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Tips for Improving Product Selection and Specifications

By Ruby Puckett, MA, RD, FCSI

Selecting the right products for your foodservice clients from the myriad of options out there can be a challenge. These tips will help you make better choices and work more effectively with vendors to get the items you want.

s a dietary manager your main focus is to ensure the success of the foodservice operation in your facility. You are responsible for maintaining the budget, providing nutritious meals that meet customers' needs, establishing a safe and sanitary environment in which food is prepared and served, and purchasing the right products at the best price and in the proper quantity. Product selection is a critical factor in meeting customer expectations, adhering to nutritional guidelines, and containing expenses for your facility. To meet these obligations the dietary manager must: · Be familiar with various regulations established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). These federal agencies have established guidelines to control sanitary conditions of slaughter and process plants to ensure that animals and birds are disease-free before slaughter (for example, Mad Cow disease); they set standards that specify the kinds and proportions of ingredients; they also provide health and nutrition guidance. · Review the planned menu and recipes for the products needed for the menu cycle and determine if the items can be produced completely by the foodservice staff, starting with all raw ingredients, or whether to purchase the items ready to cook or serve from the supplier (a make-orbuy decision). · Determine the availability of the food items ­ are they seasonal, fresh, canned, or frozen; and be aware of weather conditions (such as the hurricanes in the south), as these factors affect price. · Determine if there is equipment and space available to store and produce the food item. · Evaluate the skills of personnel to determine if they can successfully prepare required items in the allotted time frame. · Identify the vendor/distributor/supplier that provides the food items needed. Can they supply required items? · Determine the best method for purchasing. · Develop specifications for the food items needed.

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Specifications

Specifications detail the specific requirement of what the buyer wants. A specification is a statement that is understood by both the buyer and seller outlining required qualities and quantities desired. Specifications are tied to menus, recipes, and the method of operation and distribution. Specifications can be written according to technical criteria, by brand names, or performance objectives. When written with technical specifications the quality standard has been established and can be measured using a variety of tests to determine if standards were met. For example, US Fancy for fruits ­ US Fancy is a national approved standard. When writing by brand, specify brands that have been proven and recognized by the customer ­ such as 7-Up. Performance specifications are typically used for equipment and supplies. Developing specifications for food items can be difficult when there are many varieties of the same item. Therefore specifications should be: 1. Accurate, clear, concise, and objectively describe the quality and quantity needed.

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2. Written, with a complete and specific description of the exact item desired so the vendor has a common basis for price and bids. For example, Granny Smith apples. 3. Realistic, and should not include details that cannot be verified or tested or would make the product too costly. For example, ground meat only from Black Angus cattle ­ this would be nearly impossible to determine. 4. Understandable to the supplier and provide the buyer with the desired item while protecting the buyer's interests. 5. Sent to several vendors for competitive bidding. All specifications should include at least the following: 1. Name of the product using common trade/brand name/ standard of product. 2. Federal grades, brands, or other quality descriptions ­ such as USDA Choice beef. 3. Most commonly used sizes ­ such as cases, pounds, units. 4. Size of basic container (6/#10 cans). 5. Count and size of the item or units within the basic container (50 pork chops, 4 ounces each). 6. Type of processing required. For example, Individualized Quick Frozen (IQF) chicken breasts. 7. Type of packing required (100 apples in cartons, with each apple in a separate corrugated shell). 8. Unit on which price is based, such as one case of product. 9. Delivery to loading dock at appropriate temperature. (If item is frozen, there should be no signs of thawing.) 10. FOB (free on board) your dock. The specification may contain other information that further describes the product. This may include such terms as "organic," "no genetically engineered products," "irradiated foods," or the syrup density of fruit,

exact cut for meat products, fat content of dairy products, size of eggs, etc. When developing specifications a number of excellent books can help. They include: For meat products ­ Institutional Meat Purchase Specification (IMPS) provides the official requirements for inspecting, packaging, and delivering specific meats and meat products. The Meat Buyer's Guide contains meat specifications agreed on by the National Association of Meat Purveyors (NAMP). It illustrates the proper dimensions of meat cuts. The Meat Buyer's Guide to Standardized Meat Cuts and the Meat Buyers Guide to Portion Control Meats were written to simplify the IMPS and provide a graphic description of the most commonly used cuts of meat. The American Egg Board has literature available on types, uses, and specifications for eggs. continued on page 24

Purchase Specification Format

____________________________________________

(name of dietary operation)

1. Product name:______________________________ 2. Product used for:

Clearly indicate product use (such as olive for garnish, hamburger patty for grill-frying for sandwich, etc.).

3. Product general description:

Provide general quality information about desired product. For example, iceberg lettuce: heads to be green, firm without spoilage, excessive dirt or damage. No more than 10 outer leaves, packed 24 heads per case.

4. Detailed description:

Purchaser should state other factors that clearly identify the desired product. Examples of specific factors, which vary by product being described, include: · Geographic · Size · Specific origin · Portion size gravity · Variety · Brand name · Container size · Type · Density · Edible yield, · Style · Medium of trim · Grade pack

5. Product test procedures:

Test procedures occur when the product is received and as or after the product is prepared/used. For example, products to be at a refrigerated temperature upon delivery can be tested with a thermometer. Portion-cut meat patties can be randomly weighed. Lettuce packed 24 heads per case can be counted.

6. Special instructions and requirements:

Any additional information needed to clearly indicate quality expectations can be included here. Examples include bidding procedures, if applicable, labeling and/or packaging requirements, and delivery and service requirements. From Managing Foodservice Operations, 4th Edition

February 2005

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Product Selection and Specifications

continued from page 23 The Blue Goose Purchasing Guide to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables contains photos and specifications for fruits and vegetables. An excellent book for fresh produce is Dr. Richter's Fresh Produce Guide. This book contains more than 300 varieties of fresh produce from around the world. It gives information on nutrition, selection, preparation, storage, handling, and cooking tips for fresh produce as well as a glossary of terms. A section on herbs and ethnic foods is also provided. The section on ethnic foods is a tremendous help in selecting and preparing food for a diverse culture. The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agriculture also publishes a book, New Plants for Florida, that provides information on many fruits and vegetables that have been researched and developed at the University that are available in various regions of the United States. Numerous other books and brochures are available from the USDA on how to buy various products. Many companies and organizations ­ such as the Lipton Tea Company, the Peach, Almond, Pear, and Prune Boards and countless others ­ also have information on specific products. Many suppliers offer assistance in developing specifications as well as provide samples for taste testing, quality, and other criteria. Several textbooks also contain information on purchasing. They include: Foodservice Procurement: Purchasing for Profit by Marian C. Spears (1999) and Foodservice Manual for Healthcare Institutions by Ruby P. Puckett (2004).

Summing it Up

It is vital to provide the vendor/supplier/distributor with clear and concise specifications for needed food items. When the buyer and supplier are speaking the same language, the customer and foodservice organization are the winners. It is usually the responsibility of the foodservice manager to verify what was specified is what is received. This is important when writing technical and performance specifications. Accurate specifications and knowledgeable buyers and foodservice managers can save institutions money while providing customers with quality, nutritious foods. I Ruby P. Puckett, MA, RD, FCSI is president of Foodservice Management Consultants and is program director for dietary manager training at the University of Florida. A prolific writer, her latest book is Food Service Manual for Health Care Institutions, 3rd Edition, published by Jossey/Bass/John Wiley in November 2004.

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1663-DMA Feb 05

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