness over time, critical for defining shelf-life and meeting consumer requirements. 

Market Analysis: 

For competitive benchmarking, a beverage company might use organoleptic testing to compare its new flavored water with rivals, assessing taste, aroma, and mouthfeel to identify how it can outperform others in the market. 

How Much Does Organoleptic Testing Cost? 

The cost of organoleptic testing is modest compared to the value it adds.  

At Certified Laboratories, the price for organoleptic testing is under $60, offering a cost-effective solution for quality assurance. In comparison, a basic decomposition test is priced around $20. Contact us for current pricing and a quote.  

Is Organoleptic Testing Worth the Time and Cost? 

Imagine if the manufacturer of the shrimp product mentioned in the opening of this article hadn’t done an organoleptic analysis of their product. They may have shipped thousands of packages to retailers across the country – only to have the product quickly go stale and decompose. Who knows how much they would have spent discarding the product?   

Conducting a few relatively inexpensive organoleptic tests on their product revealed a flaw in the packaging that helped them avoid untold expenses and brand damage. Not a bad return on an investment of under $60.   

Organoleptic testing is another vital tool in your quality program to complement microbiology and chemistry testing.  

Topics: Food and Beverage, organoleptic