A brief guide to food inspection, covering topics such as setting out the quality criteria against which the food is to be assessed, establishing the sample rate required, the practicalities of carrying out the inspection and the equipment you are likely to need in order to collect the necessary quality data.
Conducting regular quality assessments of food through the distribution chain are a vital part of the supply chain, and can provide essential quality data. Here we look at some of the starting criteria to ensure you get a good start to your inspection process.
Location of your Food Quality Inspection
Simply put, this needs to be the location in which you will have the greatest access to the largest volume of the product you wish to assess. This will usually include the following possibilities: Supplier premises, central distribution points or the final destination such as a shop or catering outlet. There are advantages to all of these locations, such as being able to open product packaging at a supplier premises, knowing that it can be repackaged if compliant, or having a wider range of product from different suppliers available at a central distribution point, or being able to determine the full impact of distribution on product quality when doing your quality inspection at the end of the distribution chain.
Setting out your Sample Rate for the Inspection
There are useful guides to sampling, including the ISO document 874, which is used for determining sample rates for single product consignments, and is the accepted guide for those organisations conducting a quality inspection for loss assessment purposes when food has been damaged in transit.
If an official sampling guide is not suitable for your inspection for any purpose, we would always recommend a scale of sample that is weighted to give importance to the most important product lines, either in terms of quantity or value. A sampling regime for quality inspections should be designed to have the maximum impact to the owner or purchaser of the product in terms of value, yield or money saved due to improvements in quality.
Determining the Criteria for your Quality Inspection
In theory, it is impossible to conduct a quality inspection of any sort without having an agreed document setting out the criteria against which the food product will be assessed. This will most commonly be a purchase specification agreed between the supplier and the buyer of the goods, indicating the technical requirements for the product. Most specifications will set out the quality systems under which the food should be produced, and some will also provide guideline nutritional information, however as these standards require either a site audit or laboratory analysis to determine compliance they will not form part of the quality inspection criteria. This will make use of the physical quality factors set out in the document, including some of the following elements:
Product Size / Weight
Pack / Box / Unit Weight
Dates and Labelling Compliance
Cutting / Preparation Standards
Freshness / Ripeness (for perishable food)
Presence of Foreign Objects / Pests
The absence of Rots / Mould / Breakdown
Integrity of Packaging / Vacuum Packing
There will of course then be very product specific criteria to be included, depending upon the food that is being assessed, such as the size requirement for mushrooms, the maximum amount of fat allowed on a Sirloin Steak, or the cutting size of baton carrots. When all of these factors have been set out, it is possible to commence with the quality inspection.
Equipment Used During the Quality Inspection
The first point to be made here is that this covers only equipment that is made to be mobile, and can either be carried around a production unit, warehouse or from one location to another. There is of course a wide range of larger equipment for quality testing of food products, but that will perhaps be an article for another day. The mobile inspector will need a kit that includes some or all of the following:
Scales - A model that can be calibrated for accuracy, and which should report in single grams or similar small gradient.
Camera - A picture tells a thousand words, and all data found during a quality inspection should be verified by evidence.
Calipers / Ruler / Tape - For measuring product length or thickness
Sizing Rings - For fresh products such as tomato or mushroom which have a size requirement in mm.
Penknife - For opening packaging or cutting product for internal examination
Temperature Probe - To determine both product and ambient temperature
Refractometer and Penetrometer - To measure sugar content and firmness of various fruits
Safety Gear - Either High Risk (Whites) or Hi Vis, depending upon the location. Hair nets, boots, hard hats, gloves
Pen and paper, or a mobile data entry device to record all findings
This is a good starting point to setting out your inspection process, but does not cover the actual inspection method which we will move onto in a later article, but feel free to visit us if you need more information at FSL Food Quality Assurance Inspections