Quality Assurance Standards
Delivering safe, high quality food requires process and procedural controls throughout the food chain and mechanisms to verify such controls are effective.
Quality assurance is the term used to describe the planned and systematic actions required to assure customers that contracted product characteristics and production processes are consistently delivered.
Quality assurance involves the implementation of quality checks and standard operating procedures (SOP) that yield a consistent product and allows any issues to be identified and immediately corrected during production.
Total Quality Management (TQM) is the term used to describe the management approach to long term success through customer satisfaction. It requires the participation of all members of an organisation, suppliers included, in improving processes, products, services and the working culture.
Many organisations have developed their own standards for quality assurance whilst others have realied on public and private food safety and quality assurance standards. In particuclar, high profile incidents, such as Mad Cow Disease and increasing consumer demands, e.g. for ethical and sustainable production, have increased the number of third party food quality and safety standards.
Food Quality and Safety Standards
Kotsanopoulos and Arvanitoyannis (2017) reviewed the role of food safety and food quality standards in the food industry which we will discuss in more detail here.
The public sector has played a key role in the development, implementation and enforcement of food and feed safety regulations, surveillance of contaminants, consumer education, training and research. While the private sector, i.e. trade associations or agro-enterprises implement quality management procedures to assess and manage food quality and safety elements in response to customer and regulatory requirements.
Quality standards are the policies and procedures in place in order to ensure that contracted product characteristics and production processes are consistently delivered. Standards are necessary to facilitate control, monitoring and auditing to ensure consistency and to provide a reference point to determine compliance has been achieved. Quality standards can vary based on the organisation, customer and regulatory requirements. Nevertheless, their overarching purpose is to identify and address such requirements.
The requirement of the product and its associated processes can be obtained from technical specifications, product standards, process standards, regulatory requirements and contractual agreements. Many organisations have developed their own standards for their quality management system, while others rely on public and private food safety and quality standards.
- Legal Standards
Legal standards typically relate to safety and are established by national governments. They are mandatory and represent minimum standards of quality and safety, i.e. they are authentic and do not contain dangerous contaminants.
- Consumer Standards
Consumer standards relates to the information presented to the consumer, i.e. the description of the product must conform to a particular standard e.g. nutrition and health claims such as low fat.
- Industry Standards
Industry standards also known as commodity standards or standards of identity are set by an organised industry association. They outline a reliable identity for a particular product e.g. wheat conforms to a minimum standard established by the industry.
- International Standards
International standards set by an international body. For example, in the food and feed chain, the Codex Alimentarius Commission is the most widely recognised international body that sets food standards. Adoption of the Codex standards by national governments facilitates international trade.
- International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO)
ISO is a non-governmental organisation which aims to promote the development of harmonised standards to facilitate international trade. Implementation of ISO standards is voluntary. ISO 9001:2015, the International standard specifying requirements for quality management systems has been described as the most prominent approach to quality management systems.
- International Agreements
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the technical barriers to trade (TBT) is relevant to aspects of feed and food quality management. It promotes the use of standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures that are based on work done by international standard setting bodies. In the TBT agreement, the term standard is defined as:
A document approved by a recognised body that provides, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for products or related processes and production methods, with which compliance is not mandatory
The 1994 SPS agreement of the WTO provides a framework for harmonising and resolving sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) issues. The SPS agreement covers measures intended to protect human or animal health arising from diseases carried by animals, plants, or products thereof; and from the risks of unsafe additives, contaminants, toxins or disease-causing organisms in foods, beverages or feedstuffs; among other things. The SPS agreement encourages member states to consider international standards, guidelines and recommendations when establishing their national SPS measures. A country is not required to implement an international standard. However the must have scientific justification to establish or maintain a more stringent measure, if it will unfairly hinder international trade. Standards established by the Codex regarding food and feed substances have status under the SPS agreement.
The development and implementation of public and private food safety and quality standards across the globe have increased in response to rising customer/consumer expectations; the growing interest in food safety, legal and institutional requirements (e.g. due diligence); and increased efforts to achieve competitive advantage.
These third party quality and safety standards offer a framework which guides and supports feed and food company’s in developing their policies and procedures and implementing a quality management system that meets a high level of food safety and food law compliance; food quality and customer requirements; and the protection of people, animal and environmental welfare.