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Joseph A. DeFeo

Quality Insider

Wanted: High Quality and Safety in Food

Food production requires a different quality skill set than manufacturing

Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 10:25

Is there a difference from a quality perspective between food production and goods manufacturing? You bet there is.

Food production processes materials by converting raw goods such as wheat into other products, including flour, bread, and cookies. Goods manufacturing assembles materials into products like electronics, appliances, or automobiles. This fundamental difference poses unique challenges for quality professionals in the food production industry.

Why food quality should be managed differently

For several reasons, quality needs to be managed differently in food production than the way it is done in the manufacturing of goods. 

First, raw materials such as fruit and vegetables differ from item to item, day to day, and crop to crop. If the final produced good is out of spec, it cannot be distilled or disassembled back to its original component parts because those parts do not retain their original identity, as they do with some assembled products. These fundamental chemical and molecular changes in food require a different quality approach.

Food and beverage production also contain conversion processes (e.g., freezing, pasteurization, thickening, and condensing) as well as fabrication processes (canning, bottling). Processed products and the means used to make them differ greatly from assembled products. Distinct characteristics come into play:
1. The homogeneity of the final product means defects spread throughout a unit, as opposed to assembled products, whose defective parts can simply be removed and replaced.
2. The use of a recipe entails the continuous transformation of ingredients without the direct involvement of an operator, and this transformation cannot simply be stopped.
3. Continuous methods in batched production—a specific quantity of material—require uniform character and quality.
4. Consistency in raw materials and measurement is necessary to reduce variability and costs.
5. In the case of sampling, gleaning the most information from the smallest samples is paramount, since the sample cannot be returned to the product line.

Challenges facing food producers today

The ultimate goal for food producers is to develop a quality system that is rich in customer sensory data, applies exact measurement of raw material qualities, and ensures a production process that is always in control and capable of producing as high a quality of good-tasting foods as possible.

The Juran Institute has been working with the food production industry for many years. We have observed the failures plaguing the industry and have helped clients avoid poor quality by addressing:
• Failure to understand and measure the correct customer sensory characteristics
• Failure to distinguish quality from safety
• Too few quality management staff unskilled in the process and tools to manage quality

Understanding and measuring customer sensory characteristics

Quality management begins with product design—starting with the voice of the customer (VOC).

During the conceptualization phase, the organization’s focus should be to identify customers’ needs and establish objective and measurable specifications to ensure the product delivers what customers want.

The customers include a cast of characters:
• Ultimate users (or eaters)
• Homemaker or restaurateur who purchases the product
• Supermarket or restaurant chain that needs to make money by selling the product
• Regulatory agencies that ensure the food is safe

Each customer has different needs. Every need is critical to the product’s quality characteristics and must be understood, defined, measured, and deployed into the design, production, and distribution chain.

Missing anything that is critical to quality (CTQ) could mean not being able to sell the product because the user did not like it, or it harmed a person because of failure to manage hygiene in the factory.

Product design in the food production industry also relies heavily on research and development (R&D) of a particular technology and not always on the consumer or the cast of customers. Ideally, R&D should work hand in hand with production. One design method designers should all become skilled in is understanding the VOC and how to drive that voice through the design process.

For example, when dealing with recipes, the proportions of the mixture components can be more important than the amount of the individual components. Thus, as the manufacturing process becomes more complex, each component, transfer, or change in conditions is a potential source of failure.

And finally, product design that includes ease of manufacturing results in lower setup time and costs, faster start-up, and higher quality in the finished product. The elements commonly found in manufacturing systems that consistently produce food products of high quality include standardization of components and equipment, simplified recipes and instructions, minimization of handling, mistake-proof processes, and recipes designed to take advantage of physical properties, among other things.

Distinguishing quality from safety

So often I hear that quality means a safe product. Quality and safety are not the same.

A quality product meets all of the important needs of the customer, including taste, price, availability, ease of use, and safety. Safety is all about do no harm. A high-quality product will be safe, but a safe product is not always of high quality. Do not mix them up.

Unfortunately, most of the food safety personnel also manage quality—but they really only manage safety. Why? Because that is what they are required to do.

Unilever, one of the larger food producers, understands that quality and safety are equally important. Paul Pullman, CEO, clearly says what quality is about: “We meet everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene, and personal care with brands that help people feel good, look good, and get more out of life.”

Unilever does this with a robust system to ensure all elements critical to quality and safety are managed effectively and efficiently. As a result, they consistently produce products that taste good and are safe. In the event there is customer dissatisfaction, they fix the product—and fast.

An organization’s “quality professionals” who manage safety and quality must be trained in quality tools and methods such as statistical process control (SPC), VOC, lean, and Six Sigma. As long as they manage safety and produce the product according to the recipe, the product will be of high quality, too.

Developing skilled safety and quality management staff

Quality needs to happen every day and be supervised by trained and certified quality engineers and managers. When untrained personnel oversee quality, the organization builds an unseen risk into the process—that of not knowing how a product is truly performing over time to the CTQs.

Safety personnel who cross over and manage quality are often very skilled in safety regulations and science. However, many of them do not have a deep skill set in quality.

It is essential that food industry organizations review the training and certifications of their staff. Most have many credentials in food safety; many have few credentials in quality. If your organization is one of them, here are some areas where you need to beef up your staff.

Bimbo Bakeries, the largest baked goods company in North America, tackled this issue head on. With consumer giants like Thomas’ English Muffins, Entenmanns, Freihofers, and Arnolds Bakeries, Bimbo needs to produce high-quality and safe product every day. The company defines itself as:
“Trusted brand names in fresh baked foods and a steadfast commitment to quality, freshness, and service are the values behind the success of Bimbo Bakeries USA. Our bakeries produce the finest breads, rolls, buns, tortillas, chips, snack cakes, cookies, donuts, cakes, and pastries under a variety of popular brands that our customers know and love.”

Both Unilever and Bimbo Bakeries accomplish their missions by training and retraining their safety personnel in quality management methods.

What all quality managers in the food industry need to know

We have identified a set of topics that all quality managers in the food industry should be skilled in, not all at once, but based on their roles in the value chain:
1. Customer and shopper, consumer needs and satisfaction
2. Quality standards and good manufacturing practices (GMPs)
3. Quality in warehousing and logistics
4. Hygiene in operations
5. Nonconformance management
6. Quality management system
7. Risk management
8. Safety: hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) and failure mode effects and analysis (FMEA)
9. Incident management
10. Quality in design
11. Supplier and third-party quality
12. Data measurement and analysis
13. Improvement methods and tools applications (lean Six Sigma)
14. Quality verification and validation
15. Food industry regulatory requirements

If your organization has had a recent quality or safety issue, it probably was due to a break in your dam—i.e., the systems that were put in place to protect against risk. That break may have had its root cause in a lack of skills needed to maintain the dam.  To avoid the failures, revisit your teams’ skill sets and establish a new path forward. We all need good, safe, and healthy food.


About The Author

Joseph A. DeFeo’s picture

Joseph A. DeFeo

Joseph A. DeFeo is president and executive coach with Juran. He is recognized worldwide for his training and consulting expertise which enables organizations to achieve superior results. For additional information, visit www.juran.com.


Quality in food

I liked the article, but as I was reading through I kept expecting to see what is near and dear to my heart - the packaging.  The correct packaging and measurement of that packaging determines how long food lasts on the shelves or in the freezer, how it looks, and whether it is safe to eat.  Packaging is becoming more complex and more integral to the product every day as we move from traditional cans, jars and simple plastics to flexible packaging and multi-layer films.  Each package has its own challenges for measurement and inspection and this should be treated with the same care as the aspects you discussed.

I think you sliced the pie too narrow

With all due respect, i beleive you have missed key aspects to any manufacturing process.  A quality process produces minimal output variation, is robust to input variation, and produces within design specifications.

Food production IS a manufacturing process and the quality concerns are the same for food as with any other process.  The aspects you  presented as "different", i.e. food is different day to day, batch to batch, ... this is exactly the with-in lot and between lot variation every manufacturer has to cope.  See "robust to input variation".

The "unique" aspects of a "recipe" are exactly the process standardization every manufacturer struggles to find. 

The sampling you contend is unique because the sample cannot be returned is exactly a challenge many manufacturers look to optimize through approproate measurement systems (ever try to return a machined part that needs to be sectioned (i.e. cut) back into regular production? ever try to return the sample taken out of a batch of steel? or how about sample a part in the middle of a heat treat process?)  even if a manufacturer CAN do non-destructive testing and evaluation, the cost to check is still a barrier to cost and throughput. 

I could go on with examples but I beleive you are attempting to make a point between different types of manufacturing processes.  I believe every process can fit into one of 3 categories: transformation, assembly, fabrication.  While there are some processes (e.g. welding fabricates (joins parts) and transforms (melts the material into something different that is difficult to restore) that blur this somewhat I believe this captures the essence of what you are trying to speak to.

I see you article as describing "transforming" processes.  Of these, many food products, many raw materials (steel, aluminum, polymer creation, reaction molding, heat treating, etc.), drugs, soaps, dyes, etc. all fit into this category.  All have the attributes of "batch" mentality and "recipe" mentality.  all are created from varying degrees of source material that may be less controllable than assembly or fabrication.  Many of these processes are more sensitive to envirommental conditions (temperature, humidity, moisture content, etc.)

you contrast this to what i term "assembly" operations.  Of these most are not food (however, creating spice blends, filling containers, etc. fit into this category).  These processes typically have better controlled raw materials (maybe not basket assembly, the reeds are still grown and have inherent "mother nature variability") as they come from some other fabrication or transformational process.  IF (and thats emphasized purposefully) the design of the assembly allows, THEN the part can be disassembled and reworked (with significant cost any throughput penalties).  The difficulty here is many assembly processes contain transformational steps (many plactic parts are assembled and kept in place via heat staking).  Some, such as soldering, can be "retransformed" back to the oringial state or "close enough"

then we get to fabrication.  many fabrication processes (i.e. machining, molding, forming, etc.) while they do not generally alter the chemistry of the source materials, do locally transform the raw material making it prohibitive to "revert back".  Machining, for example, creates a new shape out of a raw shape and creates waste in the form of chips.  while the chips and the "finished" shape can be remade into the raw form, they would need to go back through the transformational process that created the raw shape (be it billet, bar, casting, forging, etc.).  Even sheet metal bending creates localized tranformations that may make it very difficult to revert a formed piece back to the origanl flat stock.

SOOOOOO..my (very) long winded point is ALL manufacturing has the SAME approaches to Quality namely: be within design specification with minimal output variation and is robust to process inputs. 


Kind regards,

Richard A Johnson, CQE

Terrific article!!!

Having spent 25 years in various manufacturing industries, including: auto, electronics, heavy, white goods and others, I thought, "How hard could food processing be?" Now that I've spent some time in food/beverage, I have an entirely new appreciation for this world! 

This article hits it on the head!  I would put food processing in a league of its own.  And, fortunately, the major producers understand that cheap labor means nothing if quality and safety are compromised.