Food Quality

What is food quality?

The term “quality” is “The totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs” – ISO Definition.

Food quality is therefore, the extent to which all the established requirements relating to the characteristics of a food are met. This means that food is of good quality if it meets the specifications set out by various actors in the food chain:

Manufacturer’s specifications

As a manufacture, there are specific quality attributes that they may want in their product to make it stand out. These attributes define what is quality for the manufacturer.

Food Industry stipulations

The industry may be structured and organized in a particular way such that it can set out limits or standards for any participant in a particular value chain. For instance, an organized group may establish limits for certain constituents in certain foods where legal standards are not involved.

Consumer requirements

Besides what the law stipulates or the manufacture desires, there is what the consumer is willing to buy. It is the most important aspect of defining food quality. The consumer may dictate the characteristics of food products they would buy.

Legal requirements

These are mandatory requirements by governments or legal entities which are set up by law.

There are two types of quality:

Design – The making of the product, the feel, the look, touch. This is the engineer’s decision and is influenced by all the stakeholders and value chain actors including the consumers.

Conformance – the extent to which you can meet the stipulated guidelines

Achieving food quality is a process! 

Processes are made up of steps. Each step on its own is useless as far as the achievement of quality is concerns. However, all steps brought together becomes a powerful too in the achievement of quality. Quality is a responsibility of all people on the food chain, not just the manufacture. Even the consumer has a role to play in ensuring they get the best quality. Industry segment has a role to play in dictating quality. The government through the legal segments has a major role to play. Learn more about the roles played by key stakeholders along the food value chains.

Therefore, a process approach has to be followed in order to achieve quality. For instance, if the raw materials obtained for processing are contaminated with heavy metals, or if the fruits obtained for making juices or sauces are rotten, there is no chance that even if the other steps are followed accurately that the final product will be of good quality. Thus, quality is achieved if and only if all the steps are followed correctly as stipulated.

Importance of food quality

Food quality is important for a number of reasons. Good quality food means safe food which translates to:

  • Reduction in disease outbreaks – Healthy life for all
  • Reduced healthy budgets – Improved living standards
  • Healthy workforce means continued productivity

Quality vs safety

Included in the established requirements are requirements related to the safety of the food. For instance, there are stipulations on the maximum levels of aflatoxins that can be tolerated in food products.

Food safety is the extent to which those requirements relating specifically to characteristics or properties that have the potential to be harmful to health or to cause illness or injury are met.

Some food quality characteristics (e.g., counts of total bacteria, coliform bacteria) can be used as indicators of food safety, although they are not considered specifically as food safety characteristics.

Therefore, this means that food quality includes food safety and that, you cannot claim food safety without food quality and vice versa. This is to say that food which is safe and may not harm may be of poor quality! And food that appears to be of high quality may be harmful to you!

A food that does not conform to the food safety requirements automatically does not conform to the food quality requirements. On the other hand, a food can conform to the food safety requirements, but not conform to the other quality requirements.

Who is responsible for quality?

Quality is a responsibility of all people on the food chain, not just the manufacture. Even the consumer has a role to play in ensuring they get the best quality and safe food. The industry at large also has a role in dictating the quality of products.

The government through the legal segments has a major role to play. The overall responsibility for food quality is shared by all segments of the food system, including the various food industry sectors, government regulatory agencies, and consumers in general.

How can the food industry ensure food safety?

There are several quality and or safety management systems that have been put in place to help manufacturers to assure safety to the consumers.

quality management system (QMS) system can be defined as: a set of coordinated activities to direct and control an organization in order to continually improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its performance 

Rotaru et. al., (2005)

For instance, good manufacturing practices, Hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP), ISO standards, etc.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs)

Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are sets of guidelines for growing, harvesting, processing, and packaging food that help to reduce the risk of contamination. They are the minimum requirements for the production of safe food. They cover personal hygiene practices, food handling practices, storage, environmental hygiene, among others. …. read more!

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)

HACCP is a systematic preventive, and proactive approach to food safety, focused on the identification and control of all biological, chemical and physical hazards from the processing of raw materials through the manufacture, distribution and consumption of the final product. …. read more!

ISO 9001 Quality management systems — Requirements

The ISO 9001 belongs to a family of standards: ISO 9000 family of standards that are designed to assist organizations of all types and sizes, to implement and operate an effective quality management system. …. read more!

ISO 22000, Food safety management systems

ISO 22000, Food safety management systems – Requirements for any organization in the food chain, was first published in 2005. The standard provides international harmonization in the field of food safety standards, offering a tool to implement HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) throughout the food supply chain. …. read more!

Auditing quality management systems to in assure food quality

Auditing is the act of inspection or examination to determine if the system does what it was set up to do and that the desired results will be achieved. First-party, second-party, and third-party audits are usually conducted in relation to quality management systems (QMS). These audits differ in terms of who performs them and their purpose. Here’s an overview of each type:

  1. First-Party Audit (Internal Audit):
    A first-party audit, also known as an internal audit, is conducted by an organization internally. It involves assessing its own quality management system against established criteria, such as ISO 9001 or industry-specific standards. The purpose of a first-party audit is to ensure compliance with internal policies, identify areas for improvement, and monitor the effectiveness of the QMS. Internal auditors are typically employees or representatives of the organization and should be independent and objective in their evaluations.
  2. Second-Party Audit (Supplier Audit):
    A second-party audit is conducted by one organization on its suppliers or vendors. In this type of audit, the customer organization assesses the supplier’s quality management system to verify its capability to meet contractual requirements and ensure the quality of products or services received. The purpose of a second-party audit is to evaluate the supplier’s ability to consistently deliver products or services that meet specified criteria. It helps build confidence in the supplier’s capabilities and ensures alignment with the customer’s quality expectations.
  3. Third-Party Audit (Certification Audit):
    A third-party audit is conducted by an independent and external certification body or registrar. The purpose of a third-party audit is to provide an unbiased assessment of an organization’s quality management system against applicable standards, such as ISO 9001. The goal is to determine if the organization complies with the requirements of the standard and is eligible for certification. Third-party audits are often conducted for certification purposes, and the certification body issues a certificate to the organization if it meets the requirements.

It’s important to note that while first-party and second-party audits are voluntary and carried out based on the organization’s internal needs or customer requirements, third-party audits are typically required for certification or regulatory purposes. All three types of audits play a crucial role in ensuring the effectiveness of a quality management system and driving continuous improvement within an organization.

The concept of continuous improvement in assuring food quality

Continuous improvement is a fundamental concept in quality management systems (QMS). It refers to the ongoing effort to enhance processes, products, and services within an organization to achieve higher levels of performance, customer satisfaction, and business success.

Continuous improvement is a key principle in quality management frameworks such as ISO 9001. Here are some important aspects of continuous improvement in relation to QMS:

  1. Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle: The PDCA cycle, also known as the Deming Cycle or the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust cycle, is a methodological approach commonly used for continuous improvement in QMS. It involves the following steps:
    • Plan: Identify improvement opportunities, set objectives, and develop a plan to achieve them.
    • Do: Implement the planned changes or improvements on a small scale or as a pilot.
    • Check: Monitor and evaluate the results of the implemented changes, collect data, and compare them against the objectives.
    • Act: Take corrective actions, standardize successful changes, and scale them up. Repeat the cycle to continuously improve.
  2. Root Cause Analysis: To drive continuous improvement, organizations need to identify the root causes of problems, defects, or non-conformities. Root cause analysis techniques, such as the 5 Whys or Fishbone Diagrams, help identify underlying causes rather than just addressing the symptoms. By addressing root causes, organizations can implement effective corrective and preventive actions to avoid recurrence and drive improvement.
  3. Data-Driven Decision Making: Continuous improvement relies on the collection and analysis of data to identify trends, patterns, and areas for improvement. Organizations use various tools and techniques such as statistical process control, data analysis, and performance metrics to measure process performance, customer satisfaction, and other relevant indicators. Data-driven decision making enables organizations to prioritize improvement initiatives based on objective evidence.
  4. Employee Involvement and Engagement: Engaging employees at all levels of the organization is crucial for continuous improvement. Employees are often closest to the processes and have valuable insights into areas for improvement. Encouraging employee participation through suggestions, idea generation, and participation in improvement projects fosters a culture of continuous improvement.
  5. Customer Feedback and Satisfaction: Customer feedback is a valuable source of information for identifying areas for improvement. Organizations can collect feedback through surveys, customer complaints, or other feedback mechanisms. Analyzing customer satisfaction data helps organizations understand customer needs, expectations, and areas where they can improve their products or services to better meet customer requirements.
  6. Benchmarking and Best Practices: Continuous improvement involves looking beyond internal processes and learning from external sources. Benchmarking involves comparing performance against industry standards or best practices to identify gaps and areas for improvement. Adopting best practices from other organizations or industries can help drive innovation and improvement within the organization.

Continuous improvement is an ongoing journey rather than a one-time effort. It requires a commitment from the organization’s leadership, a culture that embraces change and innovation, and a systematic approach to identifying, implementing, and evaluating improvement initiatives. By continuously improving their QMS, organizations can enhance their efficiency, customer satisfaction, and overall performance in a competitive marketplace.

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