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  • Russell Kallman

Quality processes for food ingredients are growing like a passionfruit vine in sunshine

Passionfruit vine
Half dead out of control passionfruit vine

Yesterday I sat with one of our staff, reviewing yet another detailed quality questionnaire for a specific product we were selling to a manufacturer. They are not straight forward documents as these days they go beyond ensuring a product specification is correct. Just a sample of areas asked include:

  • allergens

  • nutrition

  • quality certifications

  • sustainability certifications

  • ethical sourcing

  • specific foreign material handling specifications

Sometimes these documents run into many pages. For us there seems to be a fundamental lack of thought and consideration going into quality processes.

I hate to say that a lot of the quality processes we participate in seem like an out-of-control passionfruit vine. A lot of dead vines need to be stripped out, grasping reaching vines that need to be torn away from local healthy trees and the overall vine required to be cut-back before it topples the fence with its weight.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has the PIF v6 (and old v5 excel version) an electronic (and costly approach) to providing product specifications in a format that is useful for products that end up in the supermarkets. However, we know of no customer (however big) who solely relies on this. Instead, everyone has annual quality supplier questionnaires, and product specific questionnaires. A mix of word, excel and pdf forms with no consistent structure and generic across any type of product or supplier.

The problems are significant:

  • The information requested is already covered by quality certifications

  • The customer has no way to verify/audit questions asked

  • Questions specific to product are mixed in with supplier questions

  • The same questions are repeated each year with no way to re-use

  • Questions that make sense for global multi-nationals don't always scale down

  • Focus on information isn't targeted at addressing risk for each commodity

At the end of the day, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a massive bureaucracy spanning the entire supply chain is growing out of control and is now not actually focused on solving food quality risks but perpetuating paper (or electronic forms and email).

We do believe that there are plenty of improvements that can be made to manage agricultural ingredient product quality but rather than detailed questionnaires they are:

  • Destoners for even the most challenging products

  • Colour sorters, gravity tables and aspirators to remove foreign material

  • Consistent reporting on foreign material detection processes

  • Consistent imagery of lot being supplied and how to manage degradation

  • Passive and continuous moisture, sunlight, and temperature monitoring

  • Early pest identification and eradication

  • Accurate traceability on chemical use and growing conditions during harvest

The reality is that every agricultural product has its own risk factors that need managing, key attributes that matter to customers (faba is colour, wheat is protein) and country of origin risks. The risks in the supply chain - transport and warehousing - are also different.

Into the future we would love to see more targeted and intelligent gathering of quality information - first an assessment of context-specific risks and then requiring additional information that is known to not be covered by certification and not already held on record. How lovely would that be?

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