The quality assurance food production requires is vital for safety and upholding standards in the food industry. In many ways, food manufacturers can be considered to be the frontliners of public health since they have so much control over food safety. Getting it right all the time is the bare minimum. But get it wrong, and the consequences can, unfortunately, be fatal.
The CDC estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. every year [*]. Causes can range from spoilage to contaminants such as bone fragments, salmonella, and even glass. If consumed, any one of these may cause serious harm or even death.
This is where quality assurance comes in. Here, we’ll answer exactly what quality assurance is, why it’s important, and how to achieve it.
What is Quality Food Assurance?
Quality food assurance is a system that is meant to ensure that all aspects of quality in food production meet both internal and external standards and regulations. The aim of quality assurance (QA) is to increase the customer’s confidence in a food product and in the corresponding company’s credibility.
To implement quality food assurance, businesses must establish a set of activities that will ensure all aspects of quality, including product characteristics, portion size, customer expectations, value for money, and others. These activities may include maintenance, record-keeping, auditing, and other key processes that will prevent any defects while food is on the production line.
QA is a proactive process, meaning it prioritizes methods and equipment needed to prevent product defects. Overall product quality is improved by catching flaws early on and reducing product inconsistencies or contaminations. This can be achieved with a good quality management system and taking advantage of data analysis.
Why Quality Assurance is Important in the Food Industry?
QA can be considered the primary backbone of the food manufacturing sector because food has a direct impact on people’s health. By manufacturing food that may be defective and of lower quality, food manufacturers are jeopardizing people’s health and eroding their trust and overall satisfaction with a product or brand.
Maintaining QA ensures that you produce and deliver safe and consistent products that match your consumers’ demands. This allows you to build a trustworthy relationship with customers, which may help your food business remain a step ahead of your competitors.
A successful QA system will help minimize economic losses and enhances your safety quotient. Businesses are also empowered as they can detect issues and prevent accidents before they occur.
Food Quality Assurance Challenges
Like any system, food quality assurance also faces some challenges, such as the following:
Human error. As long as there are people involved in your QA processes, there will always be a chance of human error. Businesses that use automatic and semi-automatic machines may have more stringent processes and control mechanisms that can reduce this.
Lack of commitment by management. Line managers and senior management representatives can directly influence the effectiveness of the QA system. To do this, they must be open to change and invest in quality equipment and tools. Resistance to the necessary changes that need to be made can limit the success of QA measures in place.
How to Achieve Quality Assurance in Food Processing
To achieve quality assurance in food processing, a set of standards and protocols must be adhered to. Hazard analysis and critical control points, also known as HACCP, is a systematic preventive approach that can guide QA measures. It considers food safety through the analysis of biological, chemical, and physical hazards that may occur during the food production process. Measures are then designed to reduce these risks to a safe level
Quality assurance protocols adhering to HACCP also involve the following:
- Analyzing what you do in your business to determine which risks of contamination or defects are likely to emerge
- Establishing critical control points (CCPs) to recognize where to product inspection equipment should be installed
- Deciding on the actions to be taken if something goes wrong
- Ensuring procedures are effective and being followed
- Maintaining records to ensure your systems are working
Food Quality Assurance Best Practices and Tips
In food quality assurance, there are best practices that you can observe. Here are some that may be helpful to your business:
1. Determine expectations for quality
In every effective quality assurance program, there is a strong set of expectations. Setting these expectations and specifications is essential before you can implement the activities that will produce consistent products.
It is important to determine the costs of poor quality and good quality. Generally, it is recommended that the cost of poor quality should not surpass 10-15% of revenue. This will help reduce the cost of maintaining quality without compromising performance.
2. Define quality metrics
It is not enough to simply set expectations. Companies must also define the metrics they will use to determine a product’s quality. This may be defined by different sources, such as customers or institutions that offer certifications (e.g., Safe Quality Food Institute).
The specifications defined by the customers can be used as a starting point for determining the critical quality points in a QA system. Metrics such as temperature, humidity, and pH levels are just a few examples used in food quality assurance.
3. Identify risks
Strong quality assurance programs require a detailed risk assessment to analyze potential risks across different areas. These may include raw materials, suppliers, allergens, product recalls, crisis management, sanitation, complaints, and more.
Site-specific assessments are essential to determine the specific risks for each facility. After identifying risks in your process, rank them to form the appropriate and actionable mitigation plan.
4. Have mitigations
Mitigation strategies can be developed once risks are identified and ranked. Here, a framework based on the HACCP methodology can be used. Mitigation strategies should always be designed to address the highest-level risks proactively.
They are meant to control any deviations and ensure defect prevention. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be determined here as well as effective training for QA teams. Furthermore, policies and procedures should be thoroughly documented for compliance.
5. Data collection
Now that expectations are set and risk mitigation is in place, it’s time to move onto data collection. Simply performing the QA isn’t enough. To ensure that your methods are working to improve quality, it is essential to collect and analyze relevant data.
There are many available quality assurance software that can provide real-time analytics and insights. Taking advantage of this allows you to have automated data collection and better visibility into your quality assurance procedures.
6. Measure performance
Apart from collecting relevant data, QA must also use this information to measure performance. Doing so will allow companies to draw clear conclusions about any bottlenecks, not only in production but also across the supply chain. Patterns can be identified using quality metrics as well as other performance indicators, such as downtime or the number of complaints.
7. Drive continuous data-driven improvement
The data you gather from quality assurance software should also be used to drive continuous improvement. Apart from monitoring day-to-day performance, it is crucial to look at aggregate performance over the long term. These findings can be used to create strategic business decisions. Short-term and long-term goals can be directed based on this knowledge.
What is the Difference Between Food Quality Control and Quality Assurance?
The biggest difference between food quality assurance and food quality control (QC) is that the first is process-oriented while the latter is product-oriented.
QA focuses on preventing issues, aiming to stop defects from occurring by implementing effective and efficient processes.
QC focuses on identifying faults, whether they are hazards caused by microbiological growth or chemical or physical contamination. This process aims to correct any defects in finished products before they reach customers.
Quality assurance is by no means an easy task. Nonetheless, it is crucial for continuous success in any company, particularly in companies in the food sector.
It must be treated as a sequence of continual operations that includes regularly revisiting quality objectives by evaluating new risks as they emerge, defining quality measures, putting mitigation methods into place, and tracking performance. Continuous progress can be attained once this has been mastered.
Many activities are part of quality assurance and control, including freezing food products to maintain freshness as they move throughout the supply chain.
If your food business requires services like individual quick freezing (IQF), freeze drying, chocolate enrobing, and powder processing, contact Empire Freezing & Drying by calling 973-649-9800 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.