Food Quality Best Practices for Sourcing Raw Materials

Raw materials are a cornerstone of your final food product. It is, therefore, essential that these ingredients meet your quality specifications as well as regulatory food safety standards to ensure that you deliver high-quality end products to your customers.

As part of food quality best practice for sourcing raw material sourcing, consider these following factors to decide which ingredients you want to use and which supplier you want to source them from.

Raw material selection

To start the selection process of your raw materials, find as much information as possible on the prospective ingredient, for example, if it was subject to foodborne illness, historic recalls, or if it was reported to be related to pathogens.

Assess the potential biological, chemical, and physical hazards (HACCP/HARPC) related to the raw material and which existing food safety processes need to be adapted to reduce or prevent these hazards:

  • Biological hazards in form of pathogens like Salmonella or Listeria;
  • Chemical hazards in form of sulphite or heavy metal levels;
  • Physical hazards in form of foreign materials such as glass, metal, or hard plastics.

Do new processes, such as additional cleaning steps, or programmes, such as allergen management, need to be established to meet food safety standards? For instance, allergen regulations might vary in different countries.

Supplier validation and management

Once you have decided which raw materials your final product will be composed of establish thorough supplier validation and management processes to ensure that you receive high-quality raw materials.

Source from suppliers that meet your quality standards

Inconsistent quality of your raw materials can have a negative impact on your productivity, final products and even on your company’s reputation. It is, therefore, important to source your raw materials from suppliers, who adhere to the same quality standards as your company. Sourcing raw materials and ingredients from trusted suppliers are one of the 8 important food safety factors food businesses need to consider.

Conduct rigorous supplier validation

It is essential to conduct rigorous supplier validation checks to ensure that you will receive only raw materials that adhere to legislative and your specific quality standards. As a first step, undertake a supplier validation against your quality criteria.

Evaluate general supplier information and a sample of the raw material against your food quality checklist. In this process, test the raw material for its composition, purity, and potential presence of microbiological contamination. In addition, you can perform a test run at your facility.

As a second step, evaluate the supplier’s qualification by checking if they have a quality management system in place and if they comply with all relevant regulations. And lastly, perform an onsite audit at the supplier’s facility to check that they adhere to all relevant quality and safety standards. By having a close look at each step of their production process, you can check if they can provide the necessary documentation and eliminate the risk of contamination.

Small food businesses might find on-site audits not feasible due to their restricted resources. Alternatively, they can develop a questionnaire which serves as the decision-making document for assessing their current or prospective suppliers. By answering this questionnaire, the supplier should provide information on the following food quality and security factors:

  • Food safety policy
  • Hazard analysis
  • Plan of CCP (critical control point) checks
  • Contamination control (including metal, glass, plastic)
  • Recall management (including mock recalls)
  • Traceability of ingredients
  • Customer complaint management
  • Allergen management
  • Sanitation and hygiene policy
  • Staff training programme
  • Laboratory procedures
  • Pest control

Raw material specifications

Once you have decided on the different raw materials and from which supplier you want to source them, you need to determine a list of raw material specifications, against which each incoming lot needs to be checked. For example, these specifications need to include:

  • The origin and method of production;
  • Product handling information, such as shelf-life and storage conditions;
  • The composition of the material, including nutrition information;
  • All food safety aspects, such as allergens;
  • All information necessary to prove suitability claims, such as gluten-free, organic or vegan;
  • All information needed to correctly label your finished product.

COA for raw materials that carry food safety or quality risk

In addition to the obligatory visual inspection of your incoming raw materials, request a COA (certificate of analysis) for each shipment that carries high food safety or quality risk to ensure that your supplier consistently delivers raw materials that adhere to your quality and safety specifications (Learn more on how to evaluate your food safety risks with the help of a food safety risk matrix).

The COA gives you a supplier report on the characteristics of the incoming batch. In case of incoming raw materials, for which you may not need a COA, make sure that those are still delivered to your own or your customers’ raw material specifications. These regular supplier and delivery checks enable you to manage your suppliers by informing them of non-conforming delivery before those raw materials of minor quality enter your facility.

Profound knowledge of your incoming raw materials is key for food safety, productivity and reputation, as ingredients that do not meet your specifications might give rise to food safety risks that can slow production, increase costs and damage your brand. Thorough raw material and supplier management help you ensuring high food quality and safety standards.

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