Think back to dinner last night: Did the flavor and texture profile of your meal match what you expected? What if your meal contained harmful microbes?
The life of a food quality professional involves answering these questions so consumers can chew with confidence. I spent the beginning of my career in quality assurance before entering the technology space. As I reflect back on my typical day, the pain points become clear.
8:30 AM: Assessing the Situation
After strolling past the chemical lab, the day starts with a quick glance over emails that have accumulated over the night. Tackling food safety issues first are key; any time lost could result in more unsafe products reaching consumers.
Pain Point: I spend a lot of time in my inbox and it’s hard to identify any trends and keep up with the constant flow of email.
9:00 AM: Conducting Product Analysis
Nothing pressing, so I head over to the lab to get started on product analysis. These tests are run consistently to ensure the ingredients we receive from suppliers match the standards outlined by our specifications. Tests differ based on the product but can involve physical measurements, pH, water activity, fat percentage, protein, microbe activity and more. The data is then cross-referenced with a physical specification to check for any nonconformance.
Pain Point: Our physical specifications are in a huge binder, making cross-checks time-consuming and prone to error. Furthermore, if they haven’t been updated, I’m checking products against inaccurate standards.
10:44 AM: Supplier Cutting
A supplier cutting is at 11:00 AM, so I break from the analysis to prepare. A “cutting” refers to a sensory evaluation of a product, with both the supplier and buyer discussing aroma, taste, texture, and flavor. It also provides an opportunity for both parties to collaborate on any required specification changes.In this cutting, we review a fried chicken patty from our poultry line. There have been issues with the thickness being out of specification, and is a point of focus for this meeting.
Pain Point: Suppliers will have their own copy of a specification. If there is a discrepancy between our spec and the suppliers, we need to debate which version to use. Any changes made means we need to communicate this to all manufacturing plants.
11:00 AM: Supplier Collaboration
The cutting proceeds and the ratings are favorable for sensory characteristics. However, there is consensus that the product is thicker than normal. Collaboration begins using reports on past data to dial in the thickness metric on the specification.
Pain Point: The QMS we have alerts us to non-conformances, but due to constant false-positives it gets lost in the noise.
1:12 PM: Managing Specifications
Making a change to the spec document is arduous. To start the process I communicate the adjustments to our document manager, who handles both physical specifications and scanned PDF versions. The document is then handed off for signatures from our QA Manager and Quality VP.
Pain Point: Our specifications are stored in binders and scanned into PDFs. Getting signatures and routing it through approvals involves physically handing off or mailing to other departments. Depending on the person, it could take weeks to get their signature. As a result, other facilities end up producing product based off of outdated specs.
2:49 PM: Lab Analysis
After our suppliers leave, I return to the lab to continue lab analysis. There are always samples coming in for testing and it makes up a large portion of my work.
Pain Point: Testing products for compliance is my most important responsibility. Starting the spec routing process took more than an hour and a half of that time away from me.
4:10 PM: Data Entry
After analysis, I manually enter data to our quality management software. Housing information in the QMS allows us to manipulate data into reports, dashboards, and supplier scorecards.
Pain Point: The QMS isn’t streamlined for mass amounts of data entry and is very time consuming to enter information. It’s also only available on a computer. This leads to a build-up of analysis sheets that don’t get entered in a timely manner, making it difficult to catch non-conformances on time.
5:00 PM: Call it a Day
I close down the lab, check my email for any items that are flagged, and return home.
Pain Point: I have to manually create a checklist of data to take action on the next day.
What’s the Ideal Day in the Life of a Food Quality Professional?
While no two days in quality are alike, the work is critical in keeping consumers safe. While I highlighted the challenges I faced on a typical day, quality managers still face hurdles in optimizing their time and workload. Since specifications are not managed within a QMS, processes take longer and are less accurate.
In my next post, I’ll talk about the rise of Specification Management and how quality professionals are using it to work more efficiently and take faster action.