Improvement of olfactometric measurement accuracy and repeatability by optimization of panel selection procedures

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The EN 13725:2003, which standardizes the determination of odour concentration by dynamic olfactometry, fixes the limits for panel selection in terms of individual threshold towards a reference gas (n-butanol in nitrogen) and of standard deviation of the responses. Nonetheless, laboratories have some degrees of freedom in developing their own procedures for panel selection and evaluation. Most Italian olfactometric laboratories use a similar procedure for panel selection, based on the repeated analysis of samples of n-butanol at a concentration of 60 ppm. The first part of this study demonstrates that this procedure may originate a sort of “smartening” of the assessors, which means that they become able to guess the right answers in order to maintain their qualification as panel members, independently from their real olfactory perception. For this reason, the panel selection procedure has been revised with the aim of making it less repetitive, therefore preventing the possibility for panel members to be able to guess the best answers in order to comply with the selection criteria. The selection of new panel members and the screening of the active ones according to this revised procedure proved this new procedure to be more selective than the “standard” one. Finally, the results of the tests with n-butanol conducted after the introduction of the revised procedure for panel selection and regular verification showed an effective improvement of the laboratory measurement performances in terms of accuracy and precision.

Keywords: dynamic olfactometry, European standard, odour measurement, precision, quality criteria, uncertainty

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