27 Setting Ingredient Specifications


The purpose of setting ingredient specifications is to make sure you get safe and consistent quality ingredients to produce a safe and consistent final product. Your team should have an SOP detailing what to do with an ingredient if it arrives out of spec. Examples include if an incoming ingredient contains an allergen that was not listed on the specification, arrives outside of temperature spec (too hot or too cold), or arrives in dirty or broken boxes or bags, leaking containers, etc.

For example, a warehouse employee calls after receiving a pallet of apples that are in rings instead of being diced. They ask, “You did not get what you ordered, what do I do with this stuff?” You need to have an answer.

Key Points of Setting Ingredient Specifications

  1. Specifies the quality, safety, and storage of ingredients used in the food product
  2. Needed for hazard risk assessment and supplier program documentation
  3. Determines if an ingredient is allowed into your plant or not – what characteristics are most important (what would you reject/not pay for)
  4. Important to set tight enough specifications to ensure a consistent and safe final product.


  1. Gather ingredient specification sheets, product bulletins, and/or certificates of analysis for industrial ingredients.
  2. Use ingredient packaging information and USDA FoodData Central information for ingredients without specification sheets.
  3. Use references shared below (plus you are encouraged to do further research) to set microbial specifications for those ingredients without them. Think through your process – do you have a strong kill step, is your product ready to eat, etc. These factors will affect the microbial specifications allowed for incoming ingredients.
  4. Choose the most important characteristics for the ingredients to compile an ingredient specification table. Column headers need to include those shown in the example below (Ingredient, Required Attributes, Preferred Supplier, Microbial Specifications, Receiving Storage Conditions, Potential Allergens or Labeling Concerns) and can include additional columns as needed.
  5. Include as much detail for each ingredient as is needed to ensure your product will turn out consistently with the quality characteristics expected. Required Attributes may include flavor profile, aroma, color, clarity, texture, particle size, uniformity, or the variation in size that is acceptable.
  6. The Preferred Supplier column will be filled out related to where your ingredient is being sourced. Suppliers of some ingredients will be very important for consistency and specific attributes. Other ingredients will have more flexibility. For example, granulated sugar can easily be sourced from multiple suppliers without a noticeable difference in quality attributes. It would be difficult to source a flavor from two suppliers and get the exact same flavor profile, so a flavor ingredient specification will need a preferred supplier listed.

Ingredient Specification Table

Ingredients in formulation need to be represented in the following or similar table:

Example Ingredient Specification Table
Ingredient Required Attributes Preferred Supplier Microbial Specifications, Concerns Receiving – Storage Conditions Potential Allergens or Labeling Concerns
Guar Gum Moisture 10-15%

Viscosity 4000-6000cp 

Color – creamy white

APC < 2500 CFU/g

Yeast/Mold < 200 CFU/g

Total coliform < 3 CFU/g

E. coli< 3 CFU/g

Salmonella neg. / 25 g. 

S. aureus < 50 CFU/g

Cool (70 degrees F or below) & dry (<40% Relative Humidity) environment

50 lbs. bags

Honey Powder Powder Moisture 5-15%

Honey solids 45-50%

Cream color, mild honey flavor

APC < 5,000 CFU/g,

Yeast & Mold < 20 CFU/g, 

Coliform < 10 CFU/g

E. coli < 3 CFU/g

Salmonella neg. / 25 g. 

Cool (70 degrees F or below) & dry (<40% Relative Humidity) environment

50 lbs. bags


Microbial Specification References


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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.