A Guide to Best Practices for Quality Assurance in Food Industry
Quality assurance has always been one of the key deliverables for any food processing unit. It is an essential component of the business performance of the processing facility because it helps them deliver consistent and safe products on a regular basis. Commitment to quality is a high-priority area for the food and beverage industries in particular, because the products manufactured and packaged by them are consumed directly by the end-users. Obviously, there are multiple levels of the supply chain involved, and ignoring quality at any of these steps means compromising the customer relationships and brand reputation of the organisation.
Quality assurance may be referred to as a combination of different activities focused on proactive prevention of defects. It is not a one-time job, but an ongoing effort that must be practiced on a daily basis to ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved. Mentioned below are the most important measures of quality assurance in food industry that can be implemented by all manufacturing and processing units, regardless of their nature of operations and size.
Determination of Quality Expectation: All quality assurance programs are designed around a set of expectations. Before the implementation of certain activities to deliver consistent products, it is important to define the specifications within which the products will be created and figure out which of the metrics will have maximum impact on determining the quality of products manufactured in the facility.
In order to determine quality expectations, many companies consider the cost of quality. This cost covers both the costs of poor and good quality. Costs of poor quality comprise of internal and external failure costs, and should ideally be less than 10-15% of the company’s revenue. Using this as the starting point, it is possible to build a framework of quality expectations with the goal of reducing quality costs without compromising performance.
In order to address the safety and quality of their products, food and beverage companies must establish a strong foundation encompassing quality metrics, risk identification, and mitigation strategies to address the risk factors. Let us now explore each of these factors in detail.
- Defining Quality Metrics: Quality metrics can be derived from many different sources. In some instances, customer requirements may define these metrics. An organisation’s approach to quality parameters may also be determined by different quality certifications. Setting realistic expectations is one of the fundamental requirements to put together a successful quality assurance program. Given the availability of resources, the internal and external product specifications must be attainable. Ideally, the customer identified specifications should serve as the initial platform to identify critical quality points. A wide range of quality parameters may be tracked by the food companies, including humidity, temperature, pH levels, and much more.
- Risk Identification: The food and beverage industry encounters a huge number of inherent risks on a daily basis. There are also risk factors that are product-specific or site-specific. A strong quality assurance program demands a comprehensive risk assessment that analyses potentially risk prone areas such as raw materials, suppliers, product recalls, crisis management, traceability, audit management, sanitation, allergens, complaints, and microbial control.
- Mitigation Plan: After the identification of the potential areas of risk, the facility can build a Quality Process Control System comprising of the mitigation strategies. These strategies should be structured in a way that is capable of proactively addressing the highest levels of risk. These strategies include activities such as developing Quality Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and arranging proper training facilities for the QA teams. All procedures and policies must be documented thoroughly for the purpose of compliance.
Execution against Expectations: Thorough and clear quality expectations make effective execution a breeze. Processes such as Statistical Process Control (SPC) monitoring are extremely effective in achieving quality assurance on a daily basis. Quality is measured and controlled by SPC monitoring by carrying out product comparisons against a set of quality parameters that are pre-established. This method helps identify the deviations promptly, and reduces waste, non-conformance, reworks, and cost. Apart from SPC monitoring, corrective strategies such as finished product testing, sampling and grading, and pre-shipment reviews are also used.
Continuous Improvement Driven by Data: Finally, quality assurance also comprises of driving continuous improvement by utilising the data generated during the operations. This data can be extremely useful in uncovering recurring issues and process inefficiencies. In the long run, the companies should also track critical metrics such as waste, product defects, and number of corrections to generate a detailed performance overview. These insights can help a food processing facility structure its priorities around the most important quality outcomes that they need to address.
If you have any other questions or doubts related to quality assurance for your food processing unit, please contact us at Lumix. We specialise in delivering high-quality service solutions that are aimed at benefiting both manufacturers and end-users in the food processing industry.