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Matthew Barsalou

Supply Chain

What’s in Your Supply Chain?

A vigilant audit can protect your company and customers

Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 - 14:27

Tests have detected the presence of horse DNA in European meat products that were supposed to be beef. So far, many food products, from hamburgers in the United Kingdom to frozen lasagna in Germany, have been affected. The problem is believed to have been going on for six months and involves approximately 750 tons of meat.

There are many problems with horse meat slipping into the food supply. Although some people may enjoy horse meat, others, such as my horse-loving little sister, would never intentionally consume an animal they love so much. However, the presence of horse meat in beef products is more than a violation of a labeling regulations; the meat itself is of unknown origin.

The British House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee suspects that suppliers who use horse meat in place of beef may also be neglecting the required hygiene standards. Horses are sometimes treated with phenylbutazone, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for pain and fever in animals. It is permitted for use only in horses that will not be used as food. Horse meat is generally safe for human consumption, but in this case, it’s unclear whether the meat contains phenylbutazone. Furthermore, any certifications arriving with the processed meat would have to be considered as suspect as the meat source.

This scandal has affected many companies; although innocent of wrongdoing, their reputations are now at risk, and finished product has had to be destroyed.

Similar wrongdoing in other industries

U.S. toy manufacturers experienced a similar situation in 2007 when toy components contained or were coated with 1,4-butanediol and lead. Food products and childrens' toys aren’t the only products at risk due to contamination (whether intentional or not) and outright fraud. Criminals are selling counterfeit air bags in the automotive aftermarket that may release metal shrapnel during deployment or fail to deploy.

How to protect your company and your customer

Most suppliers are ethical. For a manufacturer to determine that fact, it conducts a supplier audit. However, the audit procedure often isn’t much more than sending a potential supplier a self-assessment form to complete.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. A construction-equipment manufacturer doesn’t have the same needs as a company producing electronic medical devices, but there are some general steps that can be taken. These include:
Site visits. Go to the suppliers and subsuppliers facilities to conduct audits. This provides an opportunity to see the supplier’s operations in action and to determine how material is stored, processed, and labeled. An audit visit also provides an opportunity to observe oddities within the supplier’s operation.
Recordkeeping and traceability. Require suppliers to maintain records of material purchased from subsuppliers. This can facilitate a faster response if a problem is detected. It would also make it easier to follow the paper trail to determine if material was inadvertently mislabeled, or if fraud and deception is involved. Discrepancies in documentation may also be a tipoff that a problem exists.
Test purchased parts at random. Testing parts for compliance to mechanical and chemical requirements can help to ensure the finished product is what it’s supposed to be. For instance, the horse meat was discovered through the detection of horse DNA in beef products. The initial findings led to additional testing, and the entire scandal then came to light.

Naturally, any suspect counterfeit or substandard product should be immediately quarantined and investigated. The suspect material should not be simply returned to the supplier; it might then be sent to some other unsuspecting company.

International conspiracy and the supply chain

The investigation into the European horse meat scandal is ongoing; however, the BBC is already reporting an “international conspiracy.” France is accusing one company of intentionally mislabeling the meat. Investigators have also suggested that the first company to receive the incorrectly labeled meat should have noticed it did not appear to be beef and discrepancies in the paperwork should have been detected.

Auditing, reviewing a product’s accompanying documentation, and random testing could have detected the problem earlier in the supply chain. Make it a priority to know where your supplier is procuring components—whether dealing in burgers or bolts.


About The Author

Matthew Barsalou’s picture

Matthew Barsalou

Matthew Barsalou is a statistical problem resolution master black belt at BorgWarner Turbo Systems Engineering GmbH. He is an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt, quality engineer, and quality technician; a TÜV-certified quality manager, quality management representative, and quality auditor; and a Smarter Solutions-certified lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He has a bachelor’s degree in industrial sciences, and master’s degrees in engineering, business administration, and liberal studies with emphasis in international business. Barsalou is author of Root Cause Analysis, Statistics for Six Sigma Black Belts, The ASQ Pocket Guide to Statistics for Six Sigma Black Belts, and The Quality Improvement Field Guide.


re: Food Scandals

I think the biggest problem here is the fraud and the unknown origin of the meat.  Meat for consumption in Germany must have a veterinarian’s certificate stating that the animal was checked and OK for consumption and meat must also have documentation to cross borders. The horse meat in question must have had a certificate for beef; hence, the certificates must be faked and the meat may or may not have been properly checked.

 Many horses are also given phenylbutazone, which can be hazardous to humans. We need to do more than just hope that the criminals behind this checked to be sure the illegal meat did not contain any phenylbutazone.

Food Scandals

I more & more often wonder whether food scandals are more Health or Media oriented. That is, when the Media news basket is low on sales, they invent some sort of scoop to meet their sales budget: it happened in the past, it presently happens, it will happen in the futire. It all depends on the fact that the Public, the Audience pays too much attention to the news, but much less to their own individual perceptions. I really don't care whether ravioli are made with horse meat or beef or pork: I simply don't eat ravioli because I know from my mother's cuisine that left-overs and low-cost ingredients go in them. And, since I'm aware of it, why shouldn't anybody who has a mother? It's a question of vigilant audit, I agree: a question of auditing food consumers, much before than food manufacturers. When any given foodstuff is not bought, its manufacturer's budget just dies, because of its ill health. Thank you.