Sensory analysis lab: practical requirements for the perfect facility

A dedicated sensory analysis lab, maybe one we built specifically for the purpose, is a luxury that only research centers and large companies can afford. Sensory labs can have different layouts, but most of the times they are divided in three large areas:

  • one for the analysis sessions, whether collective or in cabins
  • one dedicated to the preparation/transformation of the samples
  • one reserved for offices and services

Most of the time, in a company environment, a sensory analysis testing area is adapted in existing premises, maybe shared with other activities. This solution can act as a valid alternative provided that some fundamental requirements are met in order to guarantee that the testing sessions are carried out rigorously. Here we describe the most important ones.

Don’t be distracted

One of the main characteristics of a sensory analysis testing facility is insulation. It is essential for the judges to be able to focus on the sensory characteristics of the product without being distracted or influenced by the external environment.

The noise of a bottling machine or the smell of milk that permeates the premises of a dairy factory can irreparably compromise the result of the analysis. It is a good idea to take all precautions so that the judge is not distracted by the presence of external sensory stimuli.

This is why it is advisable to carry out the tests in rooms far from any production areas or sufficiently isolated from them, in which noises, smells or other stimuli are eliminated or mitigated to the maximum. In order to solve permanently the presence of unwanted odours, for example, the most advanced laboratories maintain a constant positive air pressure inside the rooms dedicated to the evaluation, so as to prevent the entry of odours (volatile molecules) from the adjacent rooms.

Evaluation sessions normally imply that the judge works alone. Here, it is essential that the single judge is not influenced/disturbed by the evaluations of the other panellists. This is achieved through the sensory booths or cabins. Sensory booths are closed or semi-closed cubicles fitted with a desk, a chair, lights and other items designed to offer a neutral environment in which perform sensory analysis. The samples can be introduced in the booth through a sliding window in front of the desk, communicating with the kitchen or preparation space.

Sensory booth can be expensive or there may not be a dedicated space available in the premises. In these cases, the use dividing panels that can be mounted on a table, or to arrange the judges in such a way as to reduce their interactions as much as possible.

Put the spotlight on sensory

Among the practical requirements needed to carry out properly a sensory analysis session is to create the right environment. Especially in those cases where the visual characteristics of the products are taken into consideration, such as in the case of wines, the tests must be carried out under standard lighting conditions. It is therefore necessary to ensure that a constant condition of artificial lighting is maintained and that this is not modified by variations in the intensity of the natural light coming from the outside. In order to prevent this, the windows of the test room should be made light-tight with blinds, cardboard panels or heavy tents.

Sensory booths generally have their own lighting system, which is why it is important to avoid this being altered by other lighting sources. Similarly, special attention should be paid to lighting during collective assessments that are performed outside the sensory cabins.