What is pH and why do I need to measure it?
pH measures the amount of acidity or alkalinity in a food or solution using a numerical scale between 1 and 14. A pH value of 1 is most acidic, a pH value of 7 is neutral, and values above 7 are referred to as basic or alkaline. Acidified foods have a pH value less than or equal to 4.6. The proper pH of a canned food product can be critical to ensuring the safety of the product. It is very important that pH testing be done correctly and accurately.
How is pH measured?
If you process acidified foods, you will be required to monitor the pH of the product that you produce. Depending on the pH of the product, you may be able to use paper pH strips (often referred to as litmus paper), or required to use a pH meter. Paper strips that measure pH rely on a color change in the paper to indicate product pH. Paper strips can be used to measure pH if the product pH is less than 4.0. Paper strips are an inexpensive way to test pH, but can be inaccurate or difficult to read. A pH meter measures the amount of hydrogen-ion (acid) in solution using a glass electrode immersed in the solution. A pH meter must be used when product pH is greater than, or equal to, 4.0. If you are canning acidified foods, accurately monitoring and recording the product pH is key to knowing that you are selling a safe product.
What is equilibrium pH?
Equilibrium pH is the pH of a food product after the added acid has reached throughout the food; the pH of the acid brine and the food that have equilibrated. When you monitor pH as part of process monitoring, it is the equilibrium pH that you are measuring. For a proper pH reading, you should test the pH of the product roughly 24 hours after processing, once the jars have cooled to room temperature and stabilized. Do not take the pH of a product just before or right after canning because it will not be an accurate measure of the equilibrium pH.
What should I look for if I need to purchase a pH meter?
If you are required to check your product pH with a meter, there are several things to consider.
Accuracy. Accuracy is listed as a range of +0.XX pH units. This means that the meter may read so many pH units above or below the actual pH of the product. Purchase a pH meter with an accuracy of +0.02 units or better. For instance, a pH meter with an accuracy of
+0.01 is a good choice. A pH meter with an accuracy of +0.10 is not a good choice, it is not accurate enough for all products.
All pH meters must be calibrated (checked against a known standard) to assure accuracy. Standards are colored liquids of known pH. Buy a meter that uses at least a 2-point calibration; for acidified foods you will calibrate your meter with pH 4.0 and 7.0 buffers.
Electrode. The electrode is the part of the instrument that is immersed in solution. When considering which pH meter to purchase, consider the cost of replacement electrodes. Some electrodes have special non-clog tips and these may be useful is you will be measuring the pH of foods that are not easily blended.
Temperature. pH readings are affected by temperature. In order to get an accurate reading, the pH meter must be calibrated at the same temperature as the samples being tested. More expensive meters will compensate for variations in sample temperature (too warm or too cold). Myron L meters have automatic temperature compensation. If you can afford a meter with this feature, it’s nice to have.
What should I buy?
The cost of a pH meter ranges from under $100 to well over $500. As a starting point, there are several styles that small food and beverage processors currently use.
Testing the Equilibrium pH of an Acidified Food Product
1. Open one jar and take a representative sample of your food product once it has cooled, usually 12 to 24 hours after processing. You should sample each batch. Heating will drive the acid into your food product; sampling after processing (and cooling) will give you an accurate reading of the equilibrium pH.
2. Strain the solids, draining out the liquid (brine) from the jar. Place the strained solids into a blender.
3. Blend the product, adding distilled water if necessary, to produce a slurry. Added distilled water will not change the pH of the product and will allow for effective blending. You can purchase distilled water at many grocery stores or drug stores.
4. Use a calibrated pH meter to measure pH.
The pH meter must be calibrated using at least 2-point calibration with pH 4.0 and 7.0 buffers. Myron L Meters recommends a three point calibration.
The pH meter must be calibrated each day that you use it. A pH meter must be used to monitor the pH of foods with an equilibrium pH greater than 4.0.
5. Record the results in your batch log.
*Myron L meters are used by Tyson, Sara Lee, Gordon Food Service, Better Baked Foods, Schreiber Foods, Homestead Slow Foods, and others in the food
These are our two most popular handheld pH meters:
ULTRAPEN PT2 pH and Temperature Pen
Accuracy of +/- 0.01 pH
Reliable Repeatable Results
Automatic Temperature Compensation
Durable, Fully Potted Circuitry
Comes with 2oz bottle of pH Storage Solution
Ultrameter II – 6PII
Multi-Parameter: Conductivity, TDS, Resistivity, pH, ORP, Temperature, Free Chlorine (FCE)
+/-1% Accuracy of Reading
Memory Storage: Save up to 100 samples w/ Date & Time stamp
Wireless Download Module Optional