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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Rescue Mission for Food Operations – the Strategic Integration of SSQA

In all disastrous situations, 
hope drives a rescue mission; 
but hopelessness shrouds a recovery mission.
Systems and concepts for product safety and quality management are common in the food industry. It is difficult to find a food business that has not, for example, heard of HACCP (Hazard analysis and Critical Control Point). More elaborate systems have also been implemented by a number of operations. As a food safety enthusiast, I cannot overemphasize the need for operations to implement systems that can help them to consistently ensure product safety and quality. The focus and effectiveness of implementing these systems are governed by a very basic recognition that has sadly eluded many operations: The robustness of the implemented systems is not the goal. The systems are simply part of the means for achieving the goal.

Implemented product safety systems and programs are tools if you will and, as such, they must efficiently and effectively aid the users. Just as the right wrench is needed for the right job but a well polished wrench is not the goal, adopted concepts and systems must fit and accomplish the job but their robustness is not the goal. Where overwhelming evidence shows that the job has not been accomplished, polishing the tools is nothing but a futile engagement.

After nearly 20 years of managing, auditing and reviewing product safety and quality management systems, I have found that many of them fall into one of two categories of drowning systems. Some systems that may superficially appear to be effective are drowning in inefficiency. Others that may seem to be efficient are drowning in ineffectiveness. In either case, it is unwise for the struggling business to reject a rescue rope simply because it has never tried such a rope. SSQA serves as a rescue rope to many businesses that are currently in operation.

Many of the operations with which I have worked appear trapped within the strangle-hold of product safety and management systems (tools) that are like under-sized or oversized wrenches. At times they are the wrong tools altogether for the operations. Even large operations have spent a lot of resources to implement elaborate, costly, but inefficient systems. These situations are all in need of rescue through an integrated, effective and efficient system for the sake of consumers.

A practical, effective and efficient product safety and quality management system is mandatory for every food operation. In the case of new operations, this mandatory requirement can be met through the strategic integration of the SSQA concept right from the start. Operations adopting the SSQA concept early in the development of their product safety and quality management systems stand to benefit greatly in terms of the effectiveness and efficiency. However, operations that may not have adopted it right from the start are able to easily adapt their systems to SSQA. This is one of the key advantages of the SSQA concept. With the right guidance, SSQA concepts can be readily and productively integrated into existing management systems. While this flexibility is very useful, there is nothing like laying a solid foundation right from when the idea is first entertained to establish the operation or business. Adopting the SSQA way of thinking is crucial even before building the new facility and commencing operation.

The good news is that most implemented programs can be rescued. The bad news is that some need recovery after disastrous recall incidents. It is rather late when a business needs recovery. Worse still, it often becomes impossible for some operations to recover from overwhelming losses that are suffered when harmful products are recalled. With operations that need to be and can be rescued, the task often includes the re-arrangement of more than the documentation. A total renovation of the system and culture may be necessary.

Like all renovation work, some parts may need to be dismantled and rebuilt. Many of the implemented systems that I have examined only cover parts of SSQA implementation step 2. Some more elaborate systems sporadically cover traces of the remaining five steps (1, 3, 4, 5, & 6). To have a fully integrated SSQA system, all six steps need to be covered. An important point to note is that while the steps are numbered 1 to 6, they do not need to be implemented in that order. Each step is able to stand alone although it is independently incomplete. This shows why the so-called elaborate systems that have covered only parts of step 2 are essentially incomplete systems although they may appear to be independently functional. The six steps of SSQA implementation are briefly described under the heading “Other Differentiating Key Concepts and Strategies” in the post: “Adopting the SSQA - Safety, Security and Quality Assurance Model”.

Posted By Felix Amiri

Felix Amiri is the current Food Sector Chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection

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