Digitalising the QA manual is only way to ensure product provenance

The way QA is managed across the perishable food sector is under the spotlight like never before. The requirements are only going become more complex, as the FSA, auditors and customers, continue to demand more information and proof.

John Graham, QA specialist at Systems Integration

John Graham, our QA specialist explains: “It’s complicated to manage the QA process effectively. Most businesses are still running some or all their QA systems on paper, despite the complexity of managing hundreds of required QA tasks throughout the whole of production. Examples of required QA tasks include: raw materials and finished product, line start-up, product changeover, production line audit, and metal detector. Such checks can be required multiple times within the hour, on the hour, at specific time points – weekly, monthly and yearly.

“When a business is reliant on manual data capture, this data typically needs to be keyed back into a spreadsheet, meaning that there are no proof points that the information was obtained at the right time and correctly reported.”

Digitalising the QA manual is a major step forward for food processors

This is the reason why, at Systems Integration, we advocate to digitalising the QA manual. It provides the opportunity to eliminate the reliance on paper processes and fundamentally drive compliance. All of our software is driven by real-time data capture and this means that when it’s implemented across all processes,  individuals or teams can be alerted to any required actions throughout the day, month and year electronically. It also plays the important role of recording information as data entries, instead of lines on a sheet of paper.

Preventing product recalls – testing and real-time actions

And, when it comes to issues such as traceability and managing potential product recalls, a digital QA manual really comes into its own. When a food processor has embraced this approach, product recalls can be address with speed of response and the assurance that having the correct information will be at hand to make real-time decisions about either stock hold or recall through traceability.

Managing food production line safety with digital QA

As an example of how digitalisation can create a step change in how QA is managed, it is the responsibility of the QA team to ensure production line food safety processes and equipment are working at prescribed intervals and that tests are carried out to confirm these actions.

When the process is digitalised, the data-driven QA solution can confirm that tests need to be done at the designated intervals. As checks are carried out in real-time, live data capture directly updates the integrated system. So, if part of the production process fails, or a food safety issue is identified, all the products going through the production cycle between testing can either be quarantined or immediately recalled for re-testing. Full traceability of data on the products and lines that work is guaranteed with real-time notifications of any critical check failures, through live and real-time data.

When a business is reliant on manual QA, it would struggle to identify products in time, and they may have to be recalled from the customer, or worse still end up on retailer shelves. Manual processes are always inevitably slower and potentially demand a longer time review window to ensure all affected products are recalled.

A vision for correct labelling

One of the key areas where it is important for QA and operations to work together, is label management and verification. For example, if you take an integrated approach to pushing data to the labelling equipment, through a centrally controlled production system, you can reduce human error. Equally, if you have an online vision-based labelling verification system, you can synchronise data and ensure each label is correct. This data can also be stored with QA testing data showing the labelling system has been monitored and tested properly.

Reduction in paper can be dramatic – 1.8 tonnes for Faccenda
For retail pack food producers, the levels of paperwork can be onerous and therefore finding the right information in the audit timeframe demanded, can be difficult. This is where a digitalised QA manual and data storage approach can make a big difference. For chicken processor Faccenda Food (now known as Avara Foods), the saving amounted to 1.8 tonnes of paper work a year at its specialist processing plant in Telford. It also allowed the business to dramatically reduce the time it takes to produce required audit data.
Writing the digital QA manual – early adopters leading the industry

The reason why only a few industry leaders to date have adopted a digital QA manual approach, is the perceived technical input required and the changeable nature of QA requirements, by product and operation. As John explains, “This is the reason why we’ve used our processes knowledge to develop a QA software package that makes the most of menu-driven simple information entry, giving a non-IT specialist, the ability to create a new QA action or amend an existing one.

“It puts the QA power into the hands of the individuals or teams that are responsible for every element of food provenance and traceability.”

One digital version of the truth

With so much data now being available, the most important task is to manage the flow, integration and real-time interrogation of this data. For a food processing business, digitalising the QA manual ensures that this can be achieved by  sending real-time information to the right people and parts of the business, through automated reporting and live shop floor dashboards.

It all comes down to giving everyone access to the most up to date single version of the truth allowing them to act upon and therefore make changes to meet the key profit and quality goals of the business.