If you can't measure it... 5 steps on how to manage quality and food safety in food business.
Updated: Dec 19, 2017
It is a well known fact within the manufacturing industry that in order to effectively manage quality, an organization needs a set of performance indicators.
Car factories or domestic goods manufacturers use widely adopted systems to measure the quality and efficiency of their production lines. However, when it comes to the food industry, it is surprising how far behind some of the manufacturers are. Especially when a high level of manual labour is involved. A common excuse, is that the product is too variable to effectively implement stringent controls.
My personal opinion is that a significant number of technical and quality professionals managing food factories are experts on microbiology, food safety and legality of the product with numerous responsibilities on their plates who have very little time to invest in continuous improvement. Bigger organisations can afford to have dedicated departments created in order to drive efficiencies and quality. However, when looking at small and mid size organisations, CI function often lands on the Technical or Operational Manager's desk under a pile of other important "to do" folders.
How can these organisations effectively manage quality and food safety? Reflect on the points below and I am sure you will find a suitable answer for your organisation.
1. REVIEW WHAT DATA YOU ALREADY HAVE
The majority of UK food businesses collect "tonnes" of data for various reasons. However, surprisingly only a few businesses actually make good use of the data they collect.
A typical food business will collect info about: customer complaints, rejections, taste panels, microbiological testing, intake checks on raw material. Some businesses also record concessions given when deviation from operating procedures are granted, non conformances from internal and external audits and many more. All this data is a powerful tool in the right hands. Unfortunately in many cases this data is collated in a way which allows particular issues to be traced when system is challenged but does not provide useful trends and often is disjointed from other key indicators. How to address that? Read on...
2. HOW DO YOU COLLECT YOUR DATA
If you still use paper... well we are now in 21st century it is time to start thinking about the trees. There is a lot of applications out there, some free some paid for all will help you to go paperless. If your budget is really tight a simple PC with good old excel will do the job.
What is most important when you are designing any paperless systems is:
> Think about what info you want to get out of the data. E.g. if you want to be able to trend Ready to Eat and Ready to Cook products separately make sure these categories are captured somewhere.
> Listen and make it easier for people who do the data entry (QAs, Admins Operatives) and you will get their buy in. Consider using IT solutions. A simple £40 USB barcode scanner and VLookup function in excel can save a lot of typing to your team and standardize the way data is captured.
> For key trending parameters use drop down menus or cell validation in excel to standardize the entries. You would be surprised in how many ways people can write the name of your product. Some of them will even look the same but a spare space at the end of the name for your computer makes a difference.
> Make sure your system / spreadsheet can deliver trends in the way you want it. Daily / Weekly / Monthly YoY customer trading calendars etc.
> Talk to other departments to understand how they collate the data. E.g. for CPMU you will need sales figures. Can you link their spreadsheet to yours so figures pull through automatically etc.
So now you have all those tons of data collected in the right format what is next? Are you frustrated that you spent too much time preparing reports for the exec team, weekly customer reports, technical meetings, group reporting etc. etc?
Once you have data in the format you need you can setup reports to be generated almost automatically. Your time should be spent on analyzing the data not at preparing it. If you are not an expert in excel or IT I am sure there is someone in your business who is and would be willing to spent some time to set it up for you in away you need.
If you can demonstrate to your customers that all the key information is at your fingertips you will project a confidence and reassure them that you are on top of things and any adverse trends can be identified quickly before they will become a big issue.
Now when all the data is collected and visible start thinking about how it connects. E.g. Is a drop in shelf life taste panel results reflected by increased micro levels on swabs in particular area? Can increased customer complaints for a particular finished product be linked with increased levels of concessions given to a particular raw material? To spot these types of dependencies in systems which are not interconnected is a very onerous task. With a well designed quality management data system you are more likely to spot them early and start reacting before they will become a problem to your customers.
5. NEXT STEPS
Once you have all of the above sorted and under control it is time to go back to square one. Ask yourself a question. What is my next big problem? The usual suspects are a giveaway, recipe control, supplier performance and so on. Once you identify this think about what data you need to measure the issues effectively. How are you going to collate it? What reports do you need? How does this data interlink with reports you already have?
Good Luck with your projects and let me know if it worked.