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Consistency & continuous improvement: main ingredients for QM in the food industry

Guest blog by Bruce Ferree
Guest blog by Bruce Ferree

CFS, IFT Fellow, CFSQA, CQA, owner of Insight Food Safety Consulting

In my last blog I looked at whether quality management is different in the food industry and created a list of specialized programs that focus on quality management and food safety. In today’s blog, I’d like to talk about consistency and continuous improvement. After thinking about it for some time (after all, I did have a 40-year career managing quality and food safety in manufacturing operations), I’ve come to the conclusion that these are really the only two goals for quality management. Let’s take a closer look.

Consistency

Is this consistency of product coming out of the production process? Is this consistency of process? Is this consistency of the input products (or works in progress)? The short answer is ‘yes’. It can easily be all of these. If the inputs are consistent and the processes are consistent, then the output product should also be consistent.

As quality management leaders, we focus much of our time working to achieve consistency. We develop specifications for purchased materials, works-in-progress, and for finished goods. We develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for each step in the process. How to purchase, how to sample, how to test, how to manufacture, how to store, how to label, how to package and so much more.

We even work with individuals and other leaders to learn the best reactions to out of control situations so that we can develop a procedure, ensuring everyone takes the same corrective action each time that out of control situation arises. We get a bit obsessive but it does drive us and our companies to have consistency.

To achieve consistency, manufacturers should:

    –  Make use of SPC to reduce variation and have traceability of every measured batch

    –  Perform regular checks 

    –  Ensure supply chain transparency  

    –  Invest in culture and in their teams understanding of the cost of quality.

Continuous improvement 

This seems pretty straightforward. We need to be improving the operation or looking for ways to improve the operation every day. To this end, we have an internal audit process that helps us to identify areas for needed improvement. Improvement can be the elimination of inconsistency. It can also mean raising the bar so that the company can become ‘Bigger, Better, Faster, More’ (yes, I’m shamelessly using a 1992 4 Non Blonds album title!).

Many times, this is where software helps us. We can collect and analyze huge amounts of data. We can pour through the data to provide us with information. The software can help us to organize the data and then determine where the outliers are. Software can help us see these concerns. In the good old days, we had to manually collect the data (for example, moisture test results), then manually collate and mathematically sort and statistically review. Software can now do the collating, sorting, and analyzing for us and it can be done quickly without manual error. We just need to know what data to collect and we can get started.

Next time, let’s take a look at some of the programs and processes typically managed by Quality teams to see where data analysis can help us to improve or eliminate inconsistency.

After a life-long career managing quality and food safety programs and working as a consultant, trainer and auditor, Bruce is now owner of Insight Food Safety Consulting. He is a member of the Institute of Food Scientists (IFT), the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) and the American Society for Quality (ASQ). In 2016, Bruce was selected as an IFT Fellow – a designation recognizing outstanding contributions to the science of food and IFT. He is a published author and has served as a member of the editorial advisory board for QA and Food Safety Magazine since 2011. He has served as a Trustee for Feeding Tomorrow, the Foundation of the IFT, and currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the International Food Scientist Certification Commission.