A view behind the scenes into the Quality Assurance department
At Schouten, the quality of our products is of enormous importance. We always guarantee our food and production quality, which are top priorities in our business operations. Even now, or perhaps especially now, our Quality Assurance (QA) department is there in this turbulent corona period to guarantee quality and stability. That is why we’re taking a look behind the scenes at the QA department at Schouten.
No two days are alike
Sanne joined Schouten in March 2015 as Sr. QA/QC Specialist: “My work is very diverse, so the structure of my day varies from day to day. My day always starts with an hour of going through my email. Then I set priorities and make my plan for the day.
We work on various projects and customers on a daily basis, from making product specifications for customers to using microbiological research or nutritional values. And we’re always busy making packing instructions for our production sites to creating a new label.
An important part of our work relates to the development of new vegetarian or vegan products, for which we work closely with our R&D department. We develop many customer-specific products for a retailer or a fast-food chain, for example, which is why we have a lot of contact with our customers’ quality department.”
New raw materials and suppliers
“The quality of new raw materials or new production locations, for example, must, of course, meet high standards. When we want to add a new supplier we take stock of their production process and certification, which should preferably be a GFSI-recognised certification.”
The first production
“The QA department is always present at the first real production run so that we can check whether everything complies with the agreements made beforehand. For example, if a customer wants extra analyses, then we check whether there are sufficient samples. We also check, for example, whether the boxes have the correct label. The production site receives packing instructions, but we check it again to ensure our quality.”
Our production sites
“Customers often carry out audits at our production sites; these are external audits. We’re always present for these as well. Before an external audit takes place, we often carry out an internal audit ourselves to ensure that everything runs smoothly.Some customers have additional requirements too. Like the high care environment for Subway. Or a customer may wish extra checks to be carried out, so instead of every half hour, a check is carried out every quarter of an hour.”
“Every batch produced is inspected at our production sites. We also hold a product inspection every Thursday. We inspect all products for continuity, and that the product produced complies with the reference product and the weight. We also look at the sensory properties: do the appearance, taste, texture, smell, etc. all match. If a product does not comply, we report this immediately to the production site. In a very exceptional case, the batch in question will be blocked, but usually, adjustment is sufficient.”
The end result
“In the initial phase, I approved raw materials, filled production specifications, made labels, made packing instructions for the production locations, and to see the end result during the first production, that’s what I like most about my work. Or to get something finished on time within a tight deadline, that gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
Everyone in the department has their own specialism and type of customers. Larger customers, in particular, require more work. QSR customers (Fast Food Restaurants), such as Subway, have their own systems and protocols, but also request quarterly reports on how things are going. Below is a selection of the various activities.
We comply with the IFS standard, which means that processes are well controlled, we also guarantee high quality and the safest possible product. That is why our quality manual and process mapping is an important part of our work.
We carry out regular audits at production sites, when we collaborate with a new production site or during our annual audits.
At QA, we are in charge of the project for ensuring that our products are controlled for listeria. This following the tightening of the NVWA (Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority) regulations, in order to take into account misuse of products by consumers, such as cold consumption.
We create labels on packaging, ensuring that they comply with the set guidelines, from the correct mention of an allergen, to the correct size of the font.
We draw up product specifications, which contain all the information about a product, such as the ingredients, allergens, nutritional values, as well as the microbiological aspects.
We maintain contact with customers to deal with questions and complaints. If we have a recurring problem, we get to the bottom of it to make sure that everything is sorted out properly. This way you can tackle or prevent future problems at an early stage.
We request export declarations or veterinary certificates from the NVWA. This is mandatory when we want to export a product abroad. The NVWA makes it compulsory for us to apply for and comply with these declarations and certificates.
Latest trends and developments
“In our profession, it is important to always be up to date with the latest laws and regulations. We spend time making sure we always know what’s going on. Within the department, too, we keep each other on our toes and discuss whether the things we do affect food safety, for example. If we buy a raw material that is new to us, for instance, we check whether there are any specific risks associated with it.”
Regulations for retail, QSR and Industry
“There are different regulations for retail, QSR and industry customers. Retail regulations, for example, are stricter because you’re delivering directly to consumers. At Schouten, we adhere to this legislation, also for QSR and industry customers, because they often deliver to the consumer.
In the Netherlands, the European legislation is followed, since Europe has good, strict legislation. Outside Europe, this legislation is different. That is why we also work together with external agencies, who advise us on this matter.”