Characteristics that make food products distinct can often be traced to the ingredients used in processing. When it comes to baked goods such as breads and pastries, product differentiation often starts with a specific variety of wheat that provides unique baking characteristics.
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Different varieties of grain may contain specific quality attributes desired by processors. For example, each variety of malting barley used for beer making produces beers with distinct flavors, colors, and quality characteristics.
Some food and beverage processors are looking for varietal consistency in grain products, because their customers expect to purchase a product that looks and tastes the same every time. Bakeries may request that only certain varieties of wheat be used in their bread products so they can better predict dough strength and the settings required for mixing, fermentation, and proofing processes, producing bread that is more consistent in volume, texture, and color.
To ensure the availability of these characteristics in the baking process, many processors contract with grain companies to deliver identity-preserved (IP) grain. IP involves a series of process steps designed to keep grain with special quality traits separate from other varieties and crop types. In grain handling, this means that a grain company keeps IP grain separate from the bulk supply chain.
If a specific variety is requested, certified seed is required. “Certified seed is the foundation of the IP process,” explained Dale Adolphe, executive director of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association.
“When farmers start with certified seed, they produce grain that has minimal contamination from unwanted seeds—other grains, weeds, diseased kernels—and more consistent functional and nutritional characteristics. For processors, it’s a key building block for the quality assurance, product differentiation, and traceability they’re seeking,” he said.
The IP process is then implemented and followed to ensure that the quality characteristics of certified seed are protected throughout production.
IP works to maintain quality traits in two ways: It ensures that grain with the specific traits desired by a customer is kept separate from other types and varieties of grains and that the product is traceable, from the certified seed used to grow the crop and the field preparation records right up to the raw grain product shipped to the customer by a grain handling company. Records are kept at every step of the process, and lot identification numbers are used to trace grain from the grain-handling company back to the farm. These records and lot identifiers provide customers evidence of the due diligence taken in the handling, storage, and shipment of IP grain.
In Canada, an estimated 5% of wheat, 33% of soybeans, and 11% to 15% of canola is managed using IP protocols. All malt barley is IP because of the specific quality requirements imposed by brewers and distillers. The Canadian Grain Commission certifies the quality management processes that many grain companies use to ensure quality control and traceability under its Canadian Identity Preserved Recognition System program.
Melonie Stoughton-Ens is the Commission’s HACCP technical adviser. She explained that the CGC certifies IP quality management systems against its Food Safety Identity Preserved Quality Management System Standard. Before becoming certified, a grain company must develop a quality management system based on the requirements laid out in the FSIP Standard. These requirements include documentation and record-keeping procedures, employee training, internal auditing, corrective action procedures, and product traceability.
Once the company’s IP QMS has been developed, it is audited by a CGC-trained and accredited third party auditor. If CGC requirements are met, the company’s QMS becomes certified under CIPRS. This three-year certification is subject to surveillance audits on an annual basis for the duration of the certification. The certification is voluntary, and grain-handling companies become certified if they believe it will provide a competitive advantage in marketing grain.