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Friday, 7 February 2014

The SSQ-Adventure – For the Fearless Guardians of Food Safety and Quality

Are you in the food safety, quality management and auditing business and wondering about where SSQA could take you? Why not take a look or even go further and try the SSQA adventure?

Success only eludes those who overlook practical solutions.
Fear, Cynicism, Apathy, Pessimism and Capitulation constitute a frightening bundle. Thankfully, all of these can be easily defeated by the SSQA concept with its implicit pragmatic determination to ensure improvements.

Justified and Unjustified Resistance to Change:

A critical look at a new concept like SSQA is always wise. Nobody wants to go on a fool’s errand. At the same time, it is reasonable to consider what happens if a person insists on seeing the results of a unique adventure before deciding whether or not to go on the adventure. A resignation that “it will not work” without due consideration is not the spirit of profitable adventure.

To blindly criticize all presented ideas is not wise; to avoid criticizing anything is not helpful; to offer criticism without suggesting solutions is worst.

The wise thing to do with presented ideas is to carefully examine them, provide constructive criticisms where necessary but with suggestions of reasonable and practical alternatives. People who are able and have the right to criticize an idea, must know enough about what is better. Otherwise, they do not know enough and do not have the right to criticize. A much hopeless state is when a person does not know and does not wish to learn.

What convinced explorers like Christopher Columbus to
set sail?

An adventure may be initially perceived as a crazy and useless idea. To simply reach such a conclusion without due consideration is not reasonable. An adventure may also be unique in the sense that nobody has ever done it. That does not mean a complete absence of things from which to learn in other to undertake the adventure. A wise thing to do will be to consider the possibilities, going to as much detail as possible from things that are already known and things that are reasonably predictable. Such a wise consideration is essential in order to establish the usefulness and adequately prepare to take the adventure.
With the right sail arrangement and sailing strategy, even rough winds can be your friend.

With SSQA, much is already known and much can be predicted from events that are taking place in the industry. Principles like HACCP and good manufacturing practices have been proven to work and need little if any further investigation. SSQA incorporates these principles and practices and any fear that “it will not work” is effectively dispelled. An adventure that shares the application of proven principles like SSQA is not a “fool’s errand”. On the question of its usefulness, it eliminates many unnecessary bottlenecks to which many companies are currently subjected.

The SSQA implementation manual explains:

  • The contrast between SSQA and what already exists;
  • How SSQA could work given the forces at play and dominating the marketplace; and 
  • How the results of SSQA implementation are demonstrated.

SSQA builds trust; not surveillance posts among partners: 

The contrast between SSQA and existing schemes is not in the content or even the objectives; it is in the perspective and principles. SSQA is not an accreditation scheme and it is not an auditing framework. No special auditing company accreditation, auditor qualifications and registration are required. All auditing functions in the process of implementing the SSQA concept are simply expected to be performed by individuals with the right educational background and/or industry experience that are applicable and relevant to the operations audited.

SSQA avoids certain fixations:
  • SSQA is not fixated on certification (of the concept, the programs, the operations, the auditors, etc.); but fixated on education, practice, experience.
  • SSQA is not an auditing framework that examines “compliance” with the usual restrictions about auditing versus consulting; SSQA is a direct management framework that welcomes deliberate and meaningful dialogue among participants.
  • There are no forced audits by external parties; only self-motivated audits with direct involvement of stakeholders who actually gain in the success achieved or suffer loss due to failed control systems. 
  • SSQA is not fixated on theoretical, make-belief confidence; it thrives on actual confidence derived from verifiable results that are assessed against the real intentions of adopting the concept and engaging in the related programs and practices.
  • SSQA does not impose special accreditation schemes upon auditing bodies and auditors; it only      encourages formal college, university and continuing professional education as well as the self-motivated professional integrity of system developers and managers.

As for "regulating the system”, we again find another difference between the SSQA concept and auditing schemes. Operations that adopt the SSQA principles are expected to self-regulate as the means for self-preservation. This poses the usual questions about operations’ lacking integrity, conflicts of interest, acceptance by the market, etc. These factors, particularly the supposed conflicts of interest and lack of integrity, only play out negatively and need regulation under the “current accreditation schemes”. SSQA is not an accreditation scheme. The successful implementation of the SSQA concept automatically means that an operation proceeds realistically to ensure the safety, security and quality of products or outputs. This removes the need for additional external regulation system outside of the constitutional regulations and legal requirements of the jurisdictions where the operation is located and does business. The operation complies with such constitutional regulations and legal requirements else it has not successfully implemented SSQA.

Concerning the acceptance of an operation’s SSQA initiatives by the customers, such acceptance is not an issue where SSQA has been successfully implemented. The successful adoption of the SSQA concept automatically means that product safety, security and quality assurance programs are implemented with the blessings, as it were, and active participation of these customers that, by default, are also partners in the SSQA implementation process.

Granted, anything that is truly new and original is difficult to find under the sun. The SSQA concept is certainly not some strange new and original concept. It only presents unique perspective in the business of ensuring consumer safety and satisfaction. The SSQA concept is not completely original. It only has some differentiating features in comparison against other proposed concepts or schemes. Some of the differences have been listed earlier. The manual and other published articles also list some key differences. This does not mean that SSQA is totally divorced from proven principles. For example, the Codex principles of HACCP and good manufacturing practices have been cited and constitute portions of the SSQA implementation manual. As noted in the manual under the heading “Why SSQA”, “the adoption of the SSQA concept by an operation means that the operation actively encourages its personnel to search, investigate, recognize, adopt and expand upon winning ideas. Such ideas could come from current and future excellence-producing management approaches. In that sense, SSQA is didactic, eclectic and progressive. . .” SSQA is not isolated it its uniqueness. It is built on a solution framework that has been developed from observing the failures in the industry.

You can check out the failures for yourself. Simply follow the news about unrelenting recalls due to very preventable situations such as allergen contamination and mislabelling involving “certified” operations while the number of such “certified” operations continues to grow. As one ineffective knee-jerk solution built on the same framework of distrust replaces another in the attempts to solve the problem, it should be obvious enough that a radical solution is needed.

The SSQA concept consists of strategies that may seem too radical to some people or even frightening to others. For example, the idea of bypassing accreditation processes, auditor registration, rigorous external certification, et cetera is not a thought that some in the industry can handle at this time. Many people in the industry are almost irredeemably fixated on setting up programs according to some convoluted schemes that are built and thrive on distrust. Some see through all of that but all they feel they can do is grumble about the impositions. They must simply yield they say because it is the way things are.

Yes, it is the way things are but they can be different with a different (SSQA) perspective. The SSQA concept includes strategies for addressing many of the issues and bottlenecks that presently constrain the industry. Rescue and Recovery is possible for any operation that snaps out of the aforementioned fixation. For all practical purposes, catching the spirit of SSQA cannot happen overnight but the process can begin with a look at the SSQA Manual. Users of the manual are expected to increasingly learn and apply SSQA principles in their operations. This could be done independently (without external pressures) or with assistance from GCSE-Food & Health Protection through the Enrolment Program.

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

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