Calibration: A key ingredient to success for food and drink manufacturers


You might already know that the incredibly popular potato crisp was invented accidentally – as a form of revenge. At the Moon’s Lake House in New York, in 1853, Cornelius Vanderbilt sent his French fries back to the kitchen for being too thick. In an act of outrage, George Crum, the chef, prepared them again as thin and hard as possible. Proving in one that: a) revenge is sometimes best served sliced, and b) measurements matter. So the legend goes.

Of course, when it comes to food quality, subjective and objective testing are both important. Whilst the former evaluates products based on sensory tests, such as taste and smell, the latter focuses on aspects that can be measured, recorded and analysed with a reliable instrument. This is where calibration makes its entrée…

Today nations all over the world know and love potato crisps for their specific flavours and texture. This all relies on the constant recording of key measures during the production process, i.e., of moisture, slice thickness, and temperature.

Calibration is what allows for the accurate, repeatable and traceable nature of these measurements – thus ensuring quality. Today food and drink manufacturers are also governed by strict standards to ensure the production process is safe. Their reputation, name – as well as time and energy spent – all hang on the line.

When it comes to the crunch (sorry!) calibration is a vital part of every food manufacturer’s quality and safety programme. Here’s what you need to know…


The purpose of calibration

Safety and quality are paramount – particularly when it comes to food and beverage production, one of the most heavily regulated industries in the UK, and subject to more stringent legislation than most sectors.

Calibration has a huge part to pay in ensuring safety and quality as without instruments that are properly calibrated, the reliability and accuracy of their measurements cannot be relied upon.


Quality through quantity

Let’s take crisp manufacturing for example. Texture and colour are key measures of crisp quality – and both are dependent on frying oil temperature. At around 160°C a chemical reaction called the “Maillard Reaction” occurs – giving the salty snack its distinctive golden colour. In fact, it’s been found that every degree above 162°C adds significant colour.[1] This means that, to create a quality product, the frying and exit temperature need to be absolutely precise, meaning that the instrument used to measure fryer performance needs to be reliable. How do you ensure this?

You guessed it: calibration.

Similarly, weighing systems will need to weigh and dispense the correct weight of crisps into each packet, while your check weighers will need to quality check the final product to make sure it’s the correct weight displayed on the packaging. To ensure their readings are accurate, the load cells for both devices need to be properly calibrated. If the first weighing system is calibrated incorrectly, when the product reaches the check weigher it will result in a high level of rejects, equally a high level of waste.


Preventing safety risks

Secondly, the manufacturing of food and drink has a direct impact on public health and safety. Carrying out regular calibrations means manufacturers can be confident in the safety of their product, helping to avoid costly recalls or even legal action due to ‘bad batches’ and reprocessing, all of which could result in reputational damage to a business.

Temperature control is absolutely essential to ensure the production of safe food, for instance. Using a piece of equipment that has not been calibrated could lead to a critical food temperature being measured incorrectly. This is particularly important given bacteria are able to grow in the ‘Danger Zone’ between 8°C and 60°C. By storing food at the correct temperatures, manufacturers can greatly reduce the risk of microbiological contamination and thus reduce the risks of harm to consumers.


The importance of regular calibration

But remember: over time, there is a tendency for results and accuracy to ‘drift’ when using a particular piece of equipment or measuring parameters such as temperature and weight.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for food safety and food hygiene in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It works with local authorities to enforce food safety regulations and check the standards are being met, including accurate instrument calibration.

This includes a range of measuring equipment, including pressure, flow, level and temperature instruments; as well as metal detection and alarm systems; and industrial weighing systems.


We hope this gives you plenty of food for thought! But if you still have any questions or would like to learn more about our calibration services, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!

Calibration Select specialises in providing a comprehensive range of metrology calibration services. All calibrations are expertly performed to exacting standards for accuracy, reliability, and traceability. Our calibration laboratory is accredited by UKAS to ISO/IEC 17025:2017.