32 Finished Product Specifications


Final product specifications are set to make sure a safe and quality product is consistently made. Specifications set the quality and safety parameters of the finished product along with information regarding packaging and storage. Specifications are used to determine product characteristics that would be out of spec or unacceptable to sell and how that product will be handled.

For attributes that you were unable to measure in the lab, research values for similar products to yours. This will likely be the case for microbiological specifications.


Most commonly, analytical testing results for the scaled-up product are used to set specification ranges for the finished product. How narrow or wide the range is will depend on what is acceptable for the product. A slight change in water activity can greatly affect if microbes can grow, so that range may be smaller (it is also possible to set a minimum or maximum value). Moisture content variations may or may not significantly impact product texture or shelf life. pH is measured on a logarithmic scale, so pH ranges are typically set based on food safety and/or spoilage requirements. For many quality attributes, the average value measured through analytical testing  +/- 5-10% is a good place to start for a specification range. Once the range has been calculated, determine whether that range still produces an acceptable and safe product and if the range can feasibly and consistently be met (look at testing variability).
While the focus is mainly on finished product attributes, it is possible to set in process specifications if needed. These specifications should be included in the final product specification document and can be labeled as “In-Process Specifications”. Examples of in-process specifications can include color standards (browning level, coloring added correctly, etc.), solids testing of syrups, and viscosity readings of syrups and sauces. Photos of acceptable and unacceptable products can be used as specifications. Photos work well, for instance, if a bakery product bakes unevenly in terms of color or shape or if multiple ingredients of different colors are used in the final product.

Components of the Final Product Specification

1. Physical Attributes

  • pH, Aw, moisture, etc. – how each is measured and what is an acceptable range.
  • Flavor, color, texture, etc. – how each is measured and what is an acceptable range. Flavor profiles can be described as a specification.
  • Size (diameter or dimensions), weight, height if applicable.

2. Microbiology

3. Shelf-Life with Mode of Failure

See the chapter on Shelf Life and Abuse Testing for more information.

4. Packaging

  • A diagram of the packaging showing the dimensions and materials used (be specific on types of plastics, layers in a laminated bag, etc.)
  • Inner and outer package specs if applicable – search resources and suppliers for specifications as needed
  • For films: thickness, heat sealability, vacuum packaging, any other functional attributes
  • Individual weights or count if a multi-pack
  • Case and pallet configuration – optional

5. Shipping and Handling Instructions

  • Temperature control, weight limits on boxes, pallet size
  • The course of action if the product is put on “hold”


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Food Product Development Lab Manual Copyright © 2021 by Kate Gilbert and Ken Prusa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.