Quality Control and Quality Assurance go hand and hand. You can’t have one without the other.
Quality assurance looks to prevent problems while quality control ensures that problems never actually happened.
However, the lines between assurance and control tend to blur because quality must be looked at before and after a product is produced.
In some companies a professional might take on the role of both QC and QA. That is why you might catch these technicians testing products in the morning and creating updates regulatory guidelines during the afternoon.
To get a better grasp on what quality control really is FoodGrads is focusing on the defined role of Quality Control Technicians and how they ensure that quality is maintained.
1. Quality Control Technicians ensure quality
Quality control technicians are responsible for:
ensuring quality standards by approving incoming materials, in-process production, and finished products. QCs perform biological tests (e.g salmonella) and quality tests (e.g. fat) at specified stages in the production process and keep a record of these results. QC technicians also spend a lot of the time on the production floor checking that the products are being made correctly (ex. correct lot code on the product).
They conduct verification of food safety and regulatory compliance programs to ensure Quality Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in all departments are being followed. This includes developing food process preventive controls for different stages of production. If things do not follow regulations then QCs are responsible for investigating what exactly went wrong, how to fix it and how to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.
Finally, they perform administrative duties such as maintaining records, forms and logs including computer databases and inventory checks.
2. Quality Control Technicians generally perform lab work
To uphold the quality and safety of food QC technicians need to perform analytical, microbiological and sensory testing for both in-process and finished product samples. They use approved standard operating procedures and notify the Quality Supervisor of any deviations from the product specifications.
For example, a QC technician working in a butter factory might be tasked with determining the fat content of a butter using a test known as the Gerber test. If they find that the butter has too high of fat content they would tell the production manager and tell them to decrease the amount of butter fat being used.
3. Quality Control Technicians spend a lot of time on the production floor
Quality control technicians spend a lot of time on the production floor because it allows them to assist and support the manufacturing staff in detecting and solving compliance errors in real time. By catching problems in real time this prevents unnecessary time spent correcting problems that could have been avoided to begin with.
Generally they have specified times that they go out on the production line to inspect the products. For example, they may check the weight of a product and confirm if the correct packaging is being used for the product. If they notice something that is not within check they will inform the operator to make reasonable changes.
In addition, QCs spend a lot of time on the floor because they perform internal audits.These audits help to assess the condition of premises and products, confirm legal compliance, and so on). They observe if workers are following good manufacturing practices and if the physical production plant is up to standards.
4. Quality Control Technicians have this education
It is very common for quality control technicians to have degrees in food science or life sciences such as chemistry and biology. Some professionals do have a MSc or PhD but this is not a requirement. Alternatively, some QC techs have college diplomas in Quality Assurance which not only allow them to work in the food sector but other sectors like government and more. A high level of computer literacy is also often recommended.
5. Quality Control Technicians verify practices
There are a lot of standardized practices which happen in food factories. For example, cleaning equipment between two different allergen containing products. Even though workers clean the equipment effectively they still need to have it verified to make sure it was cleaned properlly. In this case it might come in the form of an allergen testing kit. If the test is negative this verifies that the practice of cleaning was effective.
There are many other examples such as verifying the fat content of butter being produced. This information is then tracked through data entry. That way they are always able to find something when they look for it!
6. Quality Control Technicians assist in investigating customer complaints
Unfortunately, no matter how effective your quality program is there will be some situations were poor quality slips through. Mistakes happen. However, when these mistakes happen customers will notice and let you know in the form of complaints.
After a complaint is received a QC tech begins to investigate what was the root cause. For example, if a chocolate bar with hazelnuts is found not to contain any hazelnuts a QC might inspect the batching process. Is there is a record of it being added? Was there mixing problems?
The QC would go into the the paper work and see if there were any abnormalities. Additionally, Then they would look up any retention samples. Then they determine if what the customer received was a one off thing or something more.
7. Quality Control Technicians perform swabbing
Having a sanitary environment is essential for any production plant to be safe. However, how do you actually know if these places are clean when you can’t actually see bacteria?
The effectiveness of any cleaning program is performed using ATP bio-luminescent monitoring. QC techs swab a food contact and perform a test known as ATP bioluminescence. It is a quick test for determining the relative cleanliness of a surface. his test uses a device called a luminometer to measure the combined total of organic material (food residues and microbial populations) collected from a swabbed surface.
QCs constantly test different food contact surfaces because this ensures food safety operations.
8. Quality Control Technicians have these sets of skills
Being a quality assurance professional requires a range of skills however there are a few which are more essential than others. These skills include:
- Attention to Detail- It is essential that any QC is observant and detail oriented. When it comes to safety they need to verify every safety procedure is followed through properly even the smallest of ones. Small details can mean the difference between quality and poor quality food.
- Multi-task- QC techs need to be able to deal with more than one task at time because of the responsibilities of their job. For example, they might need to put a test on that they know is going to take 60 minutes and plan their time so during this wait time they do a quick inspection of the floor.
- Effective communication skills- This can come in the form of talking with people in person or in a detailed report. QCs need to effectively communicate with all levels of an organization from floor worker to upper management. That means ideas can be expressed effectively.
Author: Veronica Hislop – Veronica is a recent FoodGrad working as Quality Assurance Technician at a snack food company. She graduated with a Chemistry degree at Ryerson University and has a passion for bringing awareness to sustainability in the food industry. When Veronica is taking a break from her food endeavours you will find her at home reading a great novel and playing with her cats.
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