From ground beef to spinach to adulterated ingredients, the food industry has seen the huge downside of supply chain safety and quality failures. Food processors are faced with the continuing challenges of maximizing food safety while reducing production costs by improving throughput, product yields, and process efficiencies. Part of the risk equation is that the food processing industry has become dependent upon extended supply chains using multiple vendors.
One risk reduction strategy is to improve the performance of these supply chains. In addition to conventional audit programs, many customers mandate that their suppliers implement Statistical Process Control (SPC) programs. These programs improve food quality and safety while decreasing purchasing costs.
Suppliers and customers won’t see financial benefits from SPC implementation if suppliers feel that all they are required to do is to ship control charts and histograms with the raw product. When all participants in the supply chain actively embrace SPC, however, there can be attractive financial and risk reduction benefits.
Supply chain performance represents the ability of the supplier to meet customer contract requirements over the life of the contract. Overall supplier performance ranking is based on factors that include ability to meet quality and food safety requirements, deliverability, communication, and services.
Safety for a World-Class System
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has developed one of the most effective preferred vendor and supply chain quality management systems for the purchase of ground beef for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The AMS has incorporated best practices from other industries and merged these with the need to guarantee food safety to produce a world-class system. This system is described in the AMS Technical Requirements Schedule (TRS)—GB-2006, For USDA Purchases of Ground Beef Items, Frozen (www.ams.usda.gov/lscp/beef/LSP-SB-TRS-GB-O6-sco% 205-12-06%20FINAL.pdf).
Prior to supplying boneless beef destined for the USDA, the boneless beef supplier must submit a documented quality control program within the contractor’s technical proposal and receive a satisfactory onsite capability assessment by the Audit, Review, and Compliance (ARC) branch. The quality control program must specifically address the management of microbial data to comply with the AMS Process Requirements Flow Chart and the following descriptions.
The contractor’s technical proposal must describe a process plan with a documented quality control program that includes procedures, records, forms, and so on—all demonstrating conformance to the requirements of the specification TRS GB-2006. The successful vendor has an established quality assurance/quality control system that includes staff training and certification, incorporates process monitoring with retrievable data, uses quantitative methods such as SPC and process capability analysis, and demonstrates process stability and capability to meet specifications.
After acceptance, the vendor provides AMS with continuing SPC-based quality reporting and demonstrates that it maintains a continuous improvement program. The goal is not just to receive documentation but also to have the vendor demonstrate that it is actively managing and improving its processes and contributing to reducing the risks of noncompliance in the supply chain. The successful vendor demonstrates the characteristics of a stable and capable process with the ability to deliver timely alerts regarding problems.
The process-based model and awareness make up the core of the system. This model implies knowledge of the history of vendor behavior and the statistically demonstrated confidence to extrapolate performance while maintaining a constant check on process performance and audit. The primary supply chain analytics reporting tools are: Certificate of Analysis, which provides a representative value; Control Chart, which provides a measure of process stability and predictability; and Process Capability Report, which indicates how well the vendor can meet specifications. The results of this program were reported in Food Quality, Oct.-Nov. 2005 in the article “School Food Logistics: A look at supply chain quality management in the USDA’s AMS National School Lunch Program” (www.foodquality.com/mag/09012005/fq_09 012005_FS1.htm).
Improvement in Ground Beef SAFETY, QUALITY
Since the initial specification in 2003, the AMS supply chain quality system has achieved significant improvement in ground beef safety and quality. The Salmonella incidence rate has been reduced from 5.5% to 1.3% and the target fat content moved from 22% to 15%. The lowest Salmonella incidence rate was recorded at 0.9% for 2005-2006. The higher 1.3% rate for the last contract year was largely due to events at one producer. Continuous monitoring and analysis ensured that the problems were quickly detected and that corrective measures were taken. This response demonstrates the value of close monitoring and of having appropriate response measures defined.