Raw materials (ingredients, processing aids, and packaging materials) are the foundation of finished food products. As such, they must meet regulatory requirements (safe and legal for your intended use) and your specifications
A certificate of analysis (COA) is the supplier’s test results on the specific lot being provided to you. Before requiring a COA, determining the key characteristics that can fluctuate, past concerns, and compliance to specifications is essential to your product or process.
You may find that many of your raw materials, such as packaging materials and refined oils, may not need a COA, however, ensure that you are following any requirements outlined in customer or audit standards (such as Global Food Safety Initiative audits).
There may be upfront or hidden costs with requiring a COA. Ask suppliers what tests they routinely conduct or for a specified analysis if you are asking for this. There also may be costs for your receipt or review, for potentially holding the material while waiting for a result, and for an action plan if the results identify that the material does not meet your specifications.
A certificate of conformance on the other hand is a document certified by a competent authority that the supplied goods or service meets the required specifications but does NOT typically include specific test conditions, test parameters, test specifications/expected results, and final results; also called Certificate of Compliance and Certificate of Conformity.
They are only useful if they have meaning. Too many times, those types of documents are just regurgitated forms that either just have a new lot number and date added, or are even pre filled out ahead of time and put in the shipment.
The standards for validation and documentation are: Prove it, scientifically (validation) and If it is not documented, it was not done (documentation). These encompass the research information, meetings, and the team’s conclusions. For web searches, document dates, the name of the person who did the search, key words used, and the findings. Meeting documentation should capture dates, participants, the scope of the discussion, conclusions, and potential action plans.
A clear understanding of the materials being purchased is vital for suppliers and customers alike. Materials that do not meet your expectations can significantly reduce productivity, increase costs due to additional testing, rework, or destruction; and can place your product, company, customers, and consumers at risk for hazardous issues.
On the other hand, understanding the material and appropriate handling practices, as well as obtaining those that meet your expectations, increases productivity, decreases potential food safety risks, and is a key building block toward making a consistent, high-quality finished product.
About the Author
Robin Amsbury is a HACCP Coordinator, AIB.
This article was first published in Quality and Assurance Magazine, and is reproduced with permission.