This article originally appeared in Food Manufacturing's Jan/Feb 2015 print issue.
With Jorge Hernandez, Corporate Sr. VP Food Safety and Quality, US Foods
Food Manufacturing spoke with Jorge Hernandez about the quality assurance and quality control processes at US Foods, and other topics related to QA/QC in the food manufacturing industry.
Q: What is your philosophy and vision when it comes to quality assurance and quality control at US Foods?
A: When it comes to vision and philosophy: US Foods commitment to every customer is to provide foods and disposables with the highest possible level of safety and consistent quality, every time and with every delivery. To accomplish this obligation, we have in place a team of dedicated Food Safety and Quality Assurance professionals who manage a food safety and quality assurance system which ensure that our customers’ expectations are met in every phase of the business.
Q: What are some of the best practices, innovations or unique processes US Foods utilizes in its quality assurance and quality control programs?
A: At high level US Foods’ approach to quality includes three basic principles: 1- An honest sharing of quality, quality risks and mitigations with our suppliers and customers in search for the best application of practices; 2- The discipline to execute against expectations and measure performance; 3- A healthy and obsessive compulsion for continuous improvement using the data generated under principle 2.
While none of the principles are innovative or unique, their constant application provides us a powerful platform to advance quality and allowed us to be first to offer products grown, harvested, processed and distributed under quality certified systems in the United States, be the first broad-line distributor in the country to certify the food safety and quality systems in our distributions centers and processing facilities and other similar achievements.
Q: What area of the supply chain has become prominent for food manufacturers to monitor? What do you feel are the greatest challenges food companies face when it comes to supply chain management?
A: In my opinion, the distribution link of the supply chain is the area most misunderstood and/or unfamiliar to most food manufacturers. As such, this link presents unique risks that are not always consistent, well defined and can be hard to monitor. The two areas that present the greatest challenge to supply chain management are cold chain and the capture/transfer of product and case information from one link of the supply chain to the other. Understanding all the environmental conditions a food product is subjected from the manufacturer to the retailer/ food service operator along with what/when exactly is delivered to that customer are critical to ensuring the safety of the food and meeting the customers’ expectations for quality. Yet, these deceivingly simple tasks require an extensive network of systems and equipment that is complex, expensive and not the norm in food distribution.
Q: Where should food manufacturers start when creating a compliance program? What are the critical points that should be a part of every food company's compliance program?
A: In my opinion, a good quality compliance program is the one tailored to the specific product or products and the facility where they are processed. The challenge is that every food presents unique quality challenges and opportunities and, since the food industry is very diverse and wide ranging, there is no “one size fits all” compliance program for food processors. That said, a compliance program focused on good manufacturing practices and regulations is a good place to start. That program is likely to include control and/or critical control points in the supplier verification and preventive controls sections not just specific to their manufacturing environment but encompassing their entire business chain, from vendor to customer.
Q: What specific technologies have you seen that can help the food industry ensure better quality products throughout the supply chain? And how have evolving technologies changed things for the better in terms of QA/QC for the food industry?
A: While the there is no single ”silver bullet” to improve the quality of all foods, new technologies and new applications of old technologies and tools are continuously expanding areas that can help improve quality across every part of the supply chain. Significant technical advances on temperature control management, microbial inactivation, food chemistry and the uses of High Pressure, ionizing irradiation, vacuum-steam-vacuum, microwave, food irradiation or electric field are all technologies and tools that can help improve the quality of many foods. Again, no “single answer” but many opportunities for improvement that continue to challenge the food safety and quality assurance professionals to use and implement as one additional intervention or on in combination to set better quality products and maintain the same until the product is used.
Q: How has the FSMA impacted quality assurance and quality control in the food manufacturing industry?
A: Yes, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in the US in more than 70 years. Key to this new law is the regulatory shift of focus from food safety response to food safety prevention. As such, this shift of focus will help some food manufacturers align the quality function with the same thinking and begin to take a more preventive approach to quality programs and systems. For those manufacturers who already took a preventive approach to quality, FSMA is likely to facilitate the implementation of new preventive programs and the use of new tools to monitor quality performance.