Thursday, April 9, 2020


Quality assurance - Specifications adherence, monitoring
Wednesday, 01 May, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Manish Veeramani
Food in India refers to everything from a vada pav or pani puri sold by a roadside vendor to food being served in medium and upscale restaurants to finally big food manufacturing companies which process, pack and sell various types of prepared and unprepared foods both locally and internationally. Though the practices followed by each one of them would range across a wide scale, what remains a priority to the final consumers is the concern on - How safe the food we are consuming is? While hunting for an answer to these questions do we come across the concepts of quality assurance and food safety practices and therein lies the answer.

Quality Assurance
Quality assurance differs from quality control in this very aspect of its approach towards ensuring safety of the food we consume. While quality assurance focusses on setting up policies, specifications and procedures in place it is through quality control that any such deficiencies are observed and rectified. But then how can the entire range of food business operators be under this umbrella as everyone has a different way and scale of operations. And this is where FSSAI comes in.

By setting up rules to be followed for maintenance of the registration or licences and rigorous specifications which are also updated from time to time, FSSAI ensures that all food business operators are ensuring practices leading to safe food production. However, FSSAI cannot solely rely on its technical expertise and capabilities to ensure control over the food business operators. They need certain tools in order to support them in these controls. And that is precisely the reason behind FSSAI initiating its three major support tools in: Testing; Inspection; and Certification.

Compliance to Specifications
While FSSAI has mandated specifications for the different categories of products, it has also mandated that these tests be carried out internally or externally at periodic intervals. The specifications defined by FSSAI covers entire gamut of physical, chemical and microbiological testing requirements. Testing against these is that part of the activity which includes or rather requires the products to be tested for various parameters as per the category they belong to. These tests majorly include physical checks for parameters like moisture and water activity, chemical checks for parameters like acidity and free fatty acids and microbiological checks for parameters like bacteria and fungi.

Within the chemical and physical purview of checking the parameters largely depend upon the type of the product being analysed, whereas the microbiological parameters remain fairly the same including total bacterial counts, coliforms, E.coli, yeast and moulds, staphylococcus and salmonella mainly.

Nowadays the requirement for testing is constantly being upgraded by FSSAI as well. These upgrades largely depend upon the increase in technical inputs provided by the concerned team at FSSAI after doing a detailed study on product requirements as well as any inputs or alerts received globally on food safety issues. Examples are listed in table:

Nature-Identical Flavouring Substances
Nature-identical substances are the flavouring substances that are obtained by synthesis or are isolated through chemical processes, which are chemically identical to flavouring substances naturally present in products intended for consumption by human beings. These flavourings cannot contain any artificial flavouring substances.

Artificial Flavouring Substances
Flavouring substances that are not identified in a natural product intended for consumption by human being - whether or not the product is processed - are artificial flavouring substances. These food flavourings are typically produced by fractional distillation and additional chemical manipulation naturally sourced chemicals or from crude oil or coal tar.

Smoke Flavouring Substances
Although it is not one of the basic flavourings, smoke flavouring has come up as a significant food flavouring substance in the world of food additives. Smoke flavouring is a natural flavouring concentrate obtained by subjecting untreated and uncontaminated hardwood, including sawdust and woody plants, to one or more processes for obtaining fractions which have the desired flavour potential. The processes used are
n    Controlled burning
n    Dry distillation at appropriate temperatures
n    Treatment with superheated steam
Basic Food Flavours

The perception of flavour is made up of a combination of smell, taste and colour. The flavour of food is one of the key factors determining food quality and acceptance. When food is eaten, flavour compounds are released at different rates, depending on the physical properties of the molecules themselves and on the physical and chemical properties of the food matrix.

There are three basic parameters based on which all food flavourings are made. These three components of food flavours are smell, taste and texture.

Flavouring Smell
Making of flavouring smells or odours is similar to the making process of industrial fragrances and perfumes. To make natural flavours with desired smell, the flavourant is extracted from the source substance through various methods like solvent extraction, distillation, or using force to squeeze it out. These extracts are then further purified and added to food products in order to give them a particular flavour.

To make artificial flavours, the individual naturally occurring aroma chemicals are identified and then mixed to produce a desired flavour. These mixtures are formulated by flavour chemists or flavourists to give a food product a unique flavour and to maintain flavour consistency between different product batches or after recipe changes.

Flavouring Tastes
There are four basic tastes known to human beings - sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The substances that enhance umami and other secondary flavours are considered to be taste flavourants. Therefore flavouring tastes can be identified with flavour enhancers that are largely based on amino acids and nucleotides and are typically used as sodium or calcium salts.
n    Glutamic acid salts
n    Glycine salts
n    Guanylic acid salts
n    Nucleotide salts
n    Inosinic acid salts
n    5'-ribonucleotide salts

Food flavour is a very important quality factor. Flavour is perceived as combination of smell, taste, and chemesthesis, such as pungency or irritation. Both volatile and non-volatile food compounds may activate the actual flavour perception process. Flavour perception depends on the availability and release of these various compounds from food, as a function of time.

(The author is consultant dietitian)
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