Table of Contents

The purpose of QC
Where and how QC operates
Product specification
Process specifications
Operation checks
Inspection of raw material and product
Recording, reporting and action
How much QC is required


This note deals with the application of quality control in the fish industry. It defines quality control and related terms, describes the objectives of quality control, and indicates where and how it can be used.

Quality control, QC, began in the engineering industry as a means of regulating production of large numbers of uniform articles, and the technique has spread to other industries, including the food industry. QC in some form is now common in the fish industry and its use is increasing steadily as demand for uniformly high quality products increases. Since fish is more variable than most other foods, the need to apply QC is correspondingly greater. As customers and governments become more particular about their food requirements, the fish industry must keep pace with these requirements if it is not to lose out in competition with other foods; it is therefore important that the principles of QC become widely appreciated in the industry.


Quality control can be defined simply as 'maintenance of quality at a level that satisfies the customer and that is economical to the producer or seller'.

This definition could apply to almost any procedure involving the quality control of fish or fish products. The buyer on the port market selecting fish that meet the unwritten requirements of his customers is operating a simple form of QC, and this informal kind of activity is widespread in the industry; often this is all that is required. However, QC usually means something more formal, based on written agreed procedures or specifications which are designed to reduce mistakes, and the term QC is used in this sense in 'what follows. Quality is normally controlled by designated trained staff who have a clear knowledge of what the customer wants.

Process specification is a written description, mainly for the benefit of the producer, of how the product is to be made.

Product specification is a written description of what the customer wants.

Inspection is part of QC and means examination of raw material or finished product to make sure it meets the specification. Inspection is normally a commercial activity, but some official inspection of fish and fish products is required by law; for example in the UK fish is examined at port and inland markets by environmental health officers. This mandatory inspection is not part of industrial QC, but industry should know what the law requires in this respect.

Process control is part of QC; it means checking the process, as distinct from the raw material or finished product, to ensure that all operations on the fish are done correctly and consistently to a set standard that is usually described in the process specification.

Quality is difficult to define, since it means different things to different people. One general definition is 'degree of excellence'. In commerce, quality limits are set by what the customer is prepared to pay for; generally the customer will pay more for fish that he considers to be of higher quality, and will continue to buy as long as quality remains constant. Some of the more important factors that determine quality from the customer's point of view are

species; ease of preparation; appearance; odour; flavour; freshness; size; presence or absence of bones, blood and filth; absence of specific microorganisms; condition; packaging; composition.
For example, halibut fetches a higher price than sprat because it is considered to be of higher quality; fresh fish is considered to be of higher quality than stale fish: fish meal with a high protein content is considered to be of higher quality than fish meal with a low protein content.

Some aspects of quality are controlled by legislation; for example certain chemical additives or colouring materials may be prohibited in fish and fish products offered for sale or, in some countries, the maximum number of bacteria permitted may be specified.

The purpose of QC

The objective of QC is to assist the maintenance or improvement of profitability by minimizing customer complaints about quality, and hence to avoid the resulting lost business.

Customer complaints mainly arise because quality has fallen; therefore the objective of QC is realized by keeping quality of output at the right level. Loss of profitability can also occur when fish products do not comply with local or national regulations; QC can give protection here also. Maintenance of quality is particularly important for branded products, because a brand name becomes associated with a particular quality level, and any lowering of the level causes the customer to lose confidence in the brand; sales of other goods under the same brand may then also be reduced.

Where and how QC operates

The complexity of QC depends on the size of company and the kind of products it is handling; a merchant sending iced fillets to retailers and fryers will require much less sophisticated QC than a large firm making high priced, elaborately prepared frozen dishes. However, four main stages at which QC is applied can be identified:

1 drawing up a product specification
2 inspecting or testing raw material
3 processing
4 inspecting or testing finished products
Not all these stages necessarily will be present in every case.

Ideally a consistent product can be made by controlling the raw material and the process, but in practice complete consistency is never achieved, and inspection and testing of the product is an added safeguard.

Drawing up a product specification (stage 1) is primarily the responsibility of the customer, but it may be necessary for QC staff to give advice in the drafting. Where there is no specific customer, it is useful to write the specification in collaboration with people in the company who are familiar with what the customer may require, for example sales or marketing staff. Once the product specification is available, the supplier can set up the processing line and arrange supplies of raw material.

The next job of the quality controller is to inspect and if necessary test the raw material (stage 2). The quality aspects that need checking are usually evident from the product specification but nevertheless they should be written as a separate raw material specification, preferably after consultation with the buyer. The quality of the raw material may be affected by the process, and this must be allowed for in the specification; for example freshness may be lowered during the process, and the freshness quality of the raw material will therefore need to be higher than that specified for the product.

Stage 3 involves monitoring the process at points where the quality controller or fish technologist knows quality may be affected; expert advice may be needed when choosing these points. Much of the information given in the Advisory Notes in this series can help the quality controller in his choice of checkpoints, and the kind of measurements to be made. A process specification can then be written listing both the places and the checks to be made.

Stage 4 involves checking the product to make sure it meets the product specification. What is written in the specification defines the limits of QC; it is normally wasteful to check aspects in which the customer is not interested or that are not covered by legislation. Occasionally extra checking may be justified if it creates worthwhile extra confidence in the product or its manufacturer.

The value of the product increases during processing and it is increasingly wasteful to throw out or reprocess inferior material in the later stages; it is therefore important to get things right in the early stages to reduce product testing to a minimum.

Once QC is in operation, all measurements and the results of inspections and tests should be recorded and transmitted so that appropriate action can be taken.

In what follows, QC is dealt with in more detail; because inspection and testing of raw material are similar to those of the final product, they are dealt with together.

Product specification

A product specification includes at least a description of the product and of the quality factors the product should possess. It may also set out the exact scope covered, any special processing precautions and the methods of measurement to be used.

The description of the product is a straightforward form of words, although it may be lengthy for some products. Typical examples can be found in

Model Purchase Specifications for Hospital Caterers
White Fish Authority/Herring Industry Board/Torry Research Station October 1971
A list of the most commonly specified quality factors is given in the table below; not all the factors listed will occur in any one specification. Most of the factors in the table are in abbreviated form; examples of how they might be set out in a specification are given in the above documents.

It is often possible to put numerical values on the factors, and this should be done wherever possible; for example the size of codling can be specified as being within a given length range.

If the quality factors are grouped under the following seven headings

odour and flavour
ingredients and composition
defects and blemishes
size and weight
no variation from the limits given in the specification would normally be allowed under the first five headings, but some tolerance must be allowed under the last two because of the occurrence of natural or inevitable variations in the material; for example the weight of fish in a frozen portion might be allowed to vary by up to 15 g from the average specified weight because it is impossible to cut and weigh more accurately with the equipment available. Similarly, up to a given maximum number of worms may be tolerated in a given weight of fish, because it is impossible to guarantee complete freedom from worms. Sometimes the defects and blemishes are considered as a group when determining tolerances; points are allocated to each defect and if the sum exceeds a certain value the product is deemed not to meet the specification. The idea is that whilst a small defect of itself is not objectionable, several defects taken together are.

It is sometimes necessary to include in the product specification items relating to the raw material or the process; for example a fish finger specification may include a list of batter and crumb ingredients and specify their quality, or a frozen fish specification might specify the use of a particular quick freezing process. When complete product specifications are agreed between a number of commercial firms, or are imposed by governments, they are referred to as product standards.

Quality factors for fish products

Quality factor

Products to which applicable*





size offish; weight of portion or contents


condition, texture


blemishes: blood, dirt, bruises, parasites


skin, bone, belly membrane


odour, flavour


temperature, amount of ice




number in pack


bacterial count


salt content


smoke flavour


additives, colouring materials


colour, gloss


freezing and cold storage conditions




voids, ice lumps


shape and size


amount of minced fish


adhesion of batter and crumb


batter and crumb ingredients


amount of batter


fish content


degree of fill; drained weight


arrangement of fill




heat processing


*Products to which numbers refer


whole wet fish


unfrozen fillets


smoked white fish


smoked fatty fish; kippers


frozen fish: whole; individual fillets; smoked


frozen fish: blocks of fillets; portions


battered and crumbed products


canned fish


fish meal

Process specifications

Not all steps in the process need to be described in a process specification since not all are important in meeting the product specification. The processing factors that most affect quality in the fish industry are

damage or deterioration
hygiene and sanitation
equipment and methods
packing for product appeal
correctness of fill
Raw material and packaging specifications should be included in the process specification if they are not described elsewhere.

Codes of Practice are available for some processes in the fish industry, and these can serve as useful foundations on which to base process specifications. It is impossible in the space of this note to deal with all processing details, but the following are a number of illustrative points.


Because fish is so perishable, it is important that it be processed quickly; systematic checks must be made on the time fish takes to pass through the process, and it is useful to prepare a schedule of permitted times. The rate of spoilage of wet fish at different temperatures is known accurately; thus it is possible to specify maximum allowable times in order to keep spoilage to a permitted level. For example, it might be specified that fish off the market should not be iced back for more than 24 hours, or that the interval between packing fillets at normal factory temperature and freezing them should not be longer than 1 hour.

Freezing times can be important to quality maintenance, and often need to be specified; in the same way maximum cold storage times for raw material or finished product may be stated, since fish deteriorates slowly even at low temperature.

Measurement and control of operation time is straightforward; equipment like freezers or retorts can be controlled by alarm clocks, time switches or more complex programmed systems.


Wet fish should be held as closely as possible to 0°C throughout handling, processing and distribution in order to reduce spoilage to a minimum. Good practice when handling wet fish is dealt with in detail in several notes in this series; temperature measurement is discussed in Advisory Note 94. When it is impractical to hold fish at a specified temperature, then a maximum permissible temperature should be given.

Temperatures of freezing, cold storage, drying, smoking, cooking and heat processing may have to be stated in a process specification.


The product can be contaminated in a number of ways during processing, for example by dirt, scales, bones, blood, water, lubricating oil, unpleasant odours and flavours, and hair. The process specification should detail the main methods of avoiding contamination, for example the wearing of protective clothing. Much of what needs to be specified under this heading is a matter of common sense and experience.

Damage or deterioration

A wide range of protective measures against damage or deterioration come under this head, for example measures designed to prevent the fish being trodden on, knocked, bruised, pierced with hooks, bent while stiff in rigor, or squashed. Protection against drying or freezer burn by humidity control, glazing or suitable packaging may be specified; instructions about heat sealing of packs may be detailed here, and the use of vacuum packing may be specified to reduce oxidative rancidity.

Permitted additives and their manner of use might be specified, for example antioxidants to prevent deterioration and combustion of fish meal, or polyphosphates to prevent drip loss in prepacked wet fish. Conditions of storage of raw material or product may also be controlled under this head.

Hygiene and sanitation

Fish is a food, and must be handled hygienically; if hygiene is not dealt with as a separate management function, then appropriate measures should be written into the process specification. Cleaning and sanitation procedures should be specified here; Advisory Note 45 deals with this subject.

Equipment and methods

Rather than specify how the job should be done, it is sometimes simpler to specify the equipment that will do it; for example a deboning machine that produces material of the required quality, or a labelling machine that affixes labels of the right type, may be easier to specify than the job to be done.

A certain type of freezer may be specified to ensure that freezing is done in the required manner but, where the equipment can be used in several ways, it may be necessary to specify exactly how it should be used; for example, it is usually necessary to specify the manner of loading and the freezing time for each product in an air blast freezer, or the brine strength and product residence time in a continuous briner.

Packing for product appeal

The eye appeal and finish of the product is important, and the process specification should cover these aspects; for example instructions to cut and trim neatly, and to arrange the fish attractively in the pack, will help to ensure the product is displayed to the best advantage; filling the pack with the right number, size and weight of fish, and the manner of labelling and stapling can be specified under this heading.

Yield and efficiency

The yield of edible product from raw fish, and the efficiency of the process, are important factors affecting profitability, and responsibility for these in the larger firms usually falls on production and method study staff, but in small firms the job may conveniently be combined with QC. Maximum yield and high efficiency depend on close supervision of such things as skill of filleters and other hand workers, incentive schemes, machine settings, and weight changes during processing due to drying, drip loss, water absorption, uptake of salt, polyphosphate and cooking oil. Methods of measuring and controlling output of staff and machines is outside the scope of this note.

Operation checks

The process specification or the part of the product specification that deals with processing will show the critical points at which operations should be checked. In this context there are two kinds of operations, the work of operatives and the settings on equipment. Instructions about how to make the operation checks should be written down, so that the checks can be made by operatives, checkers, supervisors or QC staff, although final responsibility will lie with QC staff. Operation checks can sometimes be combined with product checks; for example where both the way in which a fish is to be trimmed and the form of the trimmed fish are specified, the two can be checked together. On the other hand, checking a temperature recorder on a cold store is solely an operation check.

Inspection of raw material and product

Methods of inspecting and testing quality are of two main types, sensory or organoleptic tests, and instrumental and chemical tests. The first type employs only the human senses of sight, smell, taste and touch, whereas the second employs instruments like thermometers and chemical apparatus which are largely independent of human responses. Generally it is obvious which type should be used, and in the fish industry sensory methods are used most widely. One of the most important factors in choosing a method is the time available for testing. Thus the assessment of freshness in wet fish must often be made within an hour or two, whereas several days may be available for testing frozen fish. Sensory methods have disadvantages; for example the results can be variable, and the operator may be subject to outside influences and fatigue. There is therefore some incentive to replace sensory methods with instrumental ones; for example chemical methods of measuring freshness are available that can largely replace sensory methods, although they are generally too elaborate and expensive to be used as routine. Their main advantage is that when there is doubt or dispute about sensory measurements they can serve as reference methods.

Sensory methods are of two types, subjective and objective. With a subjective method, the inspector makes a personal assessment; for example he may say whether he likes the sample of fish or not, how much he likes or dislikes it, and whether he would buy it. This type of assessment is sometimes called hedonic, that is relating to pleasure. With an objective sensory method, the inspector attempts to assess the fish dispassionately and without prejudice by concentrating his attention on specific quality factors, for example degree of saltiness. Training and experience are necessary to enable him to do this accurately and reproducibly; he must become an expert. To reduce personal bias further, it is often advisable to have a group of experts examining the fish; the independent assessments of the members are then averaged statistically. Such a group is loosely called a taste panel. Since taste panels can be expensive to set up and run, their use is justified in only a few instances.

The number of objective tests, whether sensory or instrumental, available for the assessment of those qualities of a complex product that the ordinary consumer likes is still small; thus subjective methods, despite their disadvantages, have a place in QC.


Freshness is a most important quality factor to the consumer; thus assessment of freshness is vital in QC. Freshness means here how much the fish or fish product has spoiled when held in the wet state; when applied to frozen or canned fish, it means freshness of the fish before canning or freezing. Fish kept frozen for a long time may taste unpleasant because it develops off flavours in store, but these are not the same as those associated with stale wet fish.

In general the sensory method of assessing freshness is the best at present for QC purposes. As fish spoils, its smell, taste, appearance and feel go through characteristic and well defined stages that trained experts or experienced staff can consistently recognize. It is convenient to attach a number or score to each stage so that the assessor can award the appropriate score to each fish or batch of fish. Alternatively the mere recognition of each stage, and acceptance or rejection of fish on this basis, may be all that is necessary. Different species and products spoil in different ways, but freshness scoring systems are available from Torry Research Station for most UK commercial species and for many of the products listed in the table. The spoilage changes can be observed in either the raw fish or the cooked fish, and systems are available for both forms.

Freshness expressed in numbers is finding its way increasingly into product specifications and standards; examples of elaborate systems can be found in the Model Purchase Specifications referred to earlier, but quite simple number codes can be of considerable help in QC.

If freshness is expressed as a score in the product specification, or unambiguously in words, for example 'not sour', the job of the quality controller or the panel is to test the fish and report when it does not comply with the specification.

There are several chemical methods that assess freshness sufficiently well for QC purposes. They all depend on measuring the concentration of certain chemical substances in the flesh and, since the sample is destroyed in the process, they cannot be used to test every fish in a batch. The concentration of the chemicals changes in a regular manner as the fish spoils, so that the level of concentration indicates the freshness. All the methods require the use of a laboratory or fairly elaborate facilities. The main methods used are the measurement of trimethylamine, TMA, hypoxanthine, volatile reducing substances, and total volatile bases, TVB. The methods do not apply to all species and products alike, but the method used widely is TMA. The maximum TMA value, and occasionally the maximum TVB value, are currently written into some specifications.

The ideal method would be one that avoids the subjectivity of sensory methods, and would be cheap, nondestructive, easy to use, not subject to variation or fatigue, have rapid response and wide application. These requirements can be satisfied only by an instrument. Although promising ideas for such an instrument are being pursued, a suitable one is not yet available.


The distinguishing features of whole fish of different species make identifications and control of supply fairly straightforward, but identification of skinless fillets, canned fish and fish in products like fish cakes is more of a problem. Furthermore, the Labelling of Food Regulations require that only certain approved names be used for the principal UK species; the species in a product must be exactly what is stated on the label. Suppliers will then need to have recourse to a suitable identity test. A chemical method, known as the electrophoretic method, is now available which can be used to identify with certainty the species in an unknown sample; the method is applicable to frozen, cooked and canned products as well as wet fish in Advisory Note 80.

Condition and texture

This category includes factors like plumpness, thinness, toughness, softness, oiliness, greasiness, wateriness, presence of roe or milt. Most of these can only be assessed subjectively, and this is all that is necessary. The fat content of the flesh or of the whole fish for species like herring and sprat can be measured, and there are sensory scoring schemes for measuring degree of toughness of flesh, particularly for frozen fish. Instrumental and chemical tests for toughness have been used experimentally, but not yet in industrial QC.


Blemishes here mean mainly instrinsic defects, ones found in the raw material, but a few arise from defects in handling; all are assessed by eye.

The presence of dirt or gross filth is not allowed, and normal production inspection will ensure this. Some tolerance is usually allowed for other blemishes like bruises and blood marks, chalky or gaping flesh, parasites, and struvite crystals. Tables describing different levels of occurrence of blemishes can be prepared to aid the inspector in his judgment; for example the maximum number or size of blood clots can be specified for a specific area of fillet. The inspector then measures the blemishes on a representative sample and compares the value with the specification.

Advice on detecting parasites, particularly nematode worms in cod, by candling is given in Advisory Note 24.

Skin, bones and belly membrane

This category covers defects in workmanship as opposed to intrinsic blemishes described above. These factors can usually be expressed as numbers; for example, it may be specified that not more than a certain area of skin is allowable in a unit of 'skinless' fillet. Workmanship can never be perfect, and tolerances must be allowed; the tolerance should be related to what is practicable in industry. Inspection is made in the same manner as for blemishes. The presence of bones after filleting or trimming is detected by sight and touch.

Off odours and flavours

Fish with strong objectionable odours are normally detected and discarded during processing, but some less noticeable off odours and flavours can be detected only by experienced personnel. Badly stored frozen fish in particular is susceptible to two kinds of unpleasant odour and flavour; these are the so-called cold storage odour or flavour of white fish, and rancidity in fatty fish. Sensory scoring systems are available and may be specified for the assessment of these and similar defects. In addition it is always good practice to taste the product from time to time to reduce the chance of off flavours escaping detection.

Cold storage odour and flavour can be assessed indirectly by chemical tests, for example by measuring the concentration of formaldehyde in frozen cod, or by measuring the peroxide value in frozen herring, but little commercial use has hitherto been made of these tests.

Bacterial count

Bacterial counts are necessary in QC for two reasons. First, the presence of harmful microorganisms such as Staphylococcus aureus, Coliforms and Salmonella in fish products may cause illness through infection or poisoning, and secondly the presence of large numbers of organisms indicates either gross contamination or spoilage. Thus a low or moderate incidence of microorganisms is one indicator of good quality.

Some public health authorities and some buyers, particularly overseas, now insist that fish products contain no more than a certain number of bacteria in a unit weight; thus suppliers of some products now have to include a suitable test in their QC.

Bacterial testing can be time consuming and expensive; only large firms are normally able to provide their own facility, and smaller firms have to employ consultants or outside testing laboratories. Where a firm does provide its own facility, this can often be combined with an advisory service on hygiene, sanitation and fish spoilage. Representative samples have to be taken for bacterial examination, because the fish or product is destroyed during the test. Interpreting the results of bacterial testing is a task for experts who should be consulted when necessary.

Salt content

The acceptable amount of salt in fish products in the UK is usually 1-4 per cent, but for some products it may be necessary to control salt content more closely; for example the range for kippers might be 1.8-2.5 per cent. Process control may involve either sensory or chemical tests. Sensory assessment should by systematic; the fish should be prepared in the same way each time, and a group of interested people should independently assess the degree of saltiness; a trained panel is not normally necessary. Chemical or physical tests should be used when the salt content is closely specified.

Additives and colouring materials

The use of additives and colouring materials is governed by legislation, and those responsible for QC should be aware of the law. Examples of the use of additives to improve the product include the use of polyphosphates to prevent drip loss, antioxidants to control rancidity, and flavourings. UK legislation is embodied in Statutory Instruments issued jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Department of Health. Most foreign countries, and the EEC countries as a group, have their own legislation, and exporters should be aware of the relevant laws.

Colour and gloss

These factors greatly influence the appeal of the product to the consumer. Physical methods of measuring colour have not yet proved widely successful for fish products, and in the UK assessment is usually by eye. Descriptive scales can be used for shades of colour and degree of gloss; for example colours from pale brown to mahogany can be described for kippers. Standard shade cards can be used for matching. Discolorations are assessed in the same way as blemishes.

Voids and ice lumps

Frozen blocks of fillets for cutting up into fish fingers or portions should not contain voids or large regions of ice. Consistently perfect blocks cannot be made in practice, and some tolerance must be allowed. Defects are normally assessed visually by an experienced checker, but they can be measured more accurately if required.

Shape and size

The shape and size of frozen blocks of fillets, and of fish fingers and portions, have to be controlled within specified limits; in particular the edges of blocks, fingers or portions need to be at right angles to the faces. Defects are assessed by eye or by measurement.

Minced fish content

The amount of minced or fragmented fish allowable in a frozen fish block is sometimes specified. A representative sample of blocks has to be thawed, the fillets separated from the mince or fragments, and the two lots weighed.

Fish content

The amount of fish in a fish product may sometimes be specified; for example the minimum amount of fish in fish cakes, and in pastes and spreads, is specified in UK regulations. The fish content can be controlled straightforwardly during processing, but occasional checks may be necessary on samples of the product; this is done by analysing the fish protein content. Accurate methods of doing this are not yet available.


The exact chemical or nutritional composition of fish and fish products is not normally an important quality factor, but for herring products and for fish meal the composition may be specified. For herring products, and particularly kippers, the raw material should have a specified minimum fat content to ensure a good product. Protein and fat content of fish meal are important in determining the nutritive value to animals, and the composition thus determines the selling price to some extent.

Composition is always assessed by destructive chemical methods.

Recording, reporting and action

Decisions taken as a result of QC can be important and occasionally may be vital; it is therefore important to keep adequate records. These might include completed check lists, tables of measurements and results, record charts and control charts; ideally they should be in an agreed standard form. What is recorded and in what form will depend on particular requirements, and it may be necessary to take statistical advice. QC and its records are means not ends, and should only be sufficient to meet clearly defined purposes; records should not proliferate, and they should be sent quickly in understandable form to those who will make the decisions.

The person responsible for taking action on QC findings varies between companies, depending on their management organization and attitudes. Sometimes the quality controller is allowed to take some decisions himself; sometimes it is his responsibility to report to line management, for example the production manager, so that decisions can be made. The decision may be to take action or to take no action; for example it may be decided to discontinue buying raw material that does not meet the specification, or to correct a faulty process, or not to dispatch faulty products to a customer.

Since the aims of QC and production staff sometimes conflict, it may be expedient to allow QC staff to report to a higher level than the production staff, to ensure that the best decision is made.

Whatever arrangements are decided for reporting and action, they should be laid down in advance, clearly understood, and agreed by all concerned including top management. Otherwise the effort put into QC is wasted and staff are frustrated. The efficient use of this management tool depends upon good liaison between QC and other staff.

How much QC is required

The cost of QC must be not more and preferably much less than the benefit that accrues from its operation, but unfortunately the benefit is difficult and sometimes impossible to measure. Where there is no clearcut benefit, it may be possible to dispense with QC altogether, but all large firms acknowledge that some QC is necessary to safeguard their reputation. It is claimed by some that all food firms should have effective QC of some kind, and that firms without any should not be in business. One solution is to do just enough QC to keep complaints about quality from customers or officials to an acceptable level, a level that can be judged only from experience. A firm selling a product of high and consistent quality in a demanding market may wish to aim for no complaints, a situation that will usually demand a high level of QC. QC may also be undertaken to foster public relations, thus requiring a higher level than is necessary on technical grounds.

On rare occasions the supplier and the customer may agree on the degree of risk involved in not meeting a specification; this agreed degree of risk then determines the level of sampling or inspection involved, and thus the cost of QC. The assessment of degree of risk, and the manner of selecting and testing the appropriate samples, are technical subjects on which it may be necessary to seek statistical advice.

The cost of mandatory inspection or QC is inescapable and is borne to some extent by all parties, but mainly by the taxpayer or the consumer. Most QC is applied by the processor in the fish industry, but the catcher also can exercise some control over quality of the raw material on board ship. There is little QC in the retail or catering trade, but the practice is growing, particularly among the largest buyers. Here it takes two forms, liaison with suppliers and occasional sampling and assessment of the product. Absence of QC at the retail or catering stage can cause difficulties for the supplier wishing to protect the reputation of his brand image; when the consumer complains as a result of mishandling by the retailer, the supplier usually bears the brunt. Liaison between QC staff and the retailer can go some way towards overcoming this problem.

Whatever the form of QC in the fish industry, the cost should not be more than about 1 per cent of sale value, and may well be only a fraction of this.

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