Manufacturing companies in the food industry need to ensure the safety and quality of their product through quality management systems. But how do we know if those systems are reliable? Enter Miguel Stevens, Food Auditor at Vinçotte. He inspects and reviews quality management systems. In this podcast, host Maxime Castelain talks with Stevens about how he got into the role, how the industry has evolved over the years, and what challenges he is currently facing.
WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM THIS EPISODE?
The more something is automated, the more risks it involves
Technical evolution creates new possibilities, but it also creates new necessities. In manual processes there are actual people involved: the product goes through their hands and they see it with their own eyes. But if it’s an automated process, the product goes through a machine – sometimes at a rate of hundreds per minute. In order to make sure that the food is safe at all times, companies need control mechanisms to see if all the machines are running correctly. “You wouldn’t want the end product to have a screw in them, because one of the machines broke down”, Miguel Stevens illustrates.
Some food manufacturers use x-ray to detect foreign objects
Over the years, the food quality industry has implemented many new tools. Given that no one wants a screw in their food, manufacturers need machines to detect foreign objects in the production process. Where 20 years ago it was unique for a food company to have a metal detector, it is now standard. And the methods are constantly evolving: Stevens and his colleagues have noticed that more and more of those metal detectors are getting replaced by x-ray. “That way they don’t only detect metal, but also other things like plastic or wooden pieces”, he explains. Manufacturers also use more visual controls nowadays. A camera at the end of a production line, for example, to check if the food labels are well-positioned and readable.
Longer shelf life is a big challenge for the industry
One of the biggest challenges facing the food quality industry is the demand for products that stay edible for a longer period of time. Longer shelf lives require a specific chemical and biological process, which brings new risks like residues of antibiotics. As a result, companies need to monitor the chemical values very closely. That makes it more complex for food auditors too: “They need a lot of scientific knowledge about the products and the processes”, Miguel Stevens explains. “On top of that, auditors need skills in people management, for instance to convince operators to change things. You can imagine it’s hard to find good people in food quality auditing.”
Check your own refrigerator!
Even though all manufacturing processes are very well controlled and the methods keep improving, we should be realistic: mistakes happen. Not only in companies, also in our own kitchens. Miguel Stevens therefore reminds us to have a look at our own refrigerator. Is the temperature correct? Is the right food stored in the right place?
And keep in mind: it’s not always feasible to detect a bad product. It is possible that you have a contaminated product – in the production line or in your fridge – but you don’t smell it and you don’t see it. You will only notice it later… On the toilet.