For a recent article on quality management systems (QMSs), I asked food companies what they feel are the three most important features in a QMS. I also asked what three things are most important in a vendor of a QMS. Finally, I asked whether they thought a food safety management system (FSMS) should be part of a QMS or standalone system.

Taking these concepts a step further, there are now ERP systems that offer built-in QMS functions, and I thought it might be interesting to ask a supplier of an ERP system how QMS functionality is built into the system. In the early days of software, ERP systems were known mostly for accounting functions, e.g., accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory, etc.

I spoke with Jack Payne, vice president of product management & solutions consulting at Aptean to get his thoughts on quality management and ERP systems. Aptean Food & Beverage ERP is an all-encompassing solution, supporting every stage from the procurement of ingredients to distribution at retail and foodservice, and it also has quality assurance capabilities.

The system also provides supply chain management features, which provide end-to-end traceability and includes purpose-built recall features. Many of these steps have been automated for greater expediency. In addition, the ERP acts as a “single source of truth” for an entire organization, providing real-time insight into quality data as it’s collected in the manufacturing facility.  

What do food processors want in a QMS?

When I asked one food processor’s quality assurance director what he felt are the three most important features in a QMS, he said:

First: Reliable, repeatable, and scientifically based. It has to be reliable because under any situation, it must work; all case scenarios (as many as possible) need to be considered before implementing.

Second: Repeatable—because time over time it needs to work and be used with confidence that would ensure overall quality of the process and therefore, as a consequence, of the finished products.

Third: It must be scientifically based because it has to be defendable, not just because someone said it but because through a systematic approach it is scientifically significant and with a confidence level that can be defended “in front of a judge.”

I asked Payne that as a supplier, what do you think are three most important features of a QMS, considering the food processor’s response to my question.  

Jack Payne, ApteanJack Payne, vice president of product management & solutions consulting at Aptean 

Jack Payne: I definitely concur with the director of quality assurance; a QMS has to have features that are repeatable, reliable and scientifically based. On that last point, I’d mention that an important part of being truly scientifically based is that items and processes are evaluated objectively, not subjectively.

In addition to these three characteristics, it’s critical that a system can report readings and flag deviations in real-time and that it’s responsive, allowing the business in question to mitigate the issues and rectify problems proactively. That includes executing on withdrawals and recalls when necessary. Ideally, the system should be able to handle the paperwork for the incident digitally, facilitate tracking the contamination to its source quickly and automate other important steps in the process.

QMS is not a “quality control” system

When asked what food processors want in a quality system, the quality assurance director said that such a system must ensure the food safety of the raw materials, ingredients, packaging material, etc. It cannot be a “quality control” system that only measures end product; it must ensure that throughout the process—all quality and food safety considerations have been met, according to the customer’s specifications and expectations.

FE: How do you as a system supplier respond?

Payne: Public health and food safety are critical issues for food companies. Compliance with regulations like FSMA and GFSI Certification are critical. A brand’s reputation is reliant on its ability to deliver products that meet health, safety and quality standards and prevention is key to all of this. The full traceability and automated product recall capabilities are vital for today’s food and beverage companies to have a complete system for quality and food safety. Of course, the quality management process begins before any manufacturing actually occurs. Quality management starts with supplier certification processes and continues as suppliers ship the raw materials. If shipping conditions do not ensure that ingredients remain within acceptable ranges of temperature and humidity or if there is an issue with transport sanitation, ingredients could become compromised.

Ingredients need to continue to be monitored once they’ve arrived at your warehouse. The same atmospheric parameters of temperature and humidity must be followed and contamination must be avoided at all costs through good storage, sanitation and handling procedures. There are also important indicators of quality that should be tracked during production, including cooking temperatures and times; mixing and blending procedures; and other characteristics like color, shape and consistency.

Finally, a QMS should cover routine checks for all of products during the production process and at completion and should monitor products in transit to retail outlets and foodservice establishments. Aptean Food & Beverage ERP is designed to track materials and products throughout this journey from supplier certification to customer delivery. The system integrates with smart sensors, thermometers and digital imaging equipment to automate the tracking process and provides updates of any deviations that occur. As a result, our clients are often better positioned to deliver on their quality commitments than their competitors.

Connected or separate?

I asked the food processor’s quality assurance director whether a QMS should be a separate—but connected—system to a food safety management system, and the response was that the two are inseparable.

FE: What do you think? How do you design a system that incorporates both food safety management and quality management in the same system?

Payne: First, I completely agree that a QMS and food safety management system should be inseparable. Quality and food safety are tied so closely together that it really isn’t possible to truly excel at one while neglecting the other. Aptean Food & Beverage ERP is designed with the knowledge that a cursory check of the end product isn’t sufficient to meet today’s high regulatory standards or the high expectations of customers and consumers.  

We have seen some food processing companies that have attempted to get by on this front with customizations or bolt-on applications. Both those approaches can lead to inconsistencies in reporting and may potentially compromise the integrity of a business’s data. Our solution incorporates everything together as a single, cross-functional platform for the entire organization, providing transparency into results and actionable insights for improvement.


FE: Any other comments on food safety and quality management systems?

Payne: I’ll just stress again the need for real-time insight into quality results and the need for a responsive system that lets the food and beverage business in question act with agility and confidence when rectifying issues. Companies that try to record quality data manually and then feed it into their database at the end of the day are always going to be behind, and such a working procedure would run the risk of problematic products already having left the facility for their end destinations by the time they’re identified.

Unfortunately, some food and beverage recalls may be unavoidable. Even the most vigilant organizations can be caught by surprise. When that occurs, time is of the essence to contain the recall and to protect the public health, making real-time reporting all the more valuable. Aptean Food & Beverage ERP clients receive immediate updates on quality results to ensure food safety and prevent recalls, in accordance with GFSI and FSMA goals.  However, in the event of a recall, our software provides timely data to help them limit the monetary costs and damage to the company reputational and brand.