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ASTM Best Practices for Sensory Evaluation

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June 27, 2013

ASTM Standards are accepted and used in research and development, product testing, quality systems and commercial transactions around the world.  ASTM Committee E18 on Sensory Evaluation of Materials and Products is an active group of approximately 240 members with jurisdiction over 31 standards and additional documents.  The scope of the committee is the promotion of knowledge, stimulation of research, and the development of principles and standards for the sensory evaluation of materials and products. The committee actively seeks ways to fulfill the promotional aspect of this mandate and to bring both the standards and membership in E18 to the attention of prospective members in CPG companies in the food and non-food industries as well as supplier companies and academia.

Five long standing members of Committee E18 presented “ASTM – We have a Standard for That! – Best Practices in Sensory Evaluation” to an enthusiastic audience of food scientists from the food industry and related supply companies at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual meeting in Las Vegas NV June 2012. The presentations were positioned to showcase typical situations to which audience members could relate in their own workplace environments and to demonstrate the application of relevant documents from committee E18 to assist with these situations. The presenters also gave insights to the audience of their own personal reasons for their commitment to ASTM E18, totaling more than 100 years of collective service.

Donya Germain, Director of Consumer Research at ACCE International, Chair-Elect of E18 and Moderator of the symposium, opened by introducing the audience to ASTM, its foundation and emphasis on consensus.  Committee E18’s sub-committees were outlined along with current standards, task groups and discussion groups.

Joe Herskovic, Research Fellow Innovation at Con Agra Foods, Inc. discussed Best Practices in Discrimination Testing, including the E18 Standards for Triangle, Duo-Trio and Same-Different tests.  Joe emphasized the need to exhibit caution when using the standard methods and to consult with a qualified sensory scientist when applying the methods, much like a novice cook can benefit from the experienced meal preparer.  He presented results from an unpublished study using these standards.  The results of the study indicated that experience with the test method and the product being tested yields more sensitive and reliable test results.  Joe, a past Chair of E18, says his reasons for involvement in ASTM are: “To network with the best sensory people in business, government and academia, to learn about leadership and teamwork, to influence the writing of sensory standards, to stimulate the mind and to make lifelong friendships in an inviting and inclusive atmosphere”

Best Practices in Descriptive Analysis were presented by Suzanne Pecore, Principal Sensory Scientist at General Mills, including the E18 Terminology document, Manual on Descriptive Analysis Testing for Sensory Evaluation, Lexicon for Sensory Evaluation: Aroma, Flavor, Texture and Appearance and several other documents related to descriptive analysis.  Suzanne, Chair of Terminology, even managed to make writing definitions sound exciting.  Continuing through the complete product lifecycle, Suzanne demonstrated the use of best practices in Descriptive Analysis and the use of the E18 documents at each stage.  Suzanne says her reasons for involvement in ASTM are: “Networking with sensory professionals across the spectrum – food/non-food, academics/consultants/industry, and students.  Over the years, E18 has allowed me to interact with some famous sensory folks – Dave Peryam, Harry Lawless, Morton Meilgaard, John Powers; and by “working with” I mean all the great discussions around sensory issues that still concern us today and hammering out what truly is “best practice”.  It’s difficult as an individual to always know what best practice is, but ASTM is the forum to gain a deeper understanding and come to consensus on what constitutes good methodology”

John Ennis, VP Research Operations at The Institute for Perception, gave a behind the scenes viewpoint of the applications of the document covering Best Practices in Sensory Claim Substantiation.  This document is a particularly useful resource for any company that is contemplating a competitive claim to assist with their marketing efforts. John elaborated on the key elements of claim choice, wording and target.  The typical number of US markets, selection of products, data collection strategies, methodologies and how to deal with “no preference votes” were also discussed.  John, an E18 Sub-Committee Chair, says about participation in ASTM E18, “ASTM is the best place in the world to experience the culture and knowledge of Sensory science as it is actually applied in real life.  Plus the people are really nice and the dinners are great!”  

Best Practices in International Consumer Product Testing was the topic presented by Anne Goldman, VP Consumer Research at ACCE International in which she showcased the manual International Product Testing Across Countries and Cultures. The need to consider culture in product research is necessary whether it is for brand harmonization within a global company, trying to develop products for international markets or considering cultural groups within the home market. The lack of understanding of the culture of the end consumer inevitably leads to product failure. From her own research amongst colleagues in sensory and consumer research, Anne has identified several elements that are key challenges in conducting cross cultural research such as translation, literacy issues, use of scales, sources of bias, fieldwork and product integrity. Solutions to these challenges are offered in the General Principles in MNL 55-EB as well as the 17 country specific documents. Anne a recent David R. Peryam Award recipient and past Chair of E18 says her reasons for her involvement with Committee E18 are: “The opportunity to converse with and learn from leading Sensory experts and pioneers like David Peryam and the opportunity to interact with other E18 members in an open and transparent process that makes the E18 standards, guides and practices the finest in the Sensory world today.”

Wrapping up, Donya invited the audience to join each of the current members in discussion, standard development, networking, learning, influencing and the invitation to make lifelong friends and eat well.  The symposium sparked conversation and was received with enthusiasm.  Attendee Sheila Fortune, Compusense Inc., said “The ASTM Best Practices in Sensory Evaluation session provided an excellent overview of a diverse range of standards that are readily accessible to anyone conducting sensory tests.”  Long time ASTM E18 member Darla Hall, Research Vibe, also an audience member, provided a perspective, “From a professional point of view, this symposium reminded me how much I leverage the wide variety of ASTM E18 standards to convince my client teams to design research that follows best practices.  From a personal point of view, E18 has been the most supportive and beneficial professional community of my career.  We have seen each other through so many job changes and life experiences.  I always feel like I am coming home when I arrive at an ASTM meeting.”