Food Industries deal with highly sensitive products that require routine inspection and quality control from the sourcing of raw materials to the distribution of finished goods. Quality control directly impacts the satisfaction of consumers, the brand’s reputation, and the company’s bottom line. Therefore, preventing and correcting quality problems can bring forth product excellence, increased brand reputation, and a stronger customer base.

Goals of Quality Control in Food Industry

Quality control is required for all food products to ensure the safety and well-being of consumers. Given that these products directly impact the health of consumers, it is crucial that the quality status of the product is documented and reviewed thoroughly at all stages of the production process.

Characteristics of a Good Quality Control System for Food Industries

Quality isn’t just a single step in the production process. It’s embedded into every step of the process including product ideation, development, production, and distribution. High-quality products come from carefully and meticulously designed processes that take into account that problems can occur at any stage of production. Therefore, there are both proactive and reactive measures in place to ensure the products meet certain quality standards.

Proactive (Preventive) Quality Control

Based on previous mistakes or common industry knowledge, the production process can include proactive (preventive) measures to avoid any production anomalies. This can include anything from routine machine inspection, worker retraining, using sign-off work instructions, to frequently checking the health and safety of tools.

Although catching defects is the true purpose of quality control, reducing the number of defects and improving the overall quality of products starts with having proactive solutions in place.

Reactive Quality Control

Even with fool-proof preventive measures, defects are bound to happen on every production floor. Therefore, reactive solutions must be designed ahead of time to quickly address quality failures. Depending on the response time of operators and facilities, the product can either be scrapped or corrected.

Data collected from these issues can be used in the future to improve the proactive quality control systems in place.

Quality Control Culture

Because Quality Control must be baked into the production process itself, the operators and the workers themselves must uphold the culture of quality in their day-to-day operations. A facility where each of the members understands and lives up to the quality mindset can run more efficiently.

Quality Control and Compliance in Food Industries

The aforementioned proactive and reactive measures are designed based on the specific requirements of various regulatory bodies. The two most common sets of requirements are known as the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) system and the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). The guidelines made by organizations like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guide producers through how their processes should be designed and what data points they must collect and report.

Critical Control Points

As outlined by the FDA in their HACCP, critical control points are “located at any step where hazards can be either prevented, eliminated, or reduced to acceptable levels.” Some examples of CCPs include thermal processing, chilling, testing ingredients for chemical residues, product formulation control, and testing products for metal contaminants.

Key Food Quality Control Procedures

Although the following procedures don’t cover all of what needs to be tracked, here are some of the most important quality control procedures every food production facility should have:

Ingredient Specifications

All production starts with sourcing the right ingredients. Understanding exactly where each ingredient batch was sourced, in what condition, and when is taking the first right step to good quality control.

Approved Supplier List

Each ingredient should have an approved supplier list. This should be about 3 suppliers per ingredient and should include information like the ingredient name, supplier name, address, and supplier code number.

Product Formulation/Recipe

The documentation of how each food product is formulated should be highly detailed and available to select individuals. This sets the quality standard for finished products and can be used as reference points for future product development. The documentation should have information like the list of ingredients, ingredient code, percentage formula, batch yield, and effective dates.

Manufacturing Procedures

Companies must document all the details of how a product is actually made. This includes how ingredients should be transported and stored, what ambient conditions the facility should maintain, in what order the ingredients are added in, what tools are used, and who is responsible for what. This is different from product formulation/recipe in that it includes instructions like “mix for 10 minutes after adding ingredient A”, or “preheat oven to 200 degrees F”. These manufacturing procedures also serve as work instructions for employees.

In-Process Records

This is the most important procedure of all. When production is in process, operators must record in real-time all the details of how a product is made. This not only includes information like product weight, size, and expiration date, but also the equipment conditions, the operators on that line, and whether the line was cleaned and cleared prior to that shift.

Other Food Quality Control Procedures

Some of the other food quality control procedures include Product Standards, Critical Control Point (CCP) identification, Label Specifications, Cleaning and Sanitizing Program, Recall Program, and warehousing and shipping.

Quality Control with Real-Time Data

Catching errors is not enough. Being able to immediately address those errors is what makes all the difference. Solving issues at its site can save thousands of scraps, re-production costs, and hundreds of working hours.

Here are some ways operations can benefit from real-time data using digital solutions.

Interactive Digital Manufacturing Procedures (SOP)

One of the most difficult aspects of quality control is ensuring that operators exactly follow the manufacturing procedures every run. Typically, manufacturing procedures for a single step can be as long as dozens of pages. Even if operators follow them to a T, errors still occur, and recording progress on paper creates unnecessary work.

On the other hand, digital Manufacturing Procedures, or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are dynamic and interactive, allowing engineers to embed videos and images for complicated steps to ensure quality in line. These engage operators, and guide them through complex processes, increasing the first pass yield, reducing the scrap rate, and improving the overall quality of the finished product.

Guided Digital Workflows for Line Clearance and Weigh and Dispense

For complicated operations that require documentation such, engineers can incorporate data collection as part of interactive digital SOPs. While completing each step, operators can follow along the SOPs and either be prompted to enter data manually or to verify data collected via IoT.

Interactive Training Platforms

Just like digital SOPs, digital training platforms can guide workers through pre-designed training programs to make sure they are well-informed and educated on specific instructions and safety protocols. Ultimately, better-trained employees are less likely to make mistakes, and more likely to produce quality products the first time. This is considered proactive (preventive) quality control.

Improved Product Traceability

Demonstrating quality requires tracking materials from the supply chain, into inventory, through the manufacturing process, and through distribution to the consumer. IoT technology has made it easier to track items from end to end, giving manufacturers access to track materials and products through the full value stream.

With the help of IoT devices like barcodes and scanners, parts and products can easily be tracked at every station, which can then be accessed from the Product Genealogy/Traceability app.

Defect Tracking

Defects and mistakes are a reality of manufacturing. Even so, it’s essential to separate material defects from operator errors.

Using Tulip’s custom defect forms, operators can log the exact cause of the issue at the source when an error occurs. Photos, descriptions, and error codes make sure you have all of the information necessary to understand root causes. IoT devices can help catch defects and quality non-conformances that would be easy to miss on a visual inspection. This level of documentation gives you the information necessary to determine if defects are the result of manufacturing processes or poor materials from suppliers and whether they need to be addressed at the moment or in the future.

Closing Thoughts

Food manufacturers looking to improve their quality control practices, as well as those who are looking to realize cost savings and improved efficiency, should consider what quality procedures of their current operations could be improved. Likely, there are flexible new technologies that can amplify their quality initiatives.

Tulip can help you improve your quality practices throughout your operations and supply chains. Get in touch for a free demo today.

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