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If you’re supplying food products – especially in raw or unprocessed form – it’s generally accepted you can’t afford to take risks. Or so you would think.

But since the beginning of this year we’ve already been through major incidents involving Hepatitis A, Salmonella and a toxic algae outbreak in shellfish. And these are just the major issues that make the media.

Food recalls are a regular occurrence across Australia despite government regulations on safety and hygiene being stricter than ever and the penalties for non-compliance (or worse, causing a health scare) are severe. That’s why quality control, as part of an integrated ERP system, is essential.

The ‘integrated’ part is a critical component. Quality control is not reliably effective when sitting in isolation.

The instant an issue is identified, everyone concerned needs to be notified and all appropriate quarantine measures automatically put in place.

A properly implemented quality management system (QMS) delivers the following five benefits.

1. Tracking

Many food products, if delivered to customers in their raw state, need to be tested in quarantine conditions to determine if they’re free of any contamination. Nuts are a case in point; stringent batch tests are required before the product can be shipped. The risk of human error must be minimised, if not eliminated altogether.
A QMS should enable you to configure automated test processes to suit your requirements.

2. Compliance

Risk management imperatives must be built into your QMS, so that when inspection time comes around, you can document your procedures and results. It must also be flexible enough to ensure appropriate action is taken for each situation.
The results should be accessible to everyone along the control chain and because they’re a key performance indicator, they should be an integral part of your company’s operational intelligence (OI).
Ideally, when a situation arises, your QMS should automatically tell you what needs to be done and who needs to do it. If the appropriate steps aren’t taken within a given time frame, then the issue should be flagged as a warning.

3. Traceability

Manufacturing and distribution processes are varied and often complicated; ingredients must be managed and measured according to each batch requirement, and batches themselves must be measured according to customer orders. Every batch must also be correctly dated for shelf life, and the customer must be able to see all this information at a glance. To track these products throughout their lifecycle, live data is vital. You'll need to test to determine whether your products are fully tracked and documented. The QMS should be configured to deliver precise information to all testing personnel.

4. Approvals

At each stage of the manufacturing process, there should be checks that ensure the product is not passed to the next stage until particular processes are complete.
Look at your processes in detail: what criteria must be applied for approval, and whose responsibility is it to ensure they’re complied with?
The QMS should have an Approvals & Alerts function that enables you to set rules at every stage, so that staff cannot approve an action until compliance is determined. Attempts to override the system should also generate an alert.

5. Visibility

With QMS fully integrated into your ERP system, you’ll not only have better visibility of your production chain; you’ll be working more efficiently as well. For instance, you’ll be able to adjust your priorities to take seasonal factors into account, when customer demands are likely to change and alternative suppliers may be required.
You should be able to automate variances in your processes to accommodate these changes, so you’re never low on stock or unable to fill spot orders. You’ll also have superior OI to better meet future demand.

Anna Rizio is a sales director and consulting manager at Endeavour Solutions Australia, a partner of Greentree International. She has been working with food and beverage clients for over 20 years. She can be contacted at 1300 583 097 or arizio@endeavouraust.com.au.

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