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Quality Management – Necessary for the Food Industry

Friday, November 13, 2020

boxes on a conveyor belt 

By Stephanie Baker, FAPC Quality Management Specialist

 

“We need to talk about a customer complaint we just received.”

“The customer is rejecting the entire order.”

“We are going to put this on hold.”

 

These statements are the start of the type of conversations all manufacturers want to prevent from happening. The statements illustrate why companies should have quality, focused management to help focus on preventing defects, waste and customer complaints.

 

The American Society for Quality defines a quality management system as “a formalized system that documents processes, procedures and responsibilities for achieving quality policies and objectives.”

 

There are a variety of goals to set when designing a quality management program.  Common goals are to reduce waste, prevent customer complaints, improve efficiency, decrease down time and promote employee empowerment. Common benefits of a successful quality management system are sometimes hard to measure. Examples include reduced hold, downtime and waste, as well as preventing complaints and recalls. 

 

The ASQ definition further states, “A quality management system helps coordinate and direct an organization’s activities to meet customer and regulatory requirements and improve its effectiveness and efficiency on a continuous basis.”

 

Regular auditing of the quality management system is needed because those processes, procedures and responsibilities are constantly changing. There are two primary reasons to audit a quality management system: regulatory requirements and customer satisfaction.

 

Starting with regulatory compliance, the programs need to be the foundation of all programs company wide. This is challenging because the policies can be lengthy and difficult to follow. The focus should be on keeping good records that will be needed for inspections.

 

After regulatory compliance, customer satisfaction builds into every step of the process.  Consumer confidence drives manufacturing, sales and profits, but consumer demands are always changing and can be specifically detailed.

 

Continuous improvement and quality management expert W. Edwards Deming summarizes the process as “a chain of events … improve quality, decrease costs, improve productivity, increase market with better quality and lower price, stay in business, provide jobs and provide more jobs.”

 

I would like to share a story I once heard in a training session that has stuck with me as a good illustration of several quality management strategies.

 

A manufacturer of small tubes of product that are individually boxed, then cased for bulk shipment, was receiving multiple customer complaints. The complaints included employees responsible for stocking the shelves were finding random empty boxes in the case. The complaints were frequent enough for the management to investigate and invest in a great deal of money, time and outside labor into installing equipment that weighs each box. The new equipment also stops the line when a defect is found, requiring a line operator to manually restart the line. A report was generated for management to see how many rejects were identified throughout the shift.  Immediately the reports identified dozens of empty boxes removed from the product stream, and customer complaints soon stopped.

 

After some time passed, the management noticed the reports were not identifying any rejected boxes at all. Being curious as to why there were now no empty boxes showing on the reports, the manager went down to the production line to see what had changed.  He found an employee had pointed a small electric fan at the production line to blow off the empty boxes before they get to the new check weigher. The employee explained that it was wasting their time to have to restart the line when the equipment identified empty boxes.

 

In the end, everyone was happy with the results, right?  The customer was not getting empty boxes, the employee was not wasting time and the rejects were being removed.

 

Whether or not this story is true or created for training sake, I like this story because it raises good questions to help start a conversation about quality management.

 

Was the company’s investment in the new equipment a waste? 

Did the employee who used a fan to remove empty boxes know about the customer complaint prior to the new equipment being installed? 

Did the employee have the incentive to solve the problem without the new equipment that inconveniently stops the line? 

Neither solution addressed the root cause as to why the boxes were empty in the first place, so what was the root cause of empty boxes?

 

Deming also said, “Management of a system requires knowledge of the interrelationships between all of the components within the system and of everybody that works in it.”  

 

Investing time and effort into a quality program that reduces defects, waste and customer complaints will coincidentally improve efficiency, profit margins and sales.

 

My goal as the FAPC quality management specialist is to connect with companies who are looking for assistance with preparing for their first food safety audit, starting a quality management-focused project, or are in need technical or regulatory advice.

 

FAPC has been working in partnership with the Oklahoma Small Business Development Centers, headquartered in Durant, Oklahoma. This partnership mutually benefits the clients of both centers by joining the food processing resources from FAPC with the business development resources from OKSBDC.

 

I look forward to being able to help you develop programs for your operations that can meet Global Food Safety Initiative standards for food safety and quality. We can work together on a continuous improvement project related to quality, and I would like hear from you about the specific needs in your industry. Contact me by e-mailing stephanie.baker10@okstate.edu.

 

References:

American Society for Quality

The W. Edwards Deming Institute

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