At Work / Workers Around The Region


April 06, 2005|By Blanca Torres

Jack Harvey

Sensory panelist responsible for taste-testing products at McCormick & Co., the spice and flavoring maker in Sparks

Age: 64

Years in business: Four

Salary: Sensory tasters work nine to 12 hours per week and earn $7 to $20 per hour.

How he started: Harvey, who retired after 20 years at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was looking for a part-time job and applied at McCormick. He passed the initial screening that determined he has a discriminating palate. He then went through a three-month certification program to learn to quantify the value of flavors in products.

Typical day: Harvey is part of a crew of about 21 tasters who normally work three-hour shifts. The group does between one and six evaluations per shift. Most samples come diluted in a water solution since many spices are too intense to taste alone. Sometimes the group tastes flavors in finished products such as vanilla ice cream.

Dealing in specifics: Sensory panelists are not allowed to use phrases such as "I like it" or "I don't like it." They are trained to evaluate products using a glossary of more than 100 tastes and flavors such as pine, resin, nutty, musty, play dough, rummy or woody.

His specialty: Harvey doesn't like to brag, but he thinks his taste for vanilla is excellent.

Palate cleansers: In between tastings, panelists use distilled water, plain crackers, celery, cheese and sometimes chocolate to clear their taste buds.

The good: Harvey, who lives in Perry Hall, finds the work interesting, challenging and unpredictable. "I find it fascinating. You have no idea what you will be tasting." The job helped him discover cardamom, a spice common in Indian dishes, which he uses at home in baked goods and meat rubs.

The bad: Raisins, Harvey's least desirable product to taste. There also are some cheese products Harvey used to like, but now cannot imagine putting in his mouth. His wife also complains sometimes that he is too critical about his food when they eat out.

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