The Importance of Testing an Established Product

Quality assurence is touted as being crucially important to a manufacturing operation. No where is it more important than with an established consumer food or beverage item. The various authorities promote product safety very strongly with the result that manufacturers often forget about another factor, the consumers perceptions.

The term Quality Assurance tends tends to divert attention away from the fact that Consistency Assurance is also required. An established product must look taste and feel the same every time the consumer consumes it.

The population contains three types of individual according to their importance to the manufacturer.

(1) An established consumer of the product.

(2) A person who has not tried the product. The potential consumer.

(3) A person who has tried the product but prefers another product.

Examining the effect a change in the product has on each of these individuals.

Group (1) The established consumer
(a) He may not notice or prefers the change, He continues to purchase the product.

(b) He regards the product change less favourably. There is a risk that this consumer may change products.

Group (2) The person who has not tried the product. A change has no effect on this consumer

Group (3) The person who has tried the product but prefers another. Even if the change would be found desirable by this consumer. He is not going to try the product unless he is informed that the product is different.

As a result a change in composition or flavour of an established product is more likely to loose consumers than to gain them.

Adequate testing to ensure not product quality but product consistency is essential to retain established consumers. If a product change is considered a labeling or name change should also happen simultaneously in order to catch individuals (2) & (3) of the population. There will always be consumers to whom any particular change is objectionable the potential loss of these consumers is unavoidable. If the change has been adequately marketed new established consumers should more than compensate for the loss.

After the change ensure the product stays the same.


What, Why, Where to now?

Recently there has been some concern about the presence of Benzene in some beverages which contain both Benzoic acid and Ascorbic acid.

Not all products containing both materials show the presence of benzene.

Many natural juices containing both ascorbic and benzoic acids do not develop significant levels of benzene.

The presence of benzene in raw materials has been shown not to be the source as the benzene develops in the product.

Investigations have shown that the development of benzene depends on a free radical reaction. The reaction can be catalysed by, UV light, or trace metals such as iron and copper in the presence of heat.

Why is there concern;

Benzene at high levels is a confirmed carcinogen.

Benzene at low levels is easy to detect with a variety of GLC systems. These systems range from old packed columns with a variety of preconcentration devices to new GLC MS systems using capillary columns.

How much of a problem is Benzene.

Benzene is a ubiquitous material being found as traces in petrol, petroleum products, wood smoke tobacco smoke etc etc.

Carcinogens fall generally into two categories, the first includes carcinogens for which there is no threshold effect any level is carcinogenic, the second includes carcinogens that are only carcinogenic above a threshold level of exposure.

The human body has a variety of biochemical mechanisms to destroy objectionable compounds. These compounds primarily have their undesirable effects when the exposure exceeds the body’s ability to destroy these compounds.

The jury is still out on which group benzene is in. Even if benzene is in the second group there will always be a few members of the population who lack the biochemical machinery to safely dispose of it. The level of risk from drinks is probably very low compared to driving a car but it is unknown.

In all probability the problem is more in the mind of the public than real.

Public perception is sufficient reason to look the problem critically.

Looking back at my old university chem. text books I see that benzoic acid forms a free radical C6H5COO* . This free radical is formed readily on exposure to UV light due to the high UV absorbance of the benzene part of the molecule. Transition metals such iron copper manganese etc can also catalyse the formation of the free radical in the absence of light. The free radical C6H5COO* is relatively unstable and decomposes forming the more stable Phenyl free radical C6H5* .

Free radicals are very reactive individuals, and after being produced, wander around in solution until by chance they bump into someone they can react with. This someone could be another free radical or any one of a number of other molecules.

Beverages often have ascorbic acid as an oxidant destroying agent to protect the products flavour. If a phenyl free radical bumps into an ascorbic acid molecule the ascorbic acid molecule donates a hydrogen atom to the free radical producing a benzene molecule.

Free radicals are not very selective about who they react with. Consequently a number of other compounds are likely to be produced as well. Benzene is just the easiest to find.

The lower levels of benzene found in some products may simply be due to the presence of other free radical acceptors.

How do we not have benzene in our product.

Replace Benzoic acid with sorbic acid. What products are formed from sorbic acid under the same conditions (1,3 Pentadiene ???)

Pack product in UV opaque containers.

Keep catalytic metal contamination low.

Add a chelating agent, EDTA has been used Not always legal.

What other free radical acceptors might be available.

What about active packaging to remove benzene after it has been formed.

As benzene is a hydrocarbon the partition between an aqueous phase and a hydrocarbon phase will result in concentration of the benzene in the hydrocarbon phase.

Low density polyethylene is a good absorbent for hydrocarbons. The use of a low density polythene or wax plasticised polyolefin wad in a closure may be effective.

The use of an active wad such as this would only be effective if the product did not contain suspended oil that would compete with the wad.