Major Ingredient Groups, Specifications & Supplier Review

Karl Chamberlain


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The quality, consistency and safety of ingredients are a key factor in the success of any food manufacturing business. Due to this, it is vital that the ingredients and suppliers used by the business are carefully chosen and any problems with raw materials are addressed promptly.

The major ingredient groups utilised within the UK Food Manufacturing sector

There a seven ingredient groups which are utilised within the food manufacturing sector in the United Kingdom. The first of these groups is vegetables. Vegetables are foods that have originated from a plant and are eaten in savoury dish. While most vegetables can be eaten raw, they are often cooked prior to eating to make them softer and more edible. Some common examples of vegetables are potatoes, carrots and lettuce.

Another ingredient group used within the UK food-manufacturing sector is fruits. A fruit is a part of a flower, specifically the matured or enlarged ovary of the flower and any parts or seeds that are attached to it. There are hundreds of edible fruits, with thousands of different varieties of each one, and each fruit has its own distinct taste. Some examples of fruits are apples, pears, oranges and strawberries.

A further ingredient group that is used is cereal crops. Cereals are the grain or seeds from grasses, they have a high nutrient content as they are made to store nutrients for the grass that would have grown from the seed. Common examples of cereal crops are wheat, oats, maize, rye, barley and rice.

Meats are another ingredient group that is used within food manufacture within the U.K. Lea meats are the flesh or muscular tissue of animals. Meats are a protein rich food and will generally be cooked prior to eating. Offal is another type of meat that is the internal organs of the animal such as the kidneys or liver. Often meat is processed, particularly parts of the animal that cannot be sold as lean meat, and made into other products such as sausages and burgers. Fish is also recognised as being a part of the meat ingredient group.

Moreover, another ingredient group is the dairy group. Dairy products are any products that are made from the milk of animals, traditionally from cows or goats. The dairy ingredient group includes milk, cream, yoghurt and cheese. Milk products contain most of the essential nutrients needed for humans, although they typically contain high levels of fat.

Herbs and spices are often regarded as being part of the same ingredient group although they are actually two separate groups. A herb is a plant which stem is not made from woody tissue. In food, often the fresh or dried leaves of the plant are used to flavour the food, with common examples being thyme and rosemary.

Spices are also used to add flavour to a food product but they are made from parts of ‘dry’ plants such as the seeds, fruit or bark. Common examples of spices include mustard and cinnamon. Spices and herbs generally do not add any nutritional content to the product.

The appropriate content of ingredient specifications

Ingredient specifications are essential as they ensure that the products manufacturers receive from their suppliers are consistent the same and as a reference should any issues be found with the ingredient.

A good ingredient specification will include a variety of information including supplier information, product information, ingredient details, packaging details, quality assurance standards and microbiological standards.

The supplier information included in the specification should include contact details (including emergency contact details) for the supplier (and from the manufacturer if the supplier has not manufactured the product). The specification should also include the sites EEC number for meat, poultry and fish.

The product information should include a description of the product, including individual and unit size, labelling and coding details, details of traceability information used (such as batch number or job number), correct storage conditions and details of product shelf life. It should also include details of any allergens that the ingredient contains.

The ingredient information included in the specification should include information about any ingredients used in the product including quantities, supplier, county of origin and specification. This is to ensure that should any issues be found with the product, it can be traced back to the supplier of each ingredient used in it.

Packaging standards are a further thing that should be included on a good ingredient specification. This should include both initial packaging as well as any secondary packaging such as baskets, pallet containers etc. Details of the type, size, material, type of seal and colour should be included. This ensures that the ingredient is consistently supplied in the same type of packaging which prevents any issues further down the line such as an ingredient coming in on a pallet without pallet layers on a site that does not allow this.

The raw material specification should also include information about the quality assurance standards for the ingredient. This will include targets and what is and is not acceptable on things such as flavour, texture, visual, defects, foreign bodies and chemical analysis. It should also include details of the HACCP system in place at the supplier. Should any issues be found with the ingredient, having information on the quality assurance standards for the ingredient will provide something to refer to when checking if the suppliers tolerances are being met.

A final thing which should be included in an ingredient specification are details of microbiological standards for the product including details of types of analysis carried out, frequency, what it is tested for and what the targets and limits for the ingredient are.

The processes and practices typically involved in a Food Manufacturing operation with regard to “Ingredient Supplier Approval”

Supplier approval is vital to any food business in order to ensure that any new ingredients used in their products are safe and of consistently good quality. The supplier approval process will begin with a development chef, or possibly a member of purchasing if the new ingredient is replacing a previous one, sourcing a new ingredient.

Once the ingredient has been sourced, a risk assessment must be carried out for it. This should focus on the physical properties and nutritional aspects of the ingredient and any issues that may be caused by these, such as trapped foreign bodies inside lettuce heads. For many ingredients, particularly ones that have been processed, it is advisable to look at a full HACCP based assessment to determine any further risks that the particular ingredient may pose. This will allow the buyer to decide whether the product is safe to use or if any acceptable limits need to be set on contamination.

Next, the supplier of the ingredient must be evaluated. This often starts with a questionnaire that is sent to a supplier. Ideally, this should ask if the company has a HACCP system in place, external accreditation such as BRC, what the GMP procedures are, internal auditing systems used and traceability systems in place. The supplier will then be scored against the answers given. While completing this questionnaire with a high score is not always enough to approve the supplier, a supplier with a particularly low score, especially the food safety questions, should not be approved.

The next stage in the supplier approval process is to send a member of the technical or quality assurance team to the supplier to verify the processes and documentation discussed in the questionnaire. This stage may be unnecessary for some suppliers that are already audited by recognised external auditors or if the supplier already supplies the company with another product.

The above stages should give the purchasing and technical teams enough information on the ingredient and supplier to decide whether to accept or reject them. Once all of the stages of the process have been carried out the supplier and purchasing company should sign off on the supplier’s status as an approved supplier.

The company should keep a database of current approved suppliers, including details of any audits carried out and any issues that have occurred with the suppliers ingredients.

Techniques used by Food Manufacturers for the ongoing assessment of ingredient supply

Once a supplier is approved, both the supplier and its ingredients must be assessed from time to time to ensure that the ingredients they supply are of a consistently good safe standard. There are a number of techniques that can be used to do this.

Firstly, the incoming ingredients should be inspected on delivery. A certificate of analysis should be sent along with the incoming product. These certificates should be checked to ensure that the product meets the required standards. The ingredients themselves should be checked by intake staff to ensure that they are visually acceptable, at the correct temperature and no signs of foreign body or pest contamination are present. Samples of the raw material should also be taken and sent for laboratory testing to “determine the presence or amounts of chemical, biological or physical contaminants”.

A further technique used for the ongoing assessment of ingredient supply is regular supplier audits. A supplier audit involves a member of the company, usually from the technical team, going to visit the site at set intervals. There are a number of things that the supplier audit should check for.

Firstly, it should confirm that the site has a written food safety system in place that includes procedures and a preventative system such as a HACCP system. Foreign body and allergen controls should also be looked at, as well as the results of any third party audits.

The audit of the supplier should also check the basics of the operation are being done correctly. This could include a well maintained site and equipment which allows for proper cleaning, effective pest control, effective chemical control and a good standard of staff training (especially in food safety).

The supplier’s quality program should be checked during a suppler audit to ensure that there are systems in place to test the quality of finished products; this could be done by microbiological sampling, taste panels or a variety of other methods.

Furthermore the supplier audit should also be used to check that the suppliers management structure encourage food safety, as a site whose management does not promote food safety will likely cause problems for its customers.

A further technique that can be used to assess the ongoing quality of ingredient supply is to raise a non-conformance or corrective action request should an ingredient not meet the specifications set out. When an ingredient deviates from the spec information should be sent to the supplier with a request for an investigation to be carried out, along with details of corrective actions put in place to stop the issue reoccurring. Each time a supplier is given a non-conformance it should be recorded in a log so that it is possible to track any reoccurring issues or problem suppliers.

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