The reason why we do not hear about more food-related illnesses is no mistake. There are teams of trained professionals who have made it their job to secure the safety of food.
Food safety is ensured by creating processes and following through to make sure they are maintained.
Who are these professionals that are responsible for ensuring food safety policies are being adhered to and product quality standards are being met? That would be Quality Assurance Technicians!
Quality assurance technicians uphold food safety
Quality assurance technicians (QAs) are responsible for ensuring that the food that we eat is safe and adheres to quality standards. They look to prevent mistakes or defects which could affect the integrity of food before production even begins.
QA technicians prevent defects in three main ways. The first is by conducting audits, a key role in verifying proper food safety practices in processing facilities. This includes walking around the plant identifying compliance issues. Examples of non-compliance include finding rusted production equipment, improper employee food handling and temporary machine fixes.
The second way of defect prevention is by providing advice related to regulatory compliance and quality management systems. QA professionals are knowledgeable in guidelines and regulations because they keep up to date with what occurs in the quality world. They constantly apply what they have learned to their jobs at the plant.
Finally, they are key members in the corporate risk management framework. Corporate risk management framework is a structure which is used to identify, analyze and respond to any risks and opportunities. The quality assurance department is responsible for identifying the safety risks inside the manufacturing plant, relaying the risks to corporate and making sure those issues are corrected. In addition to the task above here are some more examples of a QA technician’s day-to-day tasks:
- Write, revise, update and maintain Quality Systems and food documentation
- Contribute to monitoring corrective action and preventative action
- Research and compose new technical documents and reports
Quality assurance technicians are sometimes called quality control technicians
The role of QA is sometimes interchangeable with quality control. Generally, the distinction between the two is that quality assurance focuses on preventing defects in food while quality control ensures quality after the product has been manufactured. Simply put, QA ensures quality during production while QC ensures quality after production.
In many small companies, there is a lack of personnel within the quality department. Therefore, some workers take on the role of both QC and QA. That is why you might catch these technicians testing products, updating regulatory documentation and performing audits.
In a larger company, it is rare to find a Quality Assurance technician working in the lab, testing samples. Instead, they spend a lot of time at the computer following up on non-conformance issues, updating quality documentation and updating supplier specification programs.
Quality assurance technicians have science degrees
The traditional career path for the aspiring QA is achieving a postsecondary degree in programs such as food science or chemistry. There is a wide range of educational backgrounds within this field because the duties of a QA tech differ from company to company. Sometimes QA technicians even start as production floor workers and eventually end up in the lab.
However, in recent years alternative routes have sprung up for students. Today, many colleges offer certificates of achievement programs that prepare students for the role of quality technician.
These programs help students develop knowledge and practical skills such as quality principles, standards and tools. Furthermore, these programs are directed to individuals who already work full-time, so they are a great option for someone intending to work while going to school.
Quality assurance technicians are knowledgeable about GMPs and HACCP
Understanding and maintaining organizational standards of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are essential duties for any QA. GMPs are a set of practices that ensure that products are consistently produced under safe conditions. QAs make sure that staff follow GMPs and that manufacturing plants are up to standards that reduce the possibility of a defective product.
Additionally, QA technicians have a strong understanding of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), an internationally recognized system for reducing the risk of safety hazards in food. HACCP is all about the identification of hazards and controlling them before and during production. Because QAs are concerned with stopping quality defects before they happen, they are very familiar with this system.
Overall, understanding these systems becomes second nature to a QA – so much so that they could recite them back by memory. They know to always stay on top of the latest food safety news because food safety regulations always change.
Quality assurance technicians see the bigger picture
Sometimes problems come up within manufacturing plants that have never been seen before. QA technicians need to be quick on their feet when determining if a small issue is part of a larger system-wide problem.
It is up to Quality Assurance to “look into the future” and predict potential problems which might occur. For example, all manufacturing plants should have a plan in place for recalling food products should a food safety risk be identified. QA techs do not wait until an infringement occurs to prevent it.
Quality assurance technicians complete a lot of paperwork
In food manufacturing plants, there is a fair amount of tracking involved. From the moment a raw material enters a plant to the time it exits all steps along the way are tracked in some way or another. The reason why so much tracking occurs is because it allows processors to follow the steps food takes should a quality issue occur.
Quality assurance creates documents which are used by all production staff. Typical pieces of information that quality assurance documents are:
- When raw ingredients enter the plant
- When machinery and equipment is cleaned
- Quality checks of in-progress products
It is up to QA to not only develop the documents that people use for tracking, but also make sure that people are correctly using them.
Quality assurance technicians receive many great perks
There are a lot of amazing aspects to working in quality assurance.
Firstly, you gain an in-depth understanding of complex organizations. When preventing quality defects, quality assurance looks at all aspects of an organization from the role of management to the daily habits of production staff. This provides then with a strong idea of what goes on at every level within an organization. Secondly, working as a quality assurance technician makes you a visible face within an organization. Although all jobs in a food plant have a degree of visibility, there is something slightly different with QA. People become aware of you. Production staff constantly speak with you, and you become the face of the organization with outside auditors. Having these opportunities is a great way to meet a range of people.
Quality assurance technicians are problem solvers, detail-oriented and communicate well
Being a quality assurance professional requires a wide range of skills however there are a few which are more essential than others. These skills include:
- Problem-solving – Quality Assurance is built on the idea that safety issues can arise within a plant. As a QA technician, you must be able to determine possible problems and solutions to solve them before they happen. QAs solve problems by defining the problem, generating alternatives, evaluating the options and implementing solutions.
- Detail-oriented – A QA cannot mess up on any documentation because it could mean a conformance issue during an audit. They need to ensure every safety procedure is followed through properly, even the smallest. At the end of the day, their attention to detail protects the consumer.
- Communication – Although they might spend a lot of time behind a computer, QA professionals work with a wide range of people. If a problem occurs, they must be able to effectively communicate with staff no matter their level of education. If a person does not understand the problem and solution, how can they ever fix it?