Raw material specifications are an important defence against food fraud for all food businesses. Whether you are a restaurant, a specialty grocer, delicatessen, central kitchen, hotel or manufacturer, you are susceptible to food fraud. Robust specifications can help to protect your food business from inadvertently purchasing, using or serving fraudulent ingredients and raw materials. They can also help to protect your business from the financial fall-out if things go wrong.
Fraudulent materials include:
- adulterated food ingredients, such as melamine added to milk powder to increase the apparent protein content
- diluted food, such as dried oregano leaves diluted with cheaper leaves
- substituted food, such as a cheaper grade of olive oil being substituted for virgin
- counterfeit food, such as ‘fake’ premium vodkas and brandies
- misrepresented food, such as conventionally grown vegetables that are sold as organic
- packaging materials made with unauthorised additives, such as banned phthalates
Specifications for raw materials and ingredients should contain the following information:
- Name of the material
- A description of the material, including biological, chemical and physical characteristics
- Composition of the material, including additives and processing aids
- Country of origin
- Method of production
- Packaging format/s or unit of measure
- Delivery method/s
- A description of the labelling, lot ID and coding for traceability
- Storage conditions and shelf life
- Preparation and/or handling before use
- Acceptance and rejection criteria
- Requirements for certificates of analysis for high risk materials or vulnerable materials
- Special requirements such as allergen information, organic status, GMO status, fair-trade and ethical sourcing policies
- Information about compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements, where relevant
- A requirement for suppliers to notify of any authenticity issues with the product
- A requirement for suppliers to notify of any changes to the product
- Formal agreement between the supplier and purchaser
- Document control features, such as author, date and page numbers.
How to develop a raw material specification:
- Create a template that suits the needs of your business. A tabular format is easy to work with. Include all of the sections above, even if you don’t think you will use them now, or if they are not relevant to some of your materials. You can always leave them blank.
- You should create a separate specification for every unique material, do not create category-level specifications.
- Obtain product specifications from your suppliers and use them to add key criteria to your specifications.
- Add any extra criteria that will help you to control the quality, safety and authenticity of your products. It is useful to imagine that you are receiving the material at your door or loading dock; what would you like to know about the material before you accept it? For example: Is it at the correct temperature? Is it properly labelled? Is the packaging undamaged with no evidence of tampering? Is the material free of undeclared allergens? Does it have the fat content you expect? Has it been aged (meat) for as long as you expect? Is it free from salmonella? Use these questions to check that you have included all important criteria in your specification.
- Don’t forget to include requirements for suppliers to have a food safety certificate, licence, approval or registration, where relevant.
- If you are purchasing materials under fixed supplier contracts (as would be the case for food manufacturers), the draft specifications will need to be approved by your purchasing department and by the suppliers themselves before they can be formally issued and implemented.
- Review each specification at least annually and update the issue/review date.
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