Shelf life testing - why microstructure matters

Food product development and performance depends on an in-depth understanding of your product and its constituent ingredients.



Studying the microstructure of a product gives us clues on how it will behave during the length of its shelf life. How the different elements within the food, whether it be fat, protein or carbohydrates interact gives us a great insight into the changes that may occur whilst the product is sitting on the shelf - changes that may not be appealing to the customer!


Here senior analyst with our physical sciences team Yared Melillo explains the importance of food microstructure and how we are able to take look at food in the detail needed.




Hi, I'm Yared Melillo and I'm an analyst within the material Sciences department here at RSSL. This is the third in a series of short videos showing how shelf life testing is really important to the success of a product.


To watch these and more follow RSSL on LinkedIn or click subscribe.


Looking at the microstructure of a product can give us clues to how it will behave throughout its shelf life.
In this video we will look at the changes that can occur within the product and the test capability we have to be able to analyze these changes.


So what do we mean by food microstructure?


Put simply, it is how different food constituents, such as fats, proteins and carbohydrates are arranged within the product and how these arrangements interact with each other. Over the shelf life of a product it is entirely possible for undesirable changes to occur, leading to deterioration quality or even complete product failure, both of which will not be particularly appealing to the consumer.


Examples that can be seen at the microstructure level include coalescence of fats or water droplets, sedimentation of particles, structural changes which may lead to unwanted textural change, oil or moisture migration, change in crystallization state and agglomeration.


So the question: is how do we find out if these things are happening in the product?


We have a wide range of microscopic techniques that we can use to help us visualize microstructure.
Confocal laser scanning microscopy in combination with fluorescent dyes stains the ingredients, which give us a clear picture of the distribution of various components, For example you'll be able to clearly localize fats and proteins.


We can also start to localize a wide range of food constituents in a complex food matrix using co-focal Ramen microscopy, where each map pixel from an image has a different chemical signature which can be able to be plotted, showing the ingredient distribution in a food system.


In some cases it can be useful to create a visualization of the product in three dimensions Using x-ray tomography, we can non-destructively image a sample and digitally cross-section through the product, allowing us to view aspects such as size and distribution of bubbles in a narrated product, or the layered structure of composite products.


We can also use comprehensive software for post imaging analysis given for both 2D and 3D images, allowing us to quantify key changes over time.


There are a lot of factors that may alter within the product over time which can either cause, or be the result of, changes at the microstructural level. So as well as using microscopy to produce visualization of the product, we also have a range of techniques for measuring the product's physical properties. This includes emulsion stability including accelerated shelf life testing, particle size distribution, viscosity and flow properties, powder flow, moisture level and water activity, zeta potential, x-ray diffraction and texture.


Analyzing a product microstructure reveals valuable insight into how consumer will receive it and ensure the safety throughout the product's shelf life.


Designing a shelf life study and monitoring the changes in the microstructure using these techniques and interpreting the results will support the product development and help in troubleshooting problems during shelf life.


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