What Is Food Quality?
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Food quality is an important factor in the success of a food product, particularly, as food buisinesses aim to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
Defining Food Quality
Typically, the term food quality represents the sum of all properties and attributes of a food item that are acceptable to the customer. These food quality attributes include:
- Appearance (including size, shape, colour, gloss and consistency)
- Nutritional content
- Ethical and sustainable production
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Food safety and adhering to the standards set out in legislation can also be considered as elements of food quality as they contribute to consumers acceptance of a food product and can be used as a marketing tool to trade products in countries with high food safety standards.
Although the term food quality is commonly used it is not easy to define as the ‘acceptability’ and value of a food can varying from customer to customer; in different regions and cultures among other factors. Thus, unless it makes reference to particular criteria or standards, the general term quality can be subjective.
As a result, in the food industry, the quality attributes or criteria of a food product are typically defined in the product specification. It is conformance to these specifications that determine quality. In order to ensure the production of food within specification and allow continued access to competitive markets which demand consistent quality and a stable supply, quality management systems are used.
Quality Management Systems
The quality management system is a formalised system that documents a food businesses organisational structure, responsibilities, processes, procedures and resources which direct and control how products are produced.
It is a proactive approach which identifies issues before they arise through a continuous process of process and produce assessment, auditing and fault correction in order to meet contracted product characteristics; and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of production.
For food quality, there are three important tools which are widely used to help ensure conformance to product specifications, meet customer demands and contribute to due diligence efforts:
- Good Agricultural Practices (GAP):
Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) are basic food safety principles which aim to minimise biological, chemical and physical hazards from field through to distribution.
GAP practices include site selection, land use, wild life and habitat protection, water, fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMO), integrated crop management (ICM), animal feeding practices, worker hygiene, field and facility sanitation, cooling and transportation.
- Good Manufacturing Practices
Good manufacturing practices (GMP) direct all persons working in direct contact with food, surfaces that food might contact and food packaging materials, to conform to sanitation and hygiene practices to the extent necessary to protect against contamination of food from direct and indirect sources. GMP act as a prerequisite program for HACCP and are mostly specified in related legislation.
Commission Regulation (EC) No 2023/2006 defines good manufacturing practices as:
Those aspects of quality assurance which ensures that materials and articles are consistently produced and controlled to ensure conformity with the rules applicable to them and with the quality standards appropriate to their intended use by not endangering human health or causing an unacceptable change on the composition of the food or causing deterioration in organoleptic characteristics thereof
- Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)
Food Quality Standards
A document approved by a recognised body that provides, for common and repeated use, guidelines or characteristics for products or related processes and production methods, with which compliance is not mandatory
Customer or third party standards offer a framework to guide and support food companies in developing their policies and procedures and implementing a quality management system that meets a high level of food safety and food law compliance; food quality and customer requirements; and the protection of people, animal and environmental welfare.
The development and implementation of public and private food safety and quality standards across the globe have increased in response to rising customer and consumer expectations; the growing interest in food safety, legal and institutional requirements; and increased efforts to achieve competitive advantage.
A comprehensive customer or third-party standard will include:
- Employee training
- ingredient specifications
- Quality manual
- Standard operating procedures
- Critical control points
- Sampling and analytical schedules
- Reporting systems
- Review processes
It is not only necessary to have these process and procedural controls in place, but also to have adequate mechanism in place to certify a food businesses quality management system is effective.
Audits are typically conducted in order to assess the food business overall compliance to regulations and internal policies. The audit process involves documentation review and conduction of checks and interviews to confirm compliance with a standard. Audits can be classified as first, second- or third-party audits:
- First party audits or internal audits are conducted internally, i.e. within the organisation. They are used for self-assessment, verification of internal standards and continual improvement.
- Second party audits are conducted by a primary organisation on one of its suppliers or subcontractors to assess the effectiveness of the suppliers quality system in providing safe ingredients or products. The supplier may lose its customer if they do not agree to their audit.
- Third party audits are done on a primary organisation by an external and independent body (called a certification body) who use their experience and expertise to audit the feed or food company and provide certification of compliance against a stated standard. This independent audit and certification of the quality management system from a third party is a used as an important method to show due diligence and/or as a marketing tool.
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