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Quality in the food sector

The agro-food sector pays great attention to the quality of its  products and services, in order to satisfy the increasing needs of safety and health, related  to connotations of peculiarity and territoriality, all performed with maximum respect of the environment.
According to a recent demographic research (People SWG, 2001), the current attention of Italians to quality food products is no longer the prerogative of restricted circles of farmers and experts in this sector, or of those with high incomes. It seems that the public opinion has become increasingly sensitive towards the quality of life, which has led to a wiser consumption management and a renewed interest in personal and family health.
Therefore, the quality of agro-food products is very important in the purchase process. Consumers and producers agree that the search for quality can be an important antidote against the dangers of production homologation.
How can the “quality” in the agro-food sector be defined in this context? The concept of “quality” in food production seems to be very articulate and for this reason, unfortunately, it is often misused. A clear distinction must be made between the:

  • Product's Quality : it refers to specific qualitative features which make a product different from another of the same category;
  • System'sQuality : it generally refers to the ability of the producer, processor, distributor or seller of food products having such features to meet the customers’ expectations in time.

Both concepts implicitly  ask that the hygiene of the food product considered  must be ensured: this means that when one speaks of the quality of a product or of a system in a food company, it is assumed that the food product or products of a company cannot be a danger  to man's health; otherwise, it would not be allowed even to call that product “food”.
The above concepts of quality are closely related to certifications (of the product or of the system) granted by third independent party. We can distinguish between:

  • Product certifications: they guarantee that any product sold or traded by a company complies with the specific stated requirements. The certified products must be peculiar compared with the others of the same categories.  In turn, such certifications are:
    • Ruled: these are the ones set up with  laws (generally the  European ones). Typical examples are the DOP, IGP, STG certifications related to geographical origin, and the biological certifications related to the methods of planting, growing and processing of raw materials.
    • Not Ruled: these are based on the company's standards and requirements of the product.
  • System certifications: they guarantee that the company is able to meet the customers’ expectations, ensuring that the qualitative features of the product (which do not necessarily have to be superior to or different from similar products) are the ones that have been declared. Typical examples are the UNI EN  ISO 9001:2000 certifications.
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