Having worked many years for some reputable companies in quality assurance, food safety, and pest management has provided me with a unique perspective of the food industry. Quality assurance and food safety were simpler in my early years and are now becoming more complicated. Why the difference? What are some lessons learned through the years? What are some practical solutions for these more complicated times?

WHY SIMPLER IN THE EARLY YEARS? In the ’70s and ’80s, notable quality gurus were impacting the business and quality management worlds from the top down. Walter Shewhart blazed a trail in statistical quality control with the idea of assignable-cause and chance-cause variation. Edwards Deming accepted variation as the chief culprit of quality and emphasized it is a job of management leading to higher productivity. Joseph Juran laid out the “Pareto Principle” and a detailed program of quality improvement designed to fit into a company’s strategic business planning. Armand Feigenbaum’s total quality management said that the quality professional has a significant leadership role as quality is everybody’s job. Philip Crosby pioneered zero defects, authored Quality is Free, and emphasized quality improvement as a never-ending process.

These gurus provided a roadmap to the building and implementation of a sustainable quality system. Recognizing that variables can be controlled as an integral part of strategic planning and a never-ending means to more profit. During this time, quality systems were customer driven, proprietary, and considered to be a competitive advantage. FDA was not at the forefront of quality systems and food safety programs, rather GMPs and HACCP were the center of food safety, and many companies flourished with these quality principles.

WHY COMPLICATED IN LATER YEARS? With a more global economy, advances in science and technology, and pressure for profits, major food safety issues surfaced in the 2000s. Support for quality systems was replaced with emphasis for food safety; no notable food safety gurus surfaced; and third-party food-safety auditing standards conflicted with each other and with food quality systems. Added food safety regulations became law backed by increased regulatory authority, and FDA is a more predominant factor in food safety. A company’s food safety program has also become a predominant factor in the world of quality assurance. Baby boomers began their careers in a quality system era focused on satisfying customers. Millennials begin their careers in a food safety era with multiple responsibilities, tech savviness, and online transparency.

LESSONS LEARNED. So what are the lessons I learned through the years?

  1. Work for an effective leader. A good leader has a long-term perspective, inspires trust, empowers employees and is committed to quality. Without such leadership, the best quality system or food safety program will likely fail.
  2. Select the right guru(s). Knowledge, experience, and judgment provide wisdom. What credentials are required for your resources, whether guru, advisor or online source(s)?
  3. Utilize sustainable quality systems and food safety programs. A quality system and food safety program must be maintained at a steady level without periodically exhausting resources.

From these, following are a few practical solutions for our more complicated times.

  1. Quality assurance work consists of science, statistics, and other fact-based measurements. Obtaining the facts help make difficult decisions easier and help one to be a better manager.
  2. Customer relations are an underutilized tool in the quality assurance toolbox. Asking customers “How are we doing?” can improve your quality system.
  3. Quality assurance and quality control are used interchangeably. Quality assurance happens before, during, and after a product is made. Quality control happens when the product is made.
  4. Compliance with essential pre-requisites (e.g., GMPs) is a foundation of any food safety program. Visit a food plant at night and count the number of open doors, including truck trailers.
  5. Ingredient rejection is a symptom that something is not right with a supplier. Extending quality and food safety to suppliers will improve your quality system and that of suppliers.
  6. Developing and implementing SSOPs is a practical and systematic solution to producing a safe, wholesome food by preventing contamination assuring a clean environment.
  7. Production equipment must be accessible, cleanable, free of voids, and safe to clean. Require suppliers to provide cleaning instruction before installation.
  8. Sweeping moves filth around; worse is using compressed air. Suction gathers deleterious material; suction cleaning is the center of a dry-cleaning program.
  9. Inspectors should route from finished products to raw materials, in that order.
  10. Utilize government websites and other online references, filtered to your interest and needs.

Every generation comes with its own challenges and opportunities. Change can be good, and change can be bad. Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results is bad. Although today’s times seem to be more complicated, continuous improvement in the quality world is still a way of life. Continuous improvement and reducing non-quality issues is a means to higher profit. Continuous improvement is something to embrace and always be excited about.

Ole Dosland is QA & Food Safety Consultant and Trainer, DOZ Enterprises.