Quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA) go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.
Quality assurance prevents problems, while quality control contains the problems that do happen.
However, the lines between assurance and control often blur because quality and food safety must be taken into consideration every step of the way.
In some smaller companies, a professional might take on the role of both QC and QA due to limited staff members. That is why you might catch these technicians testing products in the morning and creating updates to regulatory guidelines in the afternoon.
To get a better grasp on what quality control really is, here’s a section focusing on the defined role of a Quality Control Technician and how they ensure that quality is maintained.
Quality control technicians ensure food quality and safety
The core of a QC‘s job is making sure that products are being produced correctly according to company standards. They perform biological tests (e.g. salmonella) and quality tests (e.g. fat) at specified stages in the production process. If a product fails to pass a control point, the product is placed on hold until a decision is made.
QC technicians spend a lot of their time on the production floor verifying whether products are being made correctly, such as making sure accurate best before dates are being printed on the product. They use checklists to confirm that food safety and regulatory compliance programs are being followed accordingly. If regulations aren’t being followed, QCs are responsible for investigating what exactly went wrong, how to fix it and how to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.
Additionally, QC technicians perform internal audits – internal assessments that determine if a plant conforms to food safety requirements. This involves checking if staff are following good manufacturing practices, the building is in proper order and the facility is being cleaned correctly. Finally, QC technicians perform administrative duties such as maintaining records, forms and logs, including computer databases and inventory checks.
Quality control technicians perform lab work
To uphold the quality and safety of food, QC technicians conduct 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 the Gerber test. If they find that the butter has insufficient fat content, they tell the production manager to increase the amount of butter fat being used.
Quality control technicians spend a lot of time on the production floor
QC technicians assist production workers in detecting and solving problems in real time. By catching problems just as they occur, they prevent unnecessary time spent correcting bigger problems that could have been avoided to begin with. Isn’t it the worst when you have to go back and fix a mistake that could have been prevented in the first place?
Generally, QCs have specified times to go out on the production line to inspect products. For example, they may check the weight of a product every hour to verify that the scales are working properly. If a technician notices that something is made incorrectly, they inform the machine operator to make changes.
Another reason why QCs spend a lot of time on the production floor is because they perform internal audits. A small sample of what these audits assess includes the condition of the premises and products, and the confirmation of sanitation practices. Audits are a mandatory part of any food safety program.
Quality control technicians have degrees in science
The traditional career path for someone looking to become a QC is achieving a postsecondary degree in a program such as food science, chemistry or biology.
However, there is a wide range of educational backgrounds within this field because the duties of a QC technician differ from company to company.
Professionals sometimes have a MSc or PhD, but this is not a requirement. Other times, QC technicians may even start as production workers and take a lateral move to the QC department. However, in recent years, alternative routes have sprung up for students. Today, there are many colleges that offer certificates of achievement upon completing programs which prepare students for the role of quality control technicians. 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 looking to work while going to school.
Quality control technicians verify standard practices
There are plenty of standardized practices which happen in food factories. However, one practice that happens in every single plant is cleaning (sanitation). Even when workers clean the equipment the best that they can, the equipment stills needs to be verified to make sure it was cleaned properly. In this case, the verification would come in the form of an adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing kit. It is the job of the QC to verify that the equipment was correctly cleaned and passed the ATP test. Verifying standard practices isn’t just limited to keeping things clean. QCs also determine if products are made according to standard steps and staff are not skipping steps. QCs are always on the lookout for infractions!
Quality control technicians assist in investigating customer complaints
Unfortunately, no matter how effective a quality program is, there will be situations when poor quality slips through. Mistakes happen. However, when these mistakes happen, customers notice and let the company know in the form of complaints.
After receiving a complaint, a QC technician investigates the root cause of the complaint. For example, if a chocolate bar with hazelnuts is found not to contain any hazelnuts the QC would investigate production records and check if there were any abnormalities during the day of production. Additionally, the QC will see if they have any saved retention samples from that day. Using all these tools, they find out if what the customer received was a one-off mistake or larger scale problem.
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 see bacteria?
The effectiveness of any cleaning program is performed using a test known as ATP bio-luminescent monitoring. ATP tests are quick at determining the relative cleanliness of a surface. QC technicians swab a place that made contact with food and conduct ATP bioluminescence with a device called a luminometer. This measures the combined total of organic material (food residues and microbial populations) collected from a swabbed surface.
If the ATP tests finds a large presence of bacteria on a surface than operations must stop production and clean the surface.
Quality control technicians have an attention for detail, can multitask and communicate effectively
Being a quality control technician 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 ensure that every safety procedure is followed through properly, even the smallest of actions. Small details can mean the difference between food produced safely and products that need to be recalled.
- Multitasking – QC technicians deal with more than one task at time because of the responsibilities of their job. For example, one way they might multitask is by conducting a 60 minute test and during the waiting 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 effectively communicate with all levels of an organization from floor worker to upper management.