For over a half century, the USDA has purchased ground beef products to donate to school systems. The program deals in very large quantities of meat products. Last year, the program purchased 135,120,000 pounds of ground beef and patties for approximately $213 million.
The AMS (Agricultural Marketing Service) has to deliver this quantity of meat to school children and guarantee that it is both wholesome and of good quality. To succeed requires a sophisticated supply chain quality management program. In the past, AMS used product specifications and microbiological pass-fail, finished product testing to administer ground beef purchases.
AMS technical and contracting staff constantly monitors program purchases, vendor performance, industry practices, school system feedback, and published research findings, and each year make the appropriate changes to the program requirements.
For the 2003 contract year, AMS implemented the purchasing schedule TRS-GB-2003. AMS modernized its operational control and management and implemented a statistical process system to evaluate contractors. As part of this science-based approach, AMS utilized new auditing and monitoring verification methods to ensure the quality, value, and safety of ground beef products destined for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and other Federal food and nutrition programs.
For the first time, prospective contractors were required to document their production processes in the form of technical proposals. These proposals must adequately address each performance requirement listed within Technical Requirements Schedule for Ground Beef (TRS-GB). After the contracted AMS officer reviews and approves the proposal, he or she must pass an onsite assessment before being approved to bid on USDA contracts. Once approved, the contractors are subject to monthly audits on all performance measures. AMS has provided its contractors with training in the areas of process documentation and statistical process control. All of the assessment and evaluation systems are modeled in accordance with ISO 9000 Quality Systems Standards.
Given the nature and scope of the changes being introduced, and the need to ensure a sufficient supply of ground beef for the school lunch program, AMS implements certain requirements over a two to three year period. The sampling of boneless beef for microbial performance is an example of a requirement not previously imposed on suppliers that was implemented in this manner. During the first year of the boneless beef testing requirement (i.e., SY 2003-2004), AMS chose to allow suppliers to sample and test their boneless beef for specific microbes using their own procedures and laboratories.
In the following years AMS has required that AMS Designated Laboratories (ADL) analyze the fat content and pathogen levels in the finished ground beef. The ADL conduct tests for fat content (ground beef) and microbial requirements in accordance with AOAC, FSIS, and Compendium of Methods. Tests must be ISO/IEC 17025 accredited by the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA).
Laboratories report to both the supplier and the AMS contract management officers. In addition to standard certificate of analyses, the laboratories are supplying both control charts and process capability reports to provide the AMS officials an indicator of each supplier’s process stability and ongoing ability to meet specifications.
The institutional trade is changing its procurement habits and acting like a commercial buyer. The traditional strategy of low bid/lowest cost is being replaced with systems that emphasize value.
To take the ground beef purchase program to a higher level of performance, AMS studied SPC and other advanced process management techniques and reviewed the best supplier selection and supply chain quality management in various industries. The result is the program defined in the Technical Requirements Schedule for Ground Beef (TRS-GB) from 2003 to present.