In-House Specs and Your Suppliers

In-House Specs and Your Suppliers

Mar 2, 2020 | Jeff Honey


Sometimes I am asked to take a look at situations that our members find themselves involved in. Usually, it is something that can be resolved with a reference to a grade standard or some other type of rule that the produce business runs under. At other times, there is no set answer and the parties involved have to negotiate something. Occasionally, one party decides to simply not “rock the boat” and live with some small inconvenience.

Earlier this year I was asked for an opinion on a company’s internal specs for a locally grown product and I was told recently how things turned out. Think of that children’s game where someone whispers a phrase to the person next to them. They whisper it to the person next to them and when the last person has heard it, they say what they heard. The phrase usually changes by the time it gets to the last person.

Now picture this: a company has specs for the produce that they buy. They share those specs with their suppliers who, in turn, pack product to those specs. The product is delivered and accepted. Life is good. But what if someone on the receiving end changes the rules and doesn’t tell anyone? Product is delivered and rejected. It’s the same product, packed to the same specs, but suddenly there is a problem. The product is returned to the supplier, who performs another in-house inspection and cannot confirm the rejection. What happened?

Some of the company’s specs combined surface mould with their decay tolerance, such as for berries. Other specs separated the two, as in mould on melon stems scoring separately from decay of the edible portion of the melon. In this particular instance, the quality assurance person scored stem surface mould as decay, as indicated in their specs. Apparently, this had not been an issue before. Furthermore, the supplier did not have a copy of their customer’s spec sheet in the building. Confusion ensued, and over fifty people were copied on the rejection notice. That is when I was asked to comment on the rejection.

The person receiving the load followed the specs that they were given. The supplier packed according to the available inspection instructions, as they did not have a copy of the specs. They also did not know that surface mould on the stems would be scored as decay.

When I reviewed the available government inspection manual, they discussed surface mould on the product and decay of the stem being reported separately from the decay of the edible portion.  “Describe and report surface mould that does not affect the appearance at applicant’s request.”  The company has now updated its specs for the product, and their suppliers will be advised of the change. Now everyone is on the same page, the disagreement has been settled, and product is rolling again. Sometimes people just need another set of eyes to see a problem!