Garbage in – garbage out
There exists a phrase within the computer world: ‘garbage in – garbage out’, which is also consistent with edible food products. What goes into a product (any product) can directly impact the quality and performance of the product. If the ingredients are lower quality or more variable – then the final product will be the same. Poorer quality ingredients can be hidden with some processes, but if the goal is consistency and high quality, then a continuous plan must be in place to achieve that goal. Simply, knowledge and experience drive quality, but quality and experience drive performance. Performance and experience drive sales.
How to ensure ingredient quality
Where do you begin to ensure a continuous flow of ingredients leading to consistent products? With most brand and product development today, the addition of sources of new ingredients is rapid. What should have taken months to set up the quality systems, now is being done in weeks. In 2013, I wrote two articles in PETS International Magazine that described how safe ingredients and plants would lead to higher quality pet products. In this article, the following are practical actions that must be in place to ensure ingredient quality:
Get up and go
You cannot know your ingredients unless you visited where they are made and their location. Gaining understanding from behind a desk is not an action, it is an acceptance of potential risk. Get up and go! Schedule a call – go visit the plant where the ingredient is made and make sure you know the process, the controls and the safety built into each ingredient. This should be an annual event. If you cannot visit the suppliers, how will you know how multiple suppliers compare? Regulatory agencies now expect us to know our process back to the beginning. You should look at how samples are taken, how records are kept, and how quality steps are enforced. More importantly, determine the variability and the consistency of each ingredient. Become the expert.
There are many ingredients where information is scarcely found. It is important to know nutrient content and variation, shelf-life, microbial rancidity stability and what possible contaminations could occur. With pets, we should know if the ingredients vary in taste and digestion. An ingredient should not be added to a product until a full literature search is completed. An ‘ingredient assessment document’ (IAD) should be in place for all ingredients with a full gap analysis showing potential issues. Testing with proper laboratory assays is vital. For instance, some laboratory equipment drifts and needs regular calibration. Some assays give known and unknown false positives. Always question the standard procedures to confirm the value of the information.As already stated, there will be a lot you won’t know about an ingredient. Particle size, electrostatic properties, flow characteristics, density, best storage and most of all safety. Keep digging for answers.
Relationships between ingredient suppliers and manufacturers are sometimes adversarial. How can you build new ingredients and information with that type of relationship? Dialogue should be regular, open, direct and fair. When problems occur, the bridge of communication can take the weight of the problem.Having only one supplier of an ingredient will likely be a rare event. Most ingredients will need multiple suppliers to supply the projected volume. When more than one supplier is approved, the chances for variability just increased. The more you know about the variation, the more you can predict the consistency of the finished product.
Come to an agreement
The forecasting of the ingredient should lead to terms for consistency delivery. Terms should layout expectations as to documentation for delivery (e.g., CoA), ingredient standards and rejection, payments and delivery. Often one small issue can slow down the supply chain because the ingredient did not meet an unwritten policy. Specifications and expectations should be clear, written and understandable. Please note that it is not enough to purchase the ingredient, but receiving it with proper documentation is mandatory.
It should be well understood how and where the ingredient is stored to prevent a reduction in quality. Inventory should be held in a warehouse with a responsible SOP describing inventory management, shelf-life, rotation and inspection.Once the ingredients are ‘in-house’, it is important they don’t lose their value with loss of aroma, growth of bacteria, destruction of nutrients or becoming rancid. Proper stabilization steps must be in place from the beginning. It is always best to stabilize from the beginning of the process. Delivery of ingredients will come in bags, totes, drums, tanks and bulk. The best locations and handling specifications will vary. As an example, storing a vitamin premix in a tote in a hot warehouse is a sure way to quickly reduce vitamin potency. Building, maintaining and managing high quality ingredient inventory is a daily event. It is not passive, but active. A properly run quality pipeline is the lifeblood of the process and product. It is what keeps the brand ready for the market. Without these actions, risks increase and business opportunities can fail.
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