| FOOD CHAIN No. 14 - March 1995 |
From experience gained whilst training senior staff from small food processing enterprises in developing countries, it appears that there is considerable confusion in many people's minds over the difference between quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA). This short article looks at QC and QA and introduces the principles of hazard analysis and critical control point systems (HACCP).
There are many definitions of 'quality' and one commonly used is related to 'fitness for use' and 'to the satisfaction of the consumer'. The objective is to make sure that the consumer is completely satisfied with the quality of the product, and certainly never dissatisfied. In this way the manufacturer can hope for repeat purchases. The maintenance of quality is thus essential for the success of the enterprise. Any errors that occur which leave a customer unhappy or even cause them to complain, will damage the business. Remember, your customers will tell friends if not satisfied with your products, but will be unlikely to tell you, the manufacturer. The damage then multiplies. Quality faults that cause harm may involve the producer with regulatory bodies and possible fines, press reports and in extreme cases, severe penalties.
Establishing good appropriate quality management systems cost money, and many small enterprises unfortunately see these costs as either a burden or a luxury. However, for the reasons outlined above, the expenditure should be seen as a routine business cost and no different from any other cost such as fuel, because if the customer is not routinely satisfied, the business will fail.
QUALITY CONTROL AND QUALITY ASSURANCE
Quality control consists of carrying out checks at various points in the manufacturing system. e.g. net weight, acidity, and colour. It looks at particular points in the whole process at which specific checks are made. In contrast, quality assurance (or total QA as it is increasingly called), looks at the whole process - from the purchase of materials, through the manufacturing process, to the point at which the consumer uses the food. It is a management tool which includes quality control.
The old adage 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' well describes the QA system which, in recent years, has evolved into what is known as the HACCP system - hazard analysis and critical control points. What then, does this system involve?
HACCP is based on risk management - micro-biological, chemical and physical In order to establish a HACCP system (which is now often mandatory for companies in developing countries), every step in the manufacturing process is examined and analysed in detail, and all points at which a 'hazard' is possible, are identified. The seriousness of the hazard is then considered and checks put in place to make sure that the hazard is controlled This is supported by a documentation system which allows the manufacturer to show that a sound HACCP system is in place and is being operated.
Checks must be put in place to make sure that hazards are controlled
Many small- and medium-scale food processors will perhaps, at first sight, feel that the application of QA and HACCP systems is 'only for the big boys'. This is not true, and every food producer, however small, can benefit from the techniques. Most small producers will not have all the skills and knowledge needed to carry out a HACCP analysis, so one of the best ways is to set up a small team of two or three people from local universities or institutions to assist. This team then examines the manufacturing process in the factory and identifies sources of potential contamination; microbiological, physical (such as foreign bodies) and chemical (for example pesticides or excess use of preservatives). During this process a production flow chart is developed. Next, the team identifies potential hazards against points on the flow chart and scores the severity of each risk At this stage it is likely that a number of questions will need to answered, perhaps by asking advice from specialists. The final step is to consider what control measures can be taken at all the critical hazard points; clearly the most serious hazards, (for example broken glass splinters), need more serious attention than those that cannot cause harm, <for example a fruit that floats in a jam).
Two final areas need consideration:
Firstly the efficiency of any production system depends on people, their motivation and understanding of what they are expected to do and why. It is essential to include all workers in the implementation of QA/HACCP systems. A cleaner, for example, must understand the importance of the task, what needs to be done, how frequently and, most importantly, what may go wrong if the work is not carried out as planned. Workers must be encouraged to report to the manager or owner any problems they see (:after all they are closer to the shop floor than the owner).
Secondly, a simple documentation system should be implemented. For this, a worker who has been given the responsibility for a task will need to sign that the work was done and when. Any defects, problems etc should be noted. In the final analysis however, it is the owner's responsibility to ensure that any programmed inspections, quality tests etc were carried out as required, because the buck stops with them.