Quality assurance

by Jonathan Bradshaw
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Editor’s note: This is the first article in a two-part series on quality control in feed mills. The second article, which will appear in an upcoming issue of World Grain, will look at the 5S and Six Sigma quality control schemes and their relevance to the feed industry.

Within the feed industry, there are many different opinions on what constitutes a good quality assurance package. Some think it should take into account all the current and proposed regulations and legislation. Others feel it should concentrate on quality raw material supply. Another group insists that test work in the lab is the key to quality products.

Much depends on whether you want a system that is relevant to your business or whether, in light of the plethora of Quality Assurance Schemes that are out there, you just want the ability to demonstrate to your customers that you comply

with current legislation.

Regardless of your intentions, when you start putting together a quality assurance system for your plant it will soon become clear that several basic principles must be adhered to if the system is to be durable and robust, and flexible enough to change and adapt to new circumstances over time.

RAW MATERIAL SUPPLY

All good systems must have provisions for controlling raw material supply. You need to know where your ingredients have come from, where they have been stored and how they have been processed if they are a by-product or co-product of another food industry. You need to know what the chances are of cross-contamination with other ingredients, particularly non-food items, and you must have start-to-finish control of the supply chain to provide traceability.

To do this purely from your own standpoint would be extremely difficult, time consuming and involve considerable expense through the auditing of suppliers in far away places. Fortunately, there are several independent and well-organized certification schemes that give comfort to the raw material supply situation. They provide you with certificates of origin, details of transport and storage arrangements that enable you to know where ingredients have come from and what has happened to them en route to your mill. These almost universally accepted schemes are administered by people who are well aware of what can befall such ingredients. Continuous improvement is a feature of almost all of these schemes.

However, you cannot be complacent and assume that all ingredients will be perfect just because your supplier is a member of a recognized assurance scheme. You need to identify at the point of intake what each vehicle has on board and draw samples for future reference in the event of unforeseen problems. Sample retention is often a topic for discussion, but the general recommendation is to keep samples for three months. By that time the ingredient has passed through both the mill and the animal, and any possible problem will have become evident.

You also need to examine your suppliers on a regular basis to make sure they can handle your business and are aware of the problems that can affect feed quality. A good working relationship between miller and supplier develops over time, and trust between the two develops through a history of good supply, on-time deliveries of sound raw materials and the ability to understand the miller’s needs. INSIDE YOUR MILL

Having dealt with the raw material supply end of things, you generally turn your attention to the mill, where most of your documents and procedures focus. Whenever auditors visit, they generally examine mill operations more closely than any other area, so you need to make sure the mill control systems are robust and relevant to your operation. Traceability through the plant, proper recording of actual blends, location of storage and identification of batch sequencing are all key to good mill control. Maintenance records, labor movement, who made what and when, where it came from, and where it went are all items that you should know about and, perhaps just as important, demonstrate to auditors during their mill visits.

My experience has been that mills vary in the precise way they handle recordkeeping. Those who have a simple recordkeeping system can react quickest in a crisis and typically know exactly what happened in any given situation. Simplicity is an art but worth striving for.

TRANSPORTATION AND CUSTOMERS

Having sourced your raw materials from reputable and reliable sources, blended them appropriately, processed them into finished feed and dispatched them, you might think that your job is done. But you would be ignoring the two areas that are probably the most significant in any quality assurance system — namely transport and your customers.

Whether you operate your own transport fleet for delivering feed or use an independent hauler, the same principles apply. You need to:

• minimize cross contamination on the vehicles;

• plan the route so as to offload the vehicle in the correct order when carrying multiple types of feed;

• maximize efficiency of vehicle use by sending it on the shortest route.

The organization of transport fleets is probably one of the most complex aspects of the feed milling industry, and yet it is often neglected and invariably under-resourced. There are probably more ways to influence profitability of the business in the transport department than in any other area.

The second area involves your customers. They are the sole purpose of your existence and you need to be fully aware of their needs at all times. Whether it is a preference for a particular formulation and a bespoke diet or a requirement to only deliver at a specific time via a specified route, you must address the customer’s requirement and ensure that your in-house protocols will ensure such requirements are met.

How do you address all of the above in a simple system that is easily understood by your employees and can be easily audited by outside bodies to ensure your compliance to local and national regulations and guidelines? There are many schemes out there, some internationally recognized and others locally developed. Most of the available schemes need to be specifically adapted to individual milling facilities, but almost all of them deal with the key areas that need to be addressed.

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), a system that most millers are familiar with, forms the very basis for all quality assurance schemes. Developed as part of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) protocols to ensure all critical issues are properly addressed before launching a spacecraft, HACCP is recognized as a sound and sustainable operating system within many industries. It calls for the feed miller to take a close look at his operation and identify areas critical to operational performance. It calls for adequate monitoring of these areas and specifies what actions should be taken and by whom in the event of a given variance being identified. While this usually involves quarantining a product and reworking it under controlled conditions, it will prevent off-grade products from leaving the premises, assuming protocols are followed.

To ensure any scheme will work and that mill employees will follow the written guidelines, you must train people adequately and record such training in order to demonstrate to others that you have competent staff.

The degree of training depends on the needs of the system and its complexity as well as the level of education and experience of your employees. Regular updating is required and regular internal auditing will establish specific areas where training is needed.

With any of the easily recognized quality assurance schemes — HACCP, ISO9000, etc. — there are set principles to follow in areas such as training, auditing and recordkeeping. It is relatively easy to establish a workable system. After a time, however, these systems become mundane and routine, and people start to take short cuts and pay less attention to detail than they should.

In the newer quality assurance schemes, the key principle is “continuous improvement,” which is designed to reduce complacency among employees. These newer systems include 5S and Six Sigma, widely adopted in the Far East and now being gradually adopted in the western world, particularly in engineering and the food industry.

Jonathan Bradshaw is a consultant to the agribusiness and food processing industries, specializing in project management and bespoke training programs through his company, J B Bradshaw Ltd. He has extensive experience in flour and feed milling in Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean. He may be contacted at: jonathan.bradshaw2@btopenworld.com .

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