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The Basics: COA - What is it, what should be on it? Finished Goods Version

Updated: Apr 30

Welcome to Copacker Search Wisdom

So most of us know what a COA is. Obviously, it's a Certificate of Analysis, right? But that analysis could be anything...some people think. Are there rules to what should be on a COA? Who decides that? Let's go over the basics:

COA stands for Certificate of Analysis. It's a document provided by manufacturers, suppliers, or laboratories that certifies the quality and purity of a product. In the context of food and beverage, a COA typically includes information about various parameters such as the composition, nutritional content, allergen information, microbiological contamination levels, and sometimes even sensory attributes of the product. It is necessary to have a COA accompany any lot shipment to its destination. Some retail stores will tell you what tests they want, some don't seem to care. Let's talk about the types of tests.

The types of tests required for finished goods in the food and beverage industry depend on various factors, including the type of product, regulatory requirements, and the specific needs of the manufacturer or distributor. Some common tests for finished food and beverage products may include:

1. Nutritional Analysis: This involves determining the nutrient content of the product including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

2. Microbiological Testing: This includes tests for the presence of harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, molds, and yeasts, which can cause foodborne illnesses.

3. Allergen Testing: Ensuring that the product does not contain any allergens such as peanuts, soy, wheat, dairy, etc., or if it does, that they are clearly labeled.

4. Sensory Evaluation: Assessing the product's taste, smell, appearance, and texture to ensure consistency and quality.

5. Chemical Analysis: Testing for the presence of chemical contaminants such as pesticides, heavy metals, and additives to ensure they are within acceptable limits.

6. Shelf Life Studies: Determining the product's shelf life under various storage conditions to ensure it remains safe and of acceptable quality until the expiration date.

7. Packaging Integrity Testing: Ensuring that the packaging is intact and capable of preserving the product's quality until it reaches the consumer.

Can a process Authority tell me what I should test for on my COA? Yes, a process authority can provide guidance on the types of microbiological tests you should conduct on your finished product. A process authority is typically an expert in food safety and microbiology who can advise food manufacturers on the appropriate steps to ensure the safety and quality of their products.

The specific microbiological tests recommended by a process authority will depend on various factors including the type of product, its ingredients, processing methods, packaging, intended shelf life, and regulatory requirements. Some common microbiological tests that may be recommended for finished food and beverage products include:

1. Total Plate Count (TPC): This test measures the total number of viable microorganisms present in a sample, providing an overall indication of microbial load.

2. Coliform Testing: Coliform bacteria are a group of indicator organisms used to assess the hygiene of food processing environments. Testing for coliforms can help detect potential contamination from fecal matter or poor sanitation practices.

3. E. coli Testing: Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterium commonly associated with foodborne illness. Testing for E. coli contamination is important for ensuring product safety.

4. Salmonella Testing: Salmonella is a pathogenic bacterium that can cause serious foodborne illness. Testing for Salmonella contamination is essential for verifying the safety of food products.

5. Listeria Testing: Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause severe illness, especially in vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals. Testing for Listeria contamination is crucial, particularly for ready-to-eat foods.

6. Yeasts and Molds: Testing for yeast and mold contamination is important for assessing product quality and shelf life, as well as ensuring compliance with regulatory limits.

7. Specific Pathogen Testing: Depending on the type of product and processing conditions, additional tests for specific pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium botulinum, and Campylobacter may be necessary.

A process authority will consider these factors and provide tailored recommendations to help ensure the microbiological safety of your finished product. It's essential to work closely with a qualified process authority to develop an effective food safety plan tailored to your specific product and manufacturing processes. Yes, this often incurs a price on top of what you have already paid for, but it is usually very minimal to have items tested. It certainly costs less than a recall or, god forbid, a lawsuit because someone became ill or hurt from a product that was untested but released. It is certainly worth the extra investment, especially if you are not 100% sure of your copacker. This act of CYA has saved many a brand!

Its not a get out of jail free card but certainly goes a long way if the right tests have been performed and are recorded on the COA. A Certificate of Analysis (COA) can serve as a tool to demonstrate that your product has undergone testing and meets certain quality and safety standards at the time of production. However, its protective value in the event of food poisoning or a recall depends on several factors:

1. Accuracy and Completeness: The COA should accurately reflect the testing conducted on the product and include all relevant information such as microbiological test results, chemical analysis, and any other parameters relevant to product safety and quality.

2. Regulatory Compliance: If the COA demonstrates compliance with relevant regulations and industry standards, it can serve as evidence of due diligence on your part in ensuring the safety and quality of your product.

3. Documentation of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP): Maintaining records of COAs can help demonstrate that your company follows good manufacturing practices (GMP) and has implemented appropriate quality control measures.

4. Limited Liability: While a COA provides evidence of testing and compliance at the time of production, it may have limited protective value in cases of foodborne illness or recall. In the event of an outbreak or recall, regulatory authorities will conduct their own investigations to determine the root cause and extent of the problem, which may involve additional testing and inspection beyond the COA.

5. Risk Management and Insurance: To further protect your business, it's important to have appropriate risk management measures in place, such as product liability insurance, to mitigate the financial and reputational risks associated with foodborne illness or recalls.

In summary, while a COA can be a useful tool in demonstrating compliance with quality and safety standards, it is not a guarantee against foodborne illness or recalls. It's essential to implement comprehensive quality control measures, adhere to regulatory requirements, and have appropriate risk management strategies in place to protect your business and consumers.

If you are curious about learning more, finding a PRocess AUthority, or finding out what should be on your COA, email us! We are more than happy to help!

As always, Happy Hunting!

The CVL Team


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