In dairy processing facilities, quality assurance (QA) impacts all aspects of the operation that deal with food regulatory affairs and food safety and is generally viewed by plant and corporate management as a necessary expense, not a revenue generator. But QA could — and should — also drive revenue by providing the information allows plant leadership to control costs, improve operational efficiencies and maximize finished product output.

QA technicians collect weights on the raw material and ingredient “inputs,” as well as the finished product “outputs,” to ensure retail packaged products fulfill requirements for weights and measures. How often are volumetric checks performed on plastic bottles? Is the “normal” shrinkage of these plastic bottles known and the shrinkage variations common to different production lines making these bottles? Especially in gallon and half-gallon blow-molded containers, is overfilling because of seasonal changes, filling speeds, pump settings, equipment that has worn, etc.? 

With QA support, the use of statistical process control and frequent calibration of processing equipment, raw material and ingredient loss can be minimized, as can reduction in finished product weight and volume variability, tightening the range of overfilling.

In paper filling operations, is there a volume and weight check at the beginning of every day’s production to identify unacceptable variations in weight or volume? Also, is the forming of the paperboard carton following the machine’s specifications, or are there frequent top or bottom sealing issues, resulting in leakage and shortened shelf life?

QA technicians need to be involved in detecting, troubleshooting and assisting production and maintenance to minimize the occurrence and length of time these production and maintenance problems remain uncorrected.

QA collects component information such as butterfat and solids not fat (SNF) on raw materials and finished products. How are these data being used? Ensuring samples of raw tanker loads of milk are representative of the entire load and component tests are accurate is key to controlling costs throughout your operation. Is this information used to determine whether unacceptable levels of shrinkage are occurring during the unloading and transfer phase of the operations? Are you using this information to review consistency by route or producer?

QA-initiated component testing of pasteurized tank contents and coordination with processing supervisors are absolutely necessary to ensure the testing data meets production specifications and the labelled contents criteria. Is adequate testing being performed so processing does not “give away” product or have to conduct a last-minute standardization adjustment in the filling equipment?

The QA data are also critical to maintaining consistency by shift and between filler operators to consistently meet established standards. Measurement of all key components of a finished product at blending, standardization, storage and filling will achieve control of standardization, which is essential, if you are to control loss in the finished retail packaged product.

QA conducts verification and periodic internal audits of equipment cleaning records, including clean-in-place (CIP) charts, to ensure lines, tanks, valve groups and systems are properly cleaned on a timely basis, as necessary and mandated by regulations and plant-based operational requirements (standard operating procedures).

Are cleaning solution chemical concentrations, pressures, flow rates and temperatures for each process step meeting pre-established criteria and recommended levels? Are the cleaning steps in the process adequate to achieve the desired cleaning within a timely manner so the processing equipment avoids downtime? Are CIP “exception” reports and data reviewed at a frequency that allows correction before abnormalities occur? Are processing employees properly trained to report any abnormalities and report these to the correct supervisor so they can be quickly corrected?

QA staff also frequently inspect the plant for sanitary conditions to identify leaking pipes, tanks, valves and fittings. How quickly and with whom is this information shared? Does the department responsible for making the correction react to the reported issues in a timely manner?

In their daily plant operational reviews, QA technicians check whether the tankers, tanks and lines are emptied or evacuated properly. What is the remedy if a problem is identified? Who ensures appropriate actions take place to make sustainable adjustments?

If your “shrinkage factor” (reported milk loss) is equal to 2% or higher, it is costing an additional week each year to operate to make up for that loss. That loss is not just milk. It is in labor dollars, electricity, water, chemicals, wastewater costs (in volume and BODs) and more.

By using plant-based QA staff and management, the goal of maximizing operational efficiencies and minimizing the “shrinkage factor” can be achieved. QA can provide the data and information to allow management of resources and flow of materials through each of your operational processes to improve operational efficiencies, minimize losses and achieve consistent profitability.

Your process combines the costs of materials, people, assets and parts for all activities needed to make each product. When you control each area, you can control your expenses. This can only happen by recognizing and involving your QA department on an equal level with receiving, production, packaging, distribution, maintenance, human resources, sales and finance.