Qualifications/Selection of Sensory Panelists
Panelist’s qualifications depend on the sensory test method. Regardless of what test method it is, the panelists all have something in common. The panelists need to be willing, available and have no allergies to the product being tested.
Consumer/affective testing require minimal skills but the consumer must like or use the test product. Typically, the consumer is screened for their liking and usage of the product, their availability, age, gender, no allergies and does not work in marketing or a product manufacturing company. The purpose of consumer/affective tests is to determine the products likings or which product is preferred.
Discrimination panelist selection is based on screening tests that help determine the panelist sensitivity and their ability to discriminate between products. The types of products used for screening should reflect the variety of products that will be studied in the company. A series of tests are used to screen panelists; matching tests, discrimination tests and ranking test for intensity. The panelist must be able to identify the basic tastes, aromas and identify differences in the products being tested. At the same time, the panelist will be taught the test process; triangle, duo-trio and ranking tests to name a few. A good rule of thumb is to select panelist who score a minimum of 75% or higher on all the screening tests.
Descriptive panelist selection follows the same process as discrimination screening but the descriptive panelist must go through a more vigorous screening process. A prescreening questionnaire is given to the panelist prior to any screening sessions to determine availability, level of commitment, overall knowledge of products, health history and a tactile, flavor or fragrance quiz. Along with the discrimination screening tests (acuity tests); they are also given a scaling exercise and must participate in a personal interview with the panel leader. In addition to the screening, the panelist must have excellent verbal skills which are necessary for panel participation. Panelist who score a minimum of 80% or higher on all the screening tests become descriptive trainees.
Reference: Society of Sensory Professionals and Sensory Evaluation Techniques 4th Ed.; Meilgaard, Civille and Carr