The Institute of Food Science & Technology, on the advice of the former Professional Food Sensory Group (now the Sensory Science Group), has authorised the following statement, issued in 18 June 2015, replacing that issued in January 2010 and May 2005.
These guidelines have been drawn up by the former Professional Food Sensory Group of the Institute of Food Science and Technology, and are designed to cover the use of the techniques of sensory analysis or sensory evaluation of food and ingredients in research or quality control. They are not designed to cover the use of the techniques for large-scale surveys, for which the guidelines from the Market Research Society should be referred to (Ref. 1). These principles can also be extended to non-foods, including fragrances and products for which skin absorption can occur. Testing with children must not be carried out without reference to Guidelines for Research issued by the National Children’s Bureau (Ref.2).
The principles described below should be given full consideration in the design and execution of sensory tests.
1.1. The scope of permitted tests using human subjects, and levels of authorisation to sanction tests, should be defined in a written Organisation Ethical Policy.
1.2. All test procedures should be carried out in such a way as to reduce any risks to the health of the participants, whether Organisation employees, trained external assessors or consumers.
1.3. Test participants should be volunteers, either through contractual agreement or on an ad hoc basis.
2.1. The Organisation Ethical Policy should be drawn up with reference to the ACNFP (Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes) Guidelines on the conduct of taste trials involving novel foods or foods produced by novel processes (Ref. 3). The principle underlying these Guidelines is that “those carrying out the trial are satisfied, after taking suitable professional advice, that it poses no hazard to human health”.
2.2. All tests should be subject to a basic risk assessment. These will include sensory tests carried out on foods produced, stored and prepared under standard and approved conditions, and which are unlikely to need any specific requirements. Other foods might comprise: novel foods, foods containing non-approved ingredients; foods produced using novel processes; ingredients not normally consumed unless incorporated into foods; and foods containing pharmacologically active ingredients. Risk assessments should be made with reference to 2.6 and should include the allergen content of foods as required to meet Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 (Ref 4).
2.3. All staff involved in the preparation and testing of food and drink products for sensory and consumer evaluation will have received appropriate training for their role, and have received food hygiene training at least to the Basic Food Hygiene Certificate level.
2.4. Assessors should give informed consent to tests on non-standard foods, and should be allowed to withdraw from the panel at any time, without penalty or having to give a reason. The work should be described in such detail as is appropriate, given the purpose of the work, and any information that might be relevant to possible unidentified hazards should be explained. This is particularly relevant in, for example, sensory Quality Control testing, in which there is a small but finite risk of unknown hazards.
2.5. Recording of data on assessors should be in accordance with the provisions of relevant data protection legislation of the country concerned.
2.6. Potential adverse effects on the health of assessors should be minimised, specifically:
- Panel recruitment procedures should be designed to identify known health problems and allergies. Particular care must be taken in the case of exposure to novel foods to elicit information concerning potential allergic reactions, for example by seeking information on the atopic status of the subject and any family history of atopy.
- Products should be microbiologically safe, and if necessary the tests should be approved by a food microbiologist or should be subject to microbiological testing. This is particularly important for shelf-life and accelerated shelf-life testing.
- Test products should also be assessed for potential chemical and physical hazards.
- Tests should be designed to minimise the amount consumed for health and nutritional reasons. In particular, tests on ingredients should consider the risks of consumption above normal levels.
- Chronic effects on health should be considered, for example in long-term testing on alcoholic beverages. If appropriate, medical tests should be included as part of panel screening procedures. Records of consumption should be kept and health monitored on an ongoing basis.
2.7. Any adverse reactions occurring during a test must be reported and long-term studies must be monitored for any developing adverse effects.
2.8. Misleading of assessors should be minimised. It is sometimes necessary to mislead assessors as to the nature of the samples or of the experiment, but this must be clearly justified and the reasons recorded in advance of the experiment.
2.9. Pain, distress or discomfort to assessors should be avoided if possible. If significant pain, distress or discomfort is involved, the assessors should be warned, and local ethical approval should be sought. In particular, invasive procedures should be minimised. If, for example, the use of anaesthetics on the tongue is proposed, or non-clinical x-ray, medical advice should be taken and this should be consistent with the Organisation Ethical Policy.
2.10. Testing with vulnerable groups can necessitate specific considerations. For example:
- Parental approval should be given for testing with children below the age of 16.
- Testing with elderly people requires care and discretion in order to reduce the risk of apparent intimidation. For example, elderly subjects often feel more comfortable when accompanied by a friend.
- Testing with people likely to have impaired immune systems and other medical conditions, including learning disabilities, requires medical advice.
2.11. The principles described in this statement should also be applied when presenting food and drink samples for the purpose of training courses and practical demonstrations.