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Food Analysis and Quality Control Checks
The food and drink industry has been under a lot of scrutiny as of late, and for good reason. The industry is peppered (pardon the pun) with risks and challenges that need to be constantly checked and monitored.
It can be difficult to manage quality checks consistently across your business, particularly when you might have large numbers of products and suppliers.
If you experience some of the following challenges then we have the solution.
What problems can be overcome by using QADEX for Food Analysis and Quality Control?
- When manual paperwork is used for quality checks the ability to pick up and resolve issues quickly is missed as crucial data is often stuck in a filing cabinet somewhere gathering dust. Potential issues with the quality of food are not recognised until they escalate or consumer complaints emerge.
- Finished product and raw materials quality checks are not being managed consistently across your food safety and quality control processes. Patterns that could be picked up using statistical process control are missed. Inappropriate analysis methods may be being used resulting in wasted money and time.
- Supplier performance issues are not being picked up quickly enough. Food manufacturers are under pressure to deliver continuous improvement. This is harder to achieve without a well functioning food analysis and quality control process which has a feedback loop of supplier non-conformances and supplier improvement.
- Supplier quality problems can have substantial service level or product quality impacts. Without robust analysis methods, out of specification raw materials are not detected resulting in adverse impacts on process control and a reduction in the quality of the food products sold.
- Sharing information relating to “problem” suppliers is ad-hoc. With teams at different locations, working alone, delivering their version of the food quality control and assurance process, problem suppliers often go undetected until a major issue arises and then a detailed quality control analysis indicates that there were signs of problems but the bigger picture was missed.
What exactly is Food Quality Control and Assurance?
Food quality control and assurance is a set of processes and procedures to ensure that all raw materials used and finished products produced meet food safety, quality and legal requirements.
Every food safety and quality control system should have senior management commitment at its core. Without senior management commitment all systems are likely to be superficial and over-ruled or gamed by other departments who will often have other more immediate priorities such as maintaining customer services levels, minimising labour costs and maximising production yields.
A hazard and risk management system must be in place. This will often be based on HACCP principles. To be effective there needs to be a hazard and risk management team who are suitably qualified and multi-disciplined. Team members should have received appropriate training. The team should be sufficiently aware of the company activities and kept up to date of the changes in customer requirements. A documented hazard and risk analysis (HARA) needs to be in place and form part of the quality manual. Scope should be defined and should be relevant to all of the products produced. A process flow chart showing the full production process from raw material intake to finished product despatch should also be in place. A review of potential hazards from chemical, physical, microbiological, quality, integrity and malicious intervention should be completed. Each identified hazard should be reviewed against risk and given a numerical scale to determine the severity and likelihood of a hazard occurring. Other quality hazards should be managed through pre requisite programs such as supplier and vendor assurance.
A product safety and quality management system should be in place. This will often take the place of a product safety and quality manual outlining working methods and procedures for all parts of the food processing process. Many food businesses are using software systems such as the QADEX knowledge and document management module as part of the food safety and quality control process. This should be maintained up to date and relevant procedures displayed at specific areas throughout the plant. The manual should be available to all relevant staff. Effective document control to include reference number and issue numbers should be in place. Complete records and audit trails should exist for all amendments. Record keeping should demonstrate the effective control of product safety, legality and quality characteristics. Records should be maintained for a period of time which is consistent with the shelf life of the product, taking account of the fact that many fresh products may be frozen at home by consumers. All QA checks on production are recorded and retained.
Comprehensive raw material and finished product specification should be maintained. All raw materials should be bought against agreed supplier specifications and an approved suppler list maintained that includes full details of the suppliers. Robust supplier risk assessments should determine the respective supplier approval process to be used which may range from certification review, self assessment questionnaires through to on-site audit of suppliers. Supplier performance monitoring should be ongoing.
A risk based system of internal audits should be in place with the scope of audits covering quality, safety and legality, with regular audits confirming effective implementation of the requirements of the food quality control and assurance system. Non-conformances from audits should be signed off and corrective actions regularly reviewed at management meetings.
An effective and tested traceability procedure should be in place. The batch codes of each raw material used should be recorded on production records and all intermediate products should have transit packaging and labelling to include product description and time/shift/date and codes. This is used to trace finished products back to manufacturing/raw material usage. Frequent challenge tests demonstrate that the traceability system is working and trace records should be available in a timely manner.
A procedure for complaint handling should ensure that all complaints are logged and reviewed according to the type of complaint. A growing number of businesses use the QADEX customer complaints module for this. Regular complaints and non-conformance reports should be presented to and reviewed by senior management.
Site standards will include external standard, building fabric and interiors, utilities, security, layout and product flow, equipment, maintenance, housekeeping and cleaning, product contamination control, chemical and biological control, waste and waste disposal and pest control.
Product and process controls will include product development, artwork management, process control, calibration, product inspection, testing, measuring, control of non-conforming product, incoming goods, storage and despatch.
Personnel controls will include training and competence, personal hygiene, staff facilities, medical screening, protective clothing.
For training and competence a detailed programme of work and hygiene training should be in place. New employees including temporary workers should undergo induction training and have aptitude tests to ensure understanding. Training should be based on work skills for each process to include hygiene and quality. Training records should be signed off by staff members to confirm the hygiene training has been provided and has been understood.
As part of personal hygiene there should be a documented jewellery policy in place which is issued to all staff on induction and displayed on notice boards. Hand wash signs are in place, eating is only permitted in approved dining areas, smoking is in designated external areas and drinking water is available.
Which types of equipment can be used in analysing food and drink?
The types of equipment to be used in analysing food and drink is extensive and will depend on what is being analysed, why it is being analysed and the frequency of analysis. Invariably analysis will be to ensure compliance with specifications across safety, legality and quality. Across the food industry the majority of testing will be risk based. For example if meats are being sourced and the presence of veterinary drugs is a risk, then an appropriate test could be achieved using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. If you would like more detailed advice on analysing your food and drink, contact us, if we cannot help you directly we will pass you to some of our friendly experts who we know have all of the answers to all of the food analysis questions you might ever have.
Which common issues arise in food quality checks?
The most common issue we see in food quality checks is operators and managers who do not know why checks are being done, too often when asked “Why is that check being done?” the answer is “Because we have always done it”. This can be overcome by completing a detailed risk assessment of all products and processes and the risk assessment determines the quality checks to be completed.
Another common issue we see in food quality checks as part of a food safety and quality control process, is lack of clarity on why the checks are being completed and what the acceptance and reject criteria are. This can be overcome by having detailed product specifications.
The next issue is inappropriate training of the staff completing the food quality checks – meaning that checks are being completed ineffectively. It can be time consuming to keep all quality check checklists up to date with clear work instructions for operators on how to complete checks. QADEX can support staff training using knowledge manager and can ensure all checklists are up to date with clear work instructions using our QA Checks module – contact us for details.
Which common metrics are used in food quality assurance?
Metrics should be relevant to the sector that you are operating in and typical metrics may include some or all of the following:
- Non conformance trends by non-conformance type.
- Customer complaints trends or complaints per million units sold (CPMU).
- Near misses.
- Microbiological test results.
- Supplier performance metrics.
- Percentage of staff trained to various levels.
- External audit non-conformance trends.
- Audit grades.
What are useful mitigation strategies to use when issues have been identified?
Every issue identified should go through a detailed root cause analysis, followed by the implementation of corrective and preventive actions. For a period of time the issue should be monitored to ensure it does not recur before ceasing monitoring. It is essential to do comprehensive root cause analysis. If you are seeing a high proportion of root causes being “user training” with corrective and preventive actions being “retrain users” it may be worth questioning if these are the real root causes or if there is a more fundamental problem around senior management commitment or food safety culture.
Data-Driven Continuous Improvement from QADEX
Prior to implementing QADEX many food and drink businesses run their food quality control and assurance using manual systems, paperwork and spreadsheets. When QADEX is implemented there are a number of automatic data-driven continuous improvement opportunities that the software automatically identifies.
Live food safety alerts driven by a link to the RASFF database sends automated alerts to nominated individuals of all impacted raw materials and finished products with workflows to then resolve incidents.
Complaint Patterns are automatically identified using advanced analytics to alert decision makers if an issue is emerging for a specific product or batch long before the issue would be detected using manual processes.
Allergen Alerts using a proprietary algorithm identifies suppliers who have insufficient allergen controls in place reducing the risk of a QADEX customer being involved in a food recall by 25%. To find out how contact us.
Live dashboards of Supplier Performance provide instant visualisation of poor performing suppliers and why.