The chart above was created with real client data. Like many companies, they were underestimating the cost of poor drying by about 80%.
After unearthing and interpreting their past data (it was all buried in paper records), they came to realize that the problem was 8 times more expensive than they had estimated.
This example comes from the pet food industry, where the ingredients involved often cost cents per pound. However, the principle is the same for companies in different industries. Consider the cost when working with whole muscle meats, where ingredients can cost $8 per pound – or cannabis, where ingredients can cost up to $2,000 per pound.
Mistake #1: Misunderstanding what you need to measure
Water measurements fall into two categories: moisture content or water activity. Both have to do with water, but each gives very different information. They shouldn’t be used in the same ways.
A frequent misunderstanding at food companies involves a very tight focus on moisture content measurements, since moisture content’s relationship to yield is clear and easy to understand.
Company leaders (such as CFOs) often don’t have the scientific or QC background to understand how crucial it is that they measure water activity as well as moisture content. They may not know that while moisture content is an excellent parameter to measure yield, it should never be used to predict or control microbial growth, product texture, or overall quality.
Water activity is a measure of energy. It's a thermodynamic principle. That may sound complex, but it isn’t necessary to understand the scientific equations.
The core principle is simple: Water activity indicates whether chemical reactions can occur, if microorganisms can grow, or if texture can change. Additionally, high-precision water activity measurements are simple and easy to collect – with the right tools, it can be done in 60 seconds or less.
Moisture content is simply the amount of water in a sample. If you were able to remove every molecule of water from a food product, then measure how much there was, that would be the moisture content. Unfortunately, that’s extremely difficult to do with anything close to accuracy.
Mistake #2: Measuring with the wrong device
No matter if you choose to focus on water activity or moisture content, it will be very difficult to control a process if there's a lot of standard deviation and variability inherent to your measurement method.