Small and medium sized food processing businesses all over the world increasingly have to consider the production of good quality products as essential to their survival. Consumers and buyers are becoming highly aware of the importance of safe, high quality products.
There are two terms that are often used with Quality – Assurance and Control. But what is the difference between the two?
Large companies use advertising as a means to convey the message that their products are of high quality. These advertisements make subtle statements which imply “our foods are made only from high quality ingredients.” Packaging also plays a key role in projecting quality image. Also, producers who sell intermediate products, such as dried fruits, to a secondary processor find that the buyer expects the foods to meet an agreed standard. In the case of exporters, these standards are becoming more and more strict.
Before improving and controlling quality, let us understand the term better. A common definition is “achieving agreed customer expectations or specifications”. In other words, the customer defines the quality criteria needed in a product. To meet this standard the manufacturer puts in a Quality Control System to ensure that the product meets these criteria on a routine basis.
Quality control or quality assurance
The following example using baked goods demonstrates the difference between quality control and quality assurance. A customer may specify that bread should be white, with a good loaf volume and pleasant flavour and taste. The manufacturer then needs to focus on the process to ensure that the raw materials are consistently handled to produce uniform white loaves with the expected volume and taste.
Achieving Quality Control
- Inspection of raw materials to ensure that no poor quality ingredients are used.
- Carrying out checks on the process to ensure that the weights of the ingredients and temperature and time of baking are correct.
- Inspecting the final product to ensure that no poor quality loaves are sent to the consumer.
However, this Quality Control approach is focused on the process whereas the problems that customers may face can also occur elsewhere in the production and distribution chain.
Some examples of Quality Control Approach
Problem: Many of the loaves are contaminated with pieces of wood.
Reason: The distribution system involves transporting the loaves on wooden trays to retail stores where the loaves are packaged and then sold to customers. The wooden trays are not part of the quality control system because they are used after the product has left the bakery.
Problem: A particular customer has asked for loaves of a different size and colour but these do not arrive as requested.
Reason: The sales staff have no formal procedure for informing the production staff about changes in this customer’s specification. The problem has occurred because of missing links in quality management in the bakery.
Problem: Bread has been returned because of a bad flavour and some customers have complained that they have been made ill.
Reason: The flour has been stored next to cleaning chemicals in the dry goods store. One old unlabeled chemical container has been found to have leaked. The company have no documented rules for the storage and handling of chemicals.
The staff who routinely clean the store are not trained and receive lower wages than other members of the production team. The container is old and unlabelled.
Total Quality Assurance
To overcome the above mentioned problems, a wider approach than quality control is required. This is termed Total Quality Assurance.
Quality Assurance systems take a much wider view of what is involved in satisfying customers’ needs. The quality assurance system focuses on the prevention of problems and not simply on their cure.
A quality assurance approach therefore, includes the whole production and distribution system, from the suppliers of important raw materials, through the internal business management to the customer. Quality assurance systems should be documented in a simple way to show who has responsibility for doing what and when. The focus of quality assurance is prevention and this should mean that action is taken to meet a specification and prevent failures from occurring a second time. This is done by planning, management action, agreements with key suppliers and other people in the distribution chain.
Quality assurance can only be achieved with well trained and motivated staff. Workers are normally well aware of the causes of most problems and when quality assurance is used properly they can resolve most quality problems which is within their control.
It is important to recognise that any system is operated by people. Thus, it is the responsibility of the people involved in manufacturing a food product and ensure that it has the right quality. Thus, the people need to know what their own responsibilities are in this quality chain and where they fit into the overall system.
Business owners must not regard communication as a one-way process.There should be a feedback system in place for the information to flow in both ways. Well trained and informed staff are an essential element of the Quality Assurance approach.
The other main element of the quality assurance approach which ensures that the system works is to document in a simple way the procedures and responsibilities within a team of workers.
Consider the problems faced by the bakery described previously:
Problem 1 The use of wooden trays
A quality assurance system ensures that this link in the chain is discussed by the manager and staff and that proper controls and arrangements with the distributor are put into place (for example, plastic sheets on the wooden trays).
Problem 2 The customer requiring special bread
A quality assurance system ensures that the communication is constantly operating and being improved. Responsibility and authority are clearly defined.
Problem 3 Tainted bread causing sickness
The management had not identified and controlled the potential hazard that improper handling and storage of chemicals can cause. The effective creation of a quality assurance system should include an assessment and development of methods to control or prevent hazards..
Quality Assurance systems are not mysterious and need not be complex. They simply require the business to agree what are the customers’ needs and then ensure that staff have the skills, materials, and information needed to deliver the promises that are made. A quality assurance system should not be static but it should be continually modified and refined.
This requires an investment in training people to ensure that the quality assurance system controls the essential steps in the whole manufacturing and distribution process to satisfy customer needs.
One of the main building blocks used for developing a quality assurance system is the ‘Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point’ system
In the ISO 9000 standard, clause 3.2.10 defines Quality Control as:
“A part of quality management focused on fulfilling quality requirements”
Clause 3.2.11 defines Quality Assurance as:
“A part of quality management focused on providing confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled”