Would You Like Standardization With That?
Assuring the public that the food they eat and serve to their families is safe has always been important, of course, but never more so than now.
With headlines screaming about E. coli scares, and other nasty illnesses being attributed to such benign, healthful ingredients as spinach and green onions, assuring concerned consumers that certain products aren’t going to kill them or send them to the hospital is at the top of food producers’ to-do lists. It’s also important to certification bodies, as clients seek certification to prove their products’ safety.
Food quality assurance is usually a behind-the-scenes function: It takes place on farms and in packaging warehouses. It’s not an issue until it’s an issue, and it became an issue in the autumn of 2006. In September, an outbreak of E. coli bacteria in packaged fresh spinach sickened at least 111 people and killed a Nebraska woman. Food and Drug Administration investigators were able to trace the bad spinach to a single farm in Salinas, California; wild pigs and a nearby cattle ranch were found to have contaminated a creek that neighbors the spinach farm, and rains flooded the growing fields with that creek water, thus tainting the spinach.
Federal investigators being able to trace the contaminated product back to its origins is a good thing; preventing the contamination is better. That’s the goal of several standards aimed squarely at food producers. Unfortunately, few food producers are taking advantage of these standards.
Christine Bedillion, NSF International business unit manager for food-safety certification programs, attributes this lackluster interest in private food safety standardization to simple market forces. The American public assumes that its food is safe; consumers know that the FDA has strict rules about food contamination and that it performs regular facility inspections. Additionally, distributors require regular inspections of food supplier facilities. As a result, there is less interest among producers to invest in additional certification. However, Bedillion has observed that interest in food safety certification has exploded outside the United States.
“It all has to do with perception,” Bedillion says. “Producers and consumers here and in Canada know that the FDA is involved, and there are all kinds of internal audit requirements that ensure product safety. In other parts of the world, certification to standards takes the place of federal audits and gives U.S. distributors more confidence that [food grown outside the United States] is safe.”
Even so, nervous fresh food producers spurred a spike in food safety certification after the E. coli scare. The American National Standards Institute, one of the largest accreditation bodies in the United States, started accrediting food safety auditors last year. The ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) will soon start taking applications for accreditation programs for ISO 22000, which relates to food safety.
The holistic approach to food supply-chain management looks to be the wave of the future, according to Dr. Devon Zagory, senior vice president of food safety and quality programs for Davis Fresh Technologies, a California-based company that will perform approximately 2,000 inspections of
produce-growing and -distributing facilities this year. The 2006 E. coli outbreak was a turning point for the produce industry, Zagory observes. Historically, when a food-borne illness breaks out, the FDA issues warnings to consumers to avoid eating the suspect brand or a food identified with a particular lot number. The 2006 outbreak was different in that the FDA told consumers to not eat any spinach at all.
“What they did is essentially take the spinach and leafy greens industry out back and shoot it dead,” Zagory says. “Even growers that had no contamination were damaged by it. It forced the companies to realize that what one does, affects them all. So now they are getting together to police themselves to avoid this ever happening again.”
Currently, the United Fresh Produce Association and the Western Growers Association are working to develop standards that will self-police the leafy greens growing industry. Exactly what those standards will look like and if they will require third-party auditing is still unknown, but Zagory expects them to be released by April, when the Salinas Valley growing season kicks into high gear.
“I think that the growers are keenly aware that consumers are watching them, and they want to do the right thing,” Zagory says. “Now, we’ve just got to figure out how to make that work.”
For more information, visit www.davisfreshtech.com, www.wga.com or www.unitedfresh.org.
Food Safety Nominees Sought
Think you provide a safe food-handling and food-distribution environment?
NSF International is seeking nominations for its 2007 Food Safety Leadership Awards Program. The annual program recognizes key individuals and organizations that have demonstrated outstanding leadership in food service safety. Nominations are open for food service operators, manufacturers, researchers and members of academia, and are divided into six categories: technology breakthroughs, research advances, equipment design, product development, packaging innovation and system improvements. Nominations for a special lifetime achievement award are also being accepted.
The National Restaurant Association will announce the winners at its Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, to be held May 19-22 in Chicago. Submit your nomination before Feb. 28.
For more information, visit www.nsf.org/business/newroom/fs_awards_nomination.asp.
A whopping 91 percent of U.S. senior executives are “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned” about data theft or misuse in their outsourced operations.
Respondents to a study conducted by API Outsourcing Inc. said that information security is one of the top three most important factors in selecting an outsourcing partner, even more important than business stability or reputation. Furthermore, 85 percent of respondents said that they would be willing to pay an additional 10 percent to 15 percent for extra security in their outsourced operations.
For more information, visit www.apioutsourcing.com.
ASQ Unveils New Education Competition
American schools will have a new way to prove their effectiveness with the advent of the American Society for Quality’s new Team Excellence for Education Award competition.
The competition will be modeled after the ASQ’s popular Team Excellence Award competition, which is held at the organization’s annual world conference. Teams from schools around the country will perform an improvement project live at the 15th annual National Quality Education Conference, to be held in St. Louis Nov. 11-13. Teams may include administrators, teachers and students. As with the Team Excellence Awards, education award recipients will be recognized with gold, silver and bronze awards.
“Investing in our children through school quality improvement is one of the best legacies that educators can leave for future generations,” says Ron Atkinson, ASQ president. “This unique new award program allows educators across the nation to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring performance excellence in our schools.”
For more information, visit http://nqec.asq.org/2007/team-competition.
Day in the Life
MESA Products, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based designer and manufacturer of cathodic protection systems that control the corrosion of metal surfaces, is one of three Baldrige Award winners for 2006. The company has achieved significant improvement in both its revenues and the efficiency of its operations in recent years. Its sales were less than $6 million in 1985; in 2006, they reached more than $25 million. MESA has applied lean manufacturing concepts to improve cycle times dramatically. Output in the company’s instrumentation equipment assembly area increased by 60 percent, lead time for the sales order entry process was reduced by 30 percent and error rates were cut in half through the application of lean. The company also enjoys employee-satisfaction rates that are 20 percent or more above industry norms.
Here, company president Terry May frankly discusses MESA’s road to the Baldrige Award.
Quality Digest: How and when did MESA decide to pursue the Baldrige Award?
Terry May: I submitted our first Baldrige application in 2002 without doing any preparation. At that point, it was more of an exercise. I had not really made the decision to pursue the award, I simply wanted to find out where we were. When I received the first feedback report, I realized we had a long way to go to get there, and then it became a challenge for us. The decision to seriously pursue the award was made in early 2003. Subsequently, we received site visits from 2003 through 2006 before finally receiving the award.
QD: How much did your executives know about the Baldrige Award when you started the process?
TM: Literally nothing. The only thing I knew about it was what I had read and then by going through the criteria to write the first application. None of my leadership team even knew I had submitted an application until after it was done.
QD: What were some of the challenges you faced during the process? How did you overcome them?
TM: I think people go through stages in learning, each of them being a challenge. The stages include understanding and acceptance, not necessarily in that order; buy-in, which took several years; and finally, commitment. Total commitment, which is required, did not come until 2006. In fact, at the end of 2005, in a planning session, our senior leaders agreed that the top reason we did not receive the award in 2005 was that our leadership team was not fully committed.
Among the other major challenges was understanding how to relate the criteria to how we do things at MESA, and in many cases, implementing changes in response to the opportunities for improvement identified in the feedback reports.
QD: Now that you have won the Baldrige, how do you continue to improve quality? Can quality ever be “perfected?”
TM: One of the ideas that’s been reinforced during this process is that the more we learn, the more opportunities we see. Something along the lines of “the more we know, the less we know.” And “quality” really isn’t the right word. I like the phrase “performance excellence” rather than quality because we can apply that to any part of our business. There is a tendency to narrowly define quality as the responsibility of an individual or department, and the Baldrige criteria cut across all parts of a business.
We’ll continue to use the criteria, although not as rigidly; and we’ll continue doing the things that led us to receive the Baldrige Award. We will reapply in 2012, when we are next eligible. By the time 2012 comes around, we’ll be a far better organization than we are now.
2007 Baldrige Applications Available
Think you’re Baldrige Award material? Prove it.
Applications for the 2007 Baldrige Award were recently made available by the Baldrige National Quality Program for download on its Web site. Before you file an application, be sure to review the Baldrige eligibility requirements, which are also posted online. Applicants can simultaneously opt to nominate a company official to the Baldrige National Quality Program’s Board of Examiners; doing so gives the potential examiner valuable experience. However, it requires a significant time investment.
The deadline for submitting the Eligibility Certification Package that includes a nomination to the Board of Examiners is March 9; applicants without a nomination have until April 10.
For more information, visit www.baldrige.nist.gov.
ASQ Membership on the Rise
After several years of declining membership, things are looking up for the American Society for Quality.
There are currently 93,137 ASQ members, reports Paul Borawski, the organization’s executive director and chief strategic officer, approximately 1,000 more than there was in 2005. ASQ membership peaked in 1996 with 134,868 members and steadily decreased almost every year until 2005. At the same time, the number of women members has steadily increased--20 years ago, only 5 percent of ASQ members were women; this year, approximately 35 percent are women, Borawski observes.
Borawski attributes the membership decline to the general flattening of the quality function, which gives ASQ the rather complex task of finding new members in professions that don’t directly relate to quality.
“There are just fewer people out there with ‘quality’ in their titles,” Borawski says. “So that means we have our work cut out for us to show nontraditional members that quality really does apply to them, even if it’s indirectly.”
Borawski forecasts a 3-percent annual increase in ASQ membership for the coming years, and reports that the organization’s Living Community model--which is based on a service model rather than a training and certification model to be more familiar to prospective service-industry members--has helped spur interest in membership.
For more information, visit www.asq.org.
The Six Sigma Summit
Looking for a peak Six Sigma experience? Two upcoming conferences help point the way.
WCBF will host its Lean Six Sigma Summit April 24-27 at The Westin Chicago North Shore. The event promises to be among the largest conferences for senior-level process improvement executives in North America this year. Scheduled speakers include Col. Mike Mullane, an astronaut and motivational speaker; Horst Schulze, founding president and former CEO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. (which won two Baldrige Awards under his leadership); Tim Tyson, Valeant Pharmaceuticals CEO; and John W. Mayers, Textron executive vice president of Six Sigma.
For more information, visit www.wcbf.com/quality/5069.
Quality professionals from around the world will gather at the seventh annual American Society for Quality Six Sigma Conference, Feb. 12-13, 2007, at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort in Phoenix, Arizona.
Among other topics, the conference will focus on first-hand applications and Six Sigma best practices, business solutions using Six Sigma, and applying lean principles to service organizations.
Scheduled speakers include David C. Everitt, Deere & Company; Rear Adm. W. Mark Skinner, Commander, NAVAIR WD; Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III, Military Deputy ASA(ALT)/AAE; and Gregory H. Watson, Business Systems Solutions International Inc.
For more information visit www.asq.org/conferences/six-sigma/index.html.
Do the Math!
Last month’s “Do the Math” question was a continuation of the urban myth that “one gram of mercury can contaminate a 20-acre lake.” It asked: Based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) guidelines for mercury in drinking water, what would the average depth of a 20-acre lake have to be for one gram of mercury dispersed in that lake to exceed the EPA’s safe drinking levels?
Here’s your answer:
The EPA’s MCL for mercury in drinking water is 2 parts per billion, or 2 mg per liter. Therefore, 1 gram of mercury, the amount stated in the myth, would contaminate 500,000 liters or 500 cubic meters of water.
20 acres = 80,937 m2.
So: 80,037 m2 × depth = 500 m3
depth = 500 m3 / 80,037 m2
depth = 0.006 m = 0.24 in.
A lake with a surface area of 20 acres would have to have an average depth of less than one-quarter of an inch to exceed what the EPA considers to be an unsafe mercury level.
Congratulations to Greg McGowan for being randomly selected from all correct answers to last month’s “Do the Math.” He won a fantastic (a matter of opinion) prize from www.woot.com.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, online at www.startribune.com/694/story/878710.html.
This month’s “Do the Math” was submitted by William R. Mossner and concerns a problem with an Associated Press story about race car driver Marco Andretti’s F1 debut. Here is how the story appeared in
What’s wrong in this story? Send your answer to this “Do the Math” or your suggestion for a future “Do the Math” by clicking the feedback link on the bottom of this page and you might just win a great prize.