Sensor technology may help pet food palatability testing

Electronic sensors, called e-tongues and e-noses, could aid in pet food palatability assessments, quality control and other dog and cat food production processes.

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(Cozy Nook |
(Cozy Nook |

Electronic sensors, called e-tongues and e-noses, could aid in pet food palatability assessments, new product development, quality control and other dog and cat food production processes, Federica Cheli, PhD, professor of animal science at the University of Milan told Petfood Industry.

“This could reduce costs for smaller pet food companies,” she said.

Research on e-tongues and e-noses with pet food

However, scientists still need to establish certain parameters to calibrate the electronic sensors to dogs’ and cats’ preferences, she noted.

“Before using of e-nose or e-tongue analysis for pet food palatability evaluation, the correlation to animal response to a product must be evaluated, and palatability tests must be associated with e-nose evaluation of the products,” she said. “Thereby, we can obtain standard odor and aroma profiles [fingerprints] associated with high palatability to develop highly palatable pet food, maybe for different pets: cats versus dogs, puppies, senior pet, dietetic pet food, et cetera.”

Cheli and her colleagues at the University of Milan analyzed the potential for e-noses and e-tongues as sensory analysis tools for the pet food industry. They published their conclusions in the journal Sensors and Transducers.

Potential for e-noses and e-tongues in pet food platability

“In literature, the applications of the e-nose and e-tongue in pet food analysis are very scarce,” said Cheli.

Once the basic research is done, the e-sensory approach could have numerous applications in the pet food industry, she said.

E-noses and e-tongues could be used to:

  • develop a flavor/aroma profile of different pet food and pet food palatants, as a quality control tool,
  • evaluate product consistency during manufacturing and
  • standardize the product development process,
  • measure product stability and shelf life and
  • analyse off-odors for pet customers.

What are e-nose and e-tongue electronic sensors

The e-nose and the liquid counterpart, the e-tongue, are instruments capable of recognizing certain simple or complex chemicals, called volatile organic compounds, explained Cheli. Volatile compounds are chemicals that release some of their molecules into the air, which allows dogs, cats, humans and other animals to smell them. By organic, chemists mean that the molecule contains carbon.

These volatile organic compounds produce specific odors in dog and cat food, which play roles in animals’ sensations of taste beyond the abilities of the tongue. For an example of the power of volatile chemicals in sensation, think of a wine connoisseur slurping their beverage, like Hannibal Lecter as he remembered a nice Chianti in “Silence of the Lambs.” The slurping releases those volatile chemicals and mixes them with air, which allows more of the aromas to travel to the nose.

Along with identifying those aroma compounds, e-noses and e-tongues provide qualitative and quantitative data on the composition of mixtures of various chemicals, such as those found in dog and cat foods.

With those sensory sensors, a pet food formulator can evaluate a flavor or aroma profile of different products to develop a specific “fingerprint” to discriminate products, said Cheli.

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