While most food processing plant managers and quality control managers are aware that improper moisture levels can lead to wasted product and food spoilage, have you ever stopped to think about exactly how much these moisture-related problems financially impact your business, or tried quantifying the dollar value yourself?
From operational costs to product quality, and even brand reputation, moisture's financial impact is far reaching. Whether it’s too much or too little moisture, any variation within your raw materials can have a significant impact on the final product, directly impacting your bottom-line profitability. By conducting moisture analysis tests at multiple points in your production – from raw material intake to the finished product – food processors can better defend themselves against these issues, allowing them to protect and increase their profits.
To help your company better understand the true financial impact moisture content has on your company’s bottom line, here are 6 different ways it affects your profitability:
1. Raw Materials
Analyzing the moisture content of the incoming raw materials for your project is of the utmost importance in order to ensure the highest product quality. In fact, there are two distinct ways that the moisture content of your raw materials impacts your operational costs: efficiency and yield. When it comes to efficiency, having consistent, streamlined processes are what keep your product line rolling smoothly. By making proactive adjustments to moisture (e.g., thoroughly drying your ingredients before use, rather than drying the finished product later), you can reduce potential downtime and delays caused by interruptions during the production process. On the other hand, moisture content analysis is essential for predicting the final yield of your production. The majority of raw materials are sold by weight, after all, and increased moisture content can increase the weight of your raw materials, without actually providing the appropriate yield for that amount. If you don’t know the moisture content of your raw ingredients, your final yield may not match your projections.
2. Production Costs
Though most people view moisture analysis as a quality control measure, it can also help your company reduce energy costs. Because moisture measurement is commonly used to determine the end point of a drying process, you can lower energy costs by making sure the drying process ends as soon as your product reaches the desirable moisture content. If you dry your product for too long, not only are you wasting energy, but you may also be reducing throughput as you are taking longer to get product through the process. According to a recent Energy Star study, researchers found that mechanically dewatering fruits and vegetables prior to drying can reduce the moisture loading on your dryer and save companies significant amounts of energy. As a general rule of thumb, remember that for each 1% reduction in feed moisture, the dryer energy input can be reduced by up to 4%.
Because your product’s moisture content is partially dependent on the humidity levels and temperature of the environment it’s stored in, your product’s moisture content can change every time it’s packed and shipped somewhere new. To help mitigate this, and to create a consistent product from the production line all the way to the end-user, it’s essential that your packaging helps keep your product in equilibrium at every stage. If your packaging properly protects your product, you won’t have to refund customers or wholesalers, or lose customers who are dissatisfied with your product and packaging conditions. That being said, it’s also important that you find the right balance between spending too much money and properly protecting your product, as it’s easy to go overboard with unnecessary layers of packaging.
As mentioned in the point above, how you store your product and raw materials (both before and after production) can have a direct impact on their moisture content and shelf life. Products that aren’t stored at appropriate temperatures or with the appropriate moisture content for those temperatures will likely result in spoilage, and more refunds paid to customers and wholesalers. According to the FDA, the possibility of surface evaporation or condensation of moisture from the surrounding environment on a surface should be considered, since foods will eventually come to moisture equilibrium with their surroundings. Without the proper storage and packaging conditions, you’ll certainly be faced with more waste and profit loss.
5. Product Quality and Integrity
When it comes to maximizing your profitability, food manufacturers need to maintain high food quality standards. Not only for the sake of meeting industry regulations and consumer safety concerns, but also because of consumer expectations like taste, mouthfeel, etc. No company wants to be penalized for unsafe food practices, after all, as a recall or safety violation would negatively impact your brand reputation, create negative PR, and have expensive fines and shutdown costs. Likewise, you certainly won’t attract many repeat customers if your first impression doesn’t live up to their expectations. In addition to regularly checking the moisture content of your product at multiple stages of the production process to ensure product quality, food manufacturers should also monitor the moisture content of their plant in alignment with USDA standards for condensation on ceilings and other overhead surfaces. This way, you can prevent condensation from dripping onto, and possibly contaminating, products being processed.
As mentioned above, your product undergoes many changes in environment along the course of its journey to grocery store shelves. And while it’s important to anticipate those and create packaging that keeps your moisture content in equilibrium, you also have to be wary of the dangers of shipping, like potentially damaging your product. Though it might sound odd, you’ll want the right moisture content for your product to help it avoid breaking during shipping. For example, in nuts, the moisture content margin of error is less than 0.5% -- that’s the difference between a nut that breaks because it’s too dry and one that contains too much water. In addition, accurate moisture content is important to the company’s bottom line because shipping costs are determined by weight. In other words, neither you nor your customers want to pay to ship excess water.
Want to learn more about the reliable moisture testing instruments available for different applications in the food industry? At Kett, our food moisture testing instruments are world-renowned, and can help food manufacturers of any kind get quick, accurate moisture measurement results from portable, handheld, or desktop devices. Our qualified engineers can help you figure out the ideal testing instrument for your specific application, helping you get on the road to maximizing your profitability. To learn more about the benefits of moisture content testing in the food processing industry, and how to get accurate measurements, make sure you download our eBook, “A Guide to Finding an Accurate and Reliable Moisture Meter.”