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3 Challenges faced by food businesses in ‘defining’ quality

We meet a lot of food businesses. When we start discussing their quality processes, almost all of them seem to be struggling with basic definitions. Rarely have we seen an organization wherein the entire organization has a single, consistent, coherent understanding of ‘food quality’. 

Following are the 3 primary challenges we have seen:

1. Absence of standardization
Every food business we talk to, has a quality manual. They say they have documented what is acceptable (and what is to be rejected). However, what they have is typically full of subjectivities. For instance, what is ‘half-green’ tomato? Does an item having 30% of its surface as green mean it is ‘half-green’/ What if it is 60%? And how does a human eye really gauge whether it is 30% or 60% or something else? Add to all this the fact that there are different people (each with his own understanding) assessing quality at different points in the supply chain. The subjectivities and manual errors tend to multiply through the supply chain.

2. Lack of controls
The quality person is usually working independently. He has minimal (or zero) supervision. Whether the person has seen the organizational quality manual, or he fully understands the manual is not known. However, the system trusts the final decision of a low-skilled, low-cost labourer. Food businesses are willing to bear risks of subsequent losses or conflicts, based on this person’s decision.

3. Impossible to verify
Food quality assessment, especially that of fresh produce is very tricky. Fresh produce will deteriorate in ambient temperature, while being transported, and so on. Just because food is found to be of bad quality down the supply chain does not necessarily mean the assessment earlier was not done properly. However, it is also impossible to verify what the findings were.

Do you face similar issues in your business? Have you analyzed digital quality assessment tools that overcome these challenges?
We would love to hear about your experiences.

Ram is passionate about Agriculture, AI and start-ups. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter