How does it work?
In a pure concept, A COA states the conformity of ingredients with applicable national and international laws and business-to-business specifications. In most cases, a COA functions as a promise or warranty of product quality.
Reasons to issue a COA include:1
- Provide evidence of product compliance regarding food safety
- Government regulations
- Provide evidence of product authenticity
- Quality control document (technical specifications)
- Providing a preventive control in a food safety plan / control measure for CCP in HACCP plan
- R&D formulation or processing purposes
- Inspection, acceptance/rejection tool during product receipt
Ingredients’ COAs are essential tools for quality assurance. For example, with the wrong wheat flour (i.e., with wrong specifications), a variety bread may not process correctly nor will have the desired finished product quality attributes.
In case a COA indicates that the particle size distribution, moisture and protein content of a specific lot of whole wheat flour is “out of specification,” the baked good may not have the desired properties, which can result in increased consumer complaints.
Setting the specifications for bakery ingredients is usually the responsibility of product developers, but it is often production and quality assurance staff at the production floor that must deal with challenges that may arise when there are problems with ingredient specifications.
Bakeries should maintain proper control of COAs (for record keeping purposes). Clear SOPs should be documented to correctly manage “out-of-spec” situations. With careful control over the quality of ingredients and packaging materials, less in-house testing will be required, thus reducing the chances for processing problems.
COAs are used as an active element of a food safety or HACCP plan. Depending on hazard analysis, processing conditions and finished product characteristics, some bakery ingredients may require more attention to food safety and control measures at the bakery to prevent potential biological risks.2
The following HACCP plan section is a good example of this:
A bakery uses a dairy-based icing for their sweet goods. The icing is produced by another facility (supplier) and because of its composition and viscosity, it only receives a mild thermal treatment.
Since the icing does not undergo any kill step during processing at the bakery and is added to the finished product, strict measures must be established to prevent any potential microbial hazard coming from the icing that may contaminate the freshly baked cakes.
In this example, the bakery decides to rely on its certified supplier instead of performing impractical microbiological product testing upon icing recipe.
HACCP plan control chart:
||Hazard to be controlled
||Supplier warranty that icing is free from pathogenic bacteria (through a COA)
||The existence of the COA for each shipment of incoming icing specifying absence of pathogenic bacteria in the lot would be the critical limit
||Monitoring procedure to visually confirm the existence of the COA for each incoming shipment of icing
||Each incoming icing shipment
* Corrective action columns and section is omitted for simplification and abbreviation purposes.
Verification of the conformance of the icing lot to microbiological specifications is conducted by the supplier and communicated in a COA, indicating through lab analysis the conformance of the specific lot to be purchased by the bakery.
The bakery should conduct periodic (e.g. quarterly, biannual) testing of incoming icing to verify conformance of the lot (double-checking activity) and of the COA provided by the supplier.
In case of a nonconformance in the icing lot, the ingredient should be put on hold (according to HACCP plan) and not used until lab analysis results are obtained and evaluated for conformance to specifications.
- Nielsen, S.S. “Introduction to Food Analysis.” Food Analysis, 5th edition, Springer International Publishing, 2017, pp. 3–15.
- Jackson, T. “Management of Microbiological Hazards: Role of Testing as Verification.” Food Safety Management: A Practical Guide for the Food Industry, Academic Press, Elsevier Inc., 2014, pp. 889–914.