Most food processing plant managers and quality control managers know that improper moisture levels can lead to wasted product and food spoilage. But have you ever considered just how much these moisture-related problems impact your business financially?
From operational costs to product quality, not to mention 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 and your bottom-line profitability.
Conducting moisture analysis tests at multiple points in your production – from raw material intake to the finished product – will help food processors better defend themselves against these issues, allowing them to protect and increase their profits.
Here are 6 different ways moisture content affects your profitability:
1. Raw Materials
Analyzing the moisture content of the incoming raw materials for your project plays a big role in ensuring that your products are of the highest quality. In fact, there are two distinct ways that the moisture content of your raw materials impacts your operational costs: efficiency and yield.
True efficiency demands that you have consistent, streamlined processes to keep your product line rolling smoothly. By making front-end adjustments to moisture (for example, thoroughly drying your ingredients before use rather than drying the finished product later), you can reduce potential downtime and delays that interrupt your processes and wreak havoc with your bottom line.
On the other hand, moisture content analysis is essential for predicting the final yield of your production. Raw materials are typically sold by weight— elevated moisture content can increase their weight 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, not to mention their environmental impact.
Moisture measurement is commonly used to determine the endpoint of a drying process; you can lower energy costs by stopping the drying process as soon as your product reaches the desirable moisture content. Extra product drying will not only waste energy, but it could also reduce throughput— you’ll take longer to get product through the process, reducing the amount of product you produce every day.
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 consumption can be reduced by up to 4%.
Because your product’s moisture content is dependent in part on the humidity levels and temperature of the environment it’s stored in, it’s levels can change every time it’s packed and shipped somewhere new. To avoid this, your packaging must keep your product in equilibrium at every stage. If your packaging properly protects your product, you won’t have to refund customers or wholesalers when they receive damaged goods. You’ll also protect your brand from negative word-of-mouth.
That being said, it’s also important that you find the right balance between spending too much money and properly protecting your product. It’s easy to go overboard with unnecessary layers of packaging, raising the price and reducing the likelihood of higher sales. Being able to efficiently test samples in the packaging or immediately when removed from the package (without sample alteration) allows you to efficiently confirm current packaging is effective and assess proposed packaging changes.
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 proper temperatures or with the appropriate moisture content for those temperatures will probably result in spoilage, requiring more refunds to be 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. Failure to adhere to the proper storage and packaging conditions will definitely lead to more waste, not to mention the potential for profit loss. Again, being able to reliably test the moisture content multiple times with minimal or any manpower allows you to confirm storage efficiency.
5. Product Quality and Integrity
When it comes to maximizing your profitability, food manufacturers need to adhere to high food quality standards. Yes, it’s important 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 dinged for unsafe food practices—after all, a recall or safety violation could seriously damage your brand reputation, create negative PR, and result in expensive fines and shutdown costs. Additionally, you certainly won’t get the business of repeat customers if your first impression doesn’t live up to their expectations.
You must routinely check the moisture content of your product at multiple stages of the production process to ensure product quality. In addition, food manufacturers should monitor the moisture content of their processing facilities. If you stay within the USDA standards for condensation on ceilings and other overhead surfaces, you can prevent condensation from dripping onto, and possibly contaminating, products as they’re being processed.
Your product experiences many changes in environment as it makes its journey to the homes of the end-user. And while it’s important to anticipate any potential changes by creating packaging that keeps your moisture content in equilibrium, you also have to be wary of the dangers of shipping.
You must ensure that you’ve got the right moisture content for your product to help it avoid breaking during shipping. For example, when you ship 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 for stable shelf life. In addition, accurate moisture content plays a big part in the company’s bottom line— remember, shipping costs are determined by weight. 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, desktop and online process 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.”