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What Is Food Quality?

The term food quality represents the sum of all properties and attributes of a food item that are acceptable to the customer. Read this article to find out more.
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Good quality is an important factor in the success of a food product. It is increasingly important for food businesses as they aim to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Understanding food quality requires a clear definition of quality and how it relates specifically to foods. The term quality refers to the combination of characteristics that establish a product’s acceptability. 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, gloss, colour, and consistency, texture, flavour, and nutritional content.
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Increasingly, other characteristics related to ethical and sustainable production are becoming increasingly important with regards to customer and consumers’ acceptability and value of a food, that is, animal, environmental, and human welfare. 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 vary from customer to customer in different regions and cultures among other factors.
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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. The quality management system is a formalised system that documents food businesses’ organisational structure, responsibilities, processes, procedures, and resources which direct and control how products are produced.
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It is a proactive approach which identifies issues before they arise through a continuous process of process and product assessment, auditing, and fault correction in order to make contracted product characteristics and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of production. For food quality, there are three important quality management tools or principles which are widely used to help ensure conformance to product specifications, meet customer demands, and contribute to due diligence efforts– Good Agricultural Practises, Good Manufacturing Practises, and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point Principles. Good Agricultural Practises are basic food safety principles which aim to minimise biological, chemical, and physical hazards from field through to distribution.
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GAP Practises include site selection, land use, wildlife and habitat protection, water, fertilisers, pesticides, genetically-modified organisms, integrated crop management, animal feeding Practises, work hygiene, field and facility sanitation, cooling, and transportation. Good Manufacturing Practises is a system which food manufacturers should have in place to ensure that food products are consistently produced and controlled to meet food safety, quality, and legal requirements. They direct all persons working in direct contact with food, surfaces that may contact food, and food packaging materials to conform to sanitation and food hygiene Practises to the extent necessary to protect against contamination of food from direct and indirect sources. GMP acts as a prerequisite programme for HACCP, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, and are mostly specified in legislation.
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Examples include personal hygiene, cleaning and sanitation, maintenance and services, pest control, plant equipment, premises and structure, storage, distribution, transport, and waste management. HACCP is an internationally-recognised preventative risk management tool which enables feed or food manufacturers to identify critical control points for microbiological, chemical, and physical hazards. Rather than relying on traditional inspection and quality control procedures which concentrated on testing the end product to detect compliance or failure, HACCP proactively and systematically identifies potential risks along the food production chain and assigns appropriate control and monitoring systems particularly for those deemed critical to the safety of the product. European legislation lays down minimum requirements regarding HACCP and GMP. However, it does not describe how these requirements should be implemented.
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Thus, many organisations have developed their own standards for quality management whilst others rely on public and private food safety and quality standards. The term standard is defined by the World Trade Organisation on the Technical Barriers to Trade agreement as 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 businesses 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.
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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, traceability, quality manual, standard operating procedures, critical control points, sampling and analytical schedules, reporting systems, and review processes. It is not only necessary to have these process and procedural controls in place but also to have adequate mechanisms in place to certify a food business’s quality management system is effective. Audits are typically conducted in order to assess the food business’s overall compliance to regulations and internal policies.
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The audit process involves documentation review and conduction of checks and interviews to confirm compliance with the standards. Audits can be classified as first, second, or third-party audits. First-party audits or internal audits are conducted internally, that is, 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 supplier’s quality system in providing safe ingredients or products. The supplier may lose its custom if they do not agree to their audit.
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Third-party audits are done in a primary Organisation by an external and independent body called a certification body to 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 used as an important method to show due diligence and/or as a marketing tool.
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)
  • Texture
  • Flavour
  • Nutritional content
  • Ethical and sustainable production
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
GMP’s are commonly referred to as the minimum hygiene requirements that must be met to assure their products are safe and of a high and consistent quality. They are expected from all players in the animal feed chain, including the production, processing, storage, transport and distribution of feed and feed ingredients. Each participant in the chain is responsible for the activities under their control.
Examples include, design and layout of food premises, structural condition and maintenance of food premises and equipment, provision of adequate plant equipment and facilities (e.g. toilets, drainage, ventilation), personnel hygiene and training of food handlers, cleaning and sanitation, pest control, storage, distribution, transport and waste management.
  • Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)
HACCP is an internationally recognised preventative risk-management tool which enables feed or food manufacturers to identify critical control points for microbiological (e.g. salmonella), chemical (e.g. pesticides) , physical (e.g. glass) and allergenic (e.g. nuts) contaminants. Rather than traditional inspection and quality control procedures which concentrated on testing the end product to detect compliance or failure, HACCP proactively and systematically analyses for potential risks and identified appropriate control and monitoring systems, particularly those deemed critical to the safety of the product.
European legislation lays down minimum requirements regarding HACCP and GMP. However, it does not describe how these requirements should be implemented within the industry. Thus, many organisations have developed their own standards for quality assurance, whilst others rely on public and private food safety and quality assurance standards.

Food Quality Standards

The term standard is defined, by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the technical barriers to trade (TBT) agreement, as:
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
  • Traceability
  • 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.

Auditing

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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