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How is food quality defined?

Quality is an important factor in the success of a food product, particularly as businesses aim to be competitive in the global marketplace
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Food quality is an important factor in the success of a food product, particularly as food businesses 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 vary 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.

Product specification

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.

Optical sensing techniques such as hyperspectral imaging and spectroscopy are emerging as novel analytical methods for rapid or online food product quality monitoring.

Food sensing technologies for food quality analyses images and interprets the data via the cloud using machine learning and imaging-processing algorithms. The resultant information generated from these scanning technologies can determine the freshness of food and could replace the need for use-by and sell-by dates. This could dramatically reduce food waste.

As technology advances, both in terms of the miniaturisation of these sensors, and imaging and mobile computing advances, consumers may one day be able to gain a greater understanding of what they are buying and its quality and safety in real time using smartphones.

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