Trouble with taints
By Rob Levermore - 28 February 2012
Problems with taints and off–flavours can cost food and drink companies considerable money and time - in wasted product and resolving the problem. Taint is a sensory issue, but often needs chemical analysis to determine what it is and how it arose. Understanding the cause is crucial in preventing recurrences - but demands significant skill and experience as taint problems are often sporadic. We find that taint issues come in two main types. The first is where the client knows that there is a problem - for example, they have detected the taint, and want to know what it is, or how it might have arisen. The second is where they think they may have a problem or where they want to assess the potential for a problem - for example, they might be using a new cleaning chemical and want to check whether it causes a detectable taint). As a very general rule of thumb, the former will rely mainly on chemical analysis and the latter on sensory analysis.
Typical taint descriptions include, for example, 'antiseptic', 'musty', 'rancid' and 'petrol'. The client may have noticed the taint themselves or have received consumer complaints, but not know the cause. We have solved taint problems over many years, so with knowledge of the product and its history can quickly form a view of likely causes. We use state-of-the-art equipment, like mass spectrometry, to confirm our suspicions or to identify new problem chemicals - which helps establish how the problem arose.
Sometimes the problem turns out to be microbiological in origin. An odour of 'nail varnish remover' or 'pear drops', for example, can arise from yeast contamination in baked goods. If the yeast is present in a glaze applied to the product post-baking, a distinctive taint can develop with time. Understanding that this has a microbiological rather than chemical cause is essential in preventing recurrences.
Sometimes a company suspects that it has a taint problem, but isn't sure. Our sensory descriptive panel can help establish whether there is a problem - assessing products using descriptive analysis. If they can detect a taint, they can describe its characteristics and provide vital guidance to our chemists in their investigations.
Knowledge of the sensory characteristics of a taint in itself can be important in tracing its source. Even if it is not possible to conclusively decide on the exact nature of the taint, it may still be clear where it originated from. In many cases, this may be enough to stop it happening again.
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