Food Specifications

Any food service establishment will have to specify their order of foods. That is, they provide a specification: a detailed list of the desired characteristics in a product that will be used for a specific purpose.  It serves as a quality or cost control standard, helps avoid misunderstandings, allows someone to fill in, in buyer’s absence, and is essential for the bidding process.

The specification information is based on the company goals and policies, time and money available, production system used, storage facilities, employee skill level, menu requirements, menu prices/budget limitations, and service style.

A food specification can include the name of a product, quality, intended use, grade, product form (whole, julienne, diced, coin), size, color, degree of ripeness, geographical location, and packaging.

Del Monte Lite Sliced Peaches — Yellow Cling Peaches in Extra Light Syrup

For canned fruits or vegetables, let’s use the example of canned peaches I found in Mary‘s kitchen cabinet…federal regulations require that the following information is labeled on a can or package of fruit or vegetables:

  • Name (yellow cling peaches)
  • Pack style/form (sliced) unless visible through container
  • Liquid in which its packed (extra light syrup)
  • Total contents/net weight (15 oz/425 g)
  • Ingredients (peaches, water, sugar)
  • Any special type of treatment (none here)
  • Cannery’s or distributor’s address (distributed by Del Monte Foods, San Fransisco, CA 94105)
  • Nutritional information (1/2 cup serving size, 3.5 servings per can, 10 mg sodium, 15 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 14 g sugar, 6% DV Vitamin A, 8% DV Vitamin C, 2% DV Iron)

Nutrition information, ingredients, distributor address, serving suggestions, recipes, etc

It may also give the grade or quality, count, size, maturity of vegetable, cooking directions, serving ideas, or recipes.

“For a quick snack or light meal, serve over yogurt, cottage cheese, or frozen yogurt”

“For a delicious smoothie, blend 1 can of undrained Lite Sliced Peaches with 1-cup low-fat vanilla yogurt and 8 ice cubes”

“For added refreshment, try chilled”

“Find great recipes at”

(I found this shrimp pasta salad recipe on their website…yum!)

“Refrigerate any unused portion in a separate, covered container”

The packaging medium can be water, juice, syrup, salt, or brine.  Brine is typically used for sauerkraut, olives, and roasted red peppers. You’ll see vegetables such as peas and green beans packaged in salt.  And syrup is defined as “degrees brix” or “% sugar”.

Brix readings:

  • Extra heavy: 35-40% sugar
  • Heavy: 26-30% sugar
  • Medium: 21-25% sugar
  • Light: 16-20% sugar
  • Slightly Sweetened: <16% sugar

Canned Fruits & Vegetable Grades:

The USDA has established federal grades as measures of quality for canned and frozen fruits and vegetables.  The grade depends on the color, ripeness, uniformity in size, tenderness, appearance, and flavor.  Grade A is the highest quality, followed by grade B, grade C, and substandard.

The idea is to purchase for your intended use. If color and ripeness and quality is of high importance to a dish, then go with grade A.  For general use, grade B works well.  Grade C may be ordered when the fruit or vegetable is going to be used in a casserole or stew. If the product is going to be chopped up, cooked, and disguised, then there’s no need to purchase a grade A or B when C will do just fine.  Grade A is given when a product receives a score of 90+, B when 80-89, C when 70-79, and “substandard” when 70 or below. A highly trained specialist from the USDA will inspect the product and give the product a score and grade, which is a service that the company must pay for.  (Interestingly enough, I couldn’t find the grade or score information on the Del Monte peaches can or the website. I called Del Monte and the representative on the other line didn’t know as well, so they took my information and said they’d call me when they found out. *update* I am told the grade information from Del Monte is not allowed to be given to the public. It’s for “proprietary” use only. I was also asked why I asked for the information.  Sounds pretty suspicious, and I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong by inquiring as to the quality of the food they sell to the public.  Strange!)

When specifying food for a food service establishment, you have to take many things into consideration. If you want peaches, do you want freestone or cling peaches? Do you have staff skilled enough to dice the peaches, or should you buy them diced? Do you have cooler, freezer, or dry storage space available? What recipes are you using the peaches for, or are you simply spooning them out into a hotel pan for the salad bar line? Do you want them in heavy syrup or a light syrup? In 15 oz cans or #10 cans?  These are all questions a manager, buyer, owner, or production personnel must ask themselves when ordering a food item or creating a food specification.

Categories: Food Service | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Food Specifications

  1. antonellatromba

    Hi Emily,

    Great post. I have shared it on my Twitter feed.

    It’s a pity the company you called didn’t provide any feedback about their USDA score.
    Transparency means reputation in today’s modern market.

    Best regards 🙂

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