Quality Management

In a recent survey, 7 out of 10 (69%) consumers cited spoilage-related concerns, including bacterial contamination, as the most significant threat to food safety. Consumers are also taking action; almost half of survey respondents (45%) said they are doing something different as a result of the safe-handling labels on meat products. More respondents are washing their hands, cooking properly, not leaving meat out to thaw, and washing meat. More than 90% of the consumers surveyed indicated that the nutritional content of the foods they eat was important. Fat, salt, and cholesterol remain the top nutritional concerns (46,47). The consumer expects his or her food to be of high quality, safe, and nutritious. The consumer drives the food system, which in turns drives the industry to meet consumer expectations; hence the need for quality management.

The literature is replete with books and papers featuring quality buzzwords such as CP (critical path), PC (process control), SPC (statistical process control), and TQM (total quality management). Colleges and junior colleges offer differing curricula, as do associations, trainers, and consultants who offer courses and seminars.

The systems used for the implementation of quality will vary depending on the nature of the product, the process, and the end user. Agricultural commodities require implementation of good agricultural practices along with proper controls during distribution, such as temperature and humidity to maintain freshness and nutritional content. Similar precautions need to be taken with seafood products. Programs cannot be successful without management commitment and the appropriate allocations of funds to successfully implement programs. Food service offers unique challenges because of its complexity. Challenges will vary depending on the type and size of the company.

It is becoming increasingly evident that quality needs to be controlled in all its aspects, which includes all parameters that will directly or indirectly affect quality, namely, the raw materials, agricultural practices, manufacturing process, environment, finished product, product handling, and consumer guidance. Monitoring of these parameters needs to be directed toward minimizing product failures, prevention of substandard product, and production of uniform quality product that will meet defined criteria— organoleptic, physical, chemical, and microbiological.

Ingredients and packaging should be purchased based on specifications under a continuing food guarantee. The specifications should take into consideration the capabilities of the supplier to meet the specifications and the ultimate use of these ingredients in the finished product. The specification should define the physical, chemical, and microbiological requirements. The capabilities of the supplier should be taken into consideration, including the adequacy of HACCP and quality programs. The raw materials should be statistically sampled (48).

The increased production needs have increased demands for automated processes—complex equipment that requires the utilization of sophisticated techniques to sense and correct malfunctions—hence the need for statistical process controls. Statistical process control will increase the effectiveness of HACCP systems and assist in product improvement.

Finished products need to be tested on a periodic basis. An adequate process and HACCP controls will greatly minimize the need to test finished products.

It is important that environmental sanitation in the plant be taken seriously. A clean plant instills pride, increases productivity, and is conducive to the production of consistent-quality products. Continuous follow-up and inspections by trained personnel will determine the program's success or failure. The program should include equipment design and maintenance, cleaning, pest control, and personnel practices.

Equipment should be designed so that it is easily cleaned. Hard-to-clean spots can be focal points for microbial growth. Improperly maintained equipment is condu cive to accidents and foreign material contamination. Through integrated pest management control, pesticides must be used judiciously. The extent of the programs depends on the nature of the food and the location of the manufacturing facility. Equipment must be properly cleaned and sanitized. The adequacy of cleaning and sanitizing needs to be monitored using a microbiological control program. Plants must maintain the highest standards of hygiene and follow good manufacturing practices.

The quality functions need to be working in an interdisciplinary manner with company functions such as research and development, operations, sales, marketing, financial, and human resources. All of the quality considerations driving manufacturing, packaging, and distribution will be rendered worthless if the product is mishandled by the consumer or the food service operator. Handling instructions need to be adequate and explicit.

The final link in the food chain is the consumer. Assuming that each American eats four times a day, there could be one billion opportunities each day for someone to contract or transmit a foodborne illness (49) or consume a substandard product. Therefore, a concerted effort to educate the consumer is very important. The successful quality program will require the implementation of a system approach from farm to fork (4).

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