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Food processing is very important in many economies around the world. According to the Mississippi State University Extension Service, the food industry (including beverages) ranks 4th in size among all industries of the United States. An estimated 145 billion is spent every year in food and beverages in the US. Also, diseases where foods are involved (foodborne diseases) rank as one of the most important health issues in this country. An estimated 81 million cases and more than 9000 deaths per year are attributed to foodborne illnesses.
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Defining Quality in Food Processing
If you look at the Cambridge Online dictionary for the term quality you will get a lot of possible definition of the term. One of the meaning of the term quality (as a noun) is “how good or bad something is." This may be the first thing that it comes to your mind when thinking about quality as it relates to food processing.
The definition of quality may vary according to the individual using the definition. For the consumers who buy food products quality may mean wholesomeness, freshness, good nutritional value, and good organoleptic (texture, color, aroma and flavor) properties. For employees and managers at a food processing plant, food quality may mean a standard to achieve, for example, no more than 1% defects in any production lot.
Food quality is frequently associated with food safety. A good quality food is one that it is safe to consume. Food safety encompasses a whole series of processes and activities both within and outside the food processing plant that will ensure that the food is free of potential chemical, physical, and biological hazards. Among these hazards (which may not be intentional) are naturally occurring toxins, pathogenic microorganisms, and harmful chemicals (pesticides for example).
Quality within a food processing plant may also be related to the notion of quality control. In this regard, quality control has many objectives within a food processing plants.
- to maintain the nutritional value of the processed product,
- to protect customers from the dangers of contaminated food and associated food borne diseases,
- to ensure that all food laws and regulations (whether local, national or international) are met,
- to facilitate international business and commerce, etc.
HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) is a system used by many food processing plants to ensure the safety and quality of the food products. The idea behind HACCP is that food processing has critical points at which food contamination (physical, chemical, and/or biological ) may occur. By controlling quality tightly at those critical points it is possible to control the whole food processing.
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Mississippi State University Extension Service. http://msucares.com/health/food_safety/
Minakshi De. Quality improvement in food processing. Meeting report. Current Science, Vol. 92, No. 8, 25 April 2007 pp 1037-1038.
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Image by tellgraf. http://www.sxc.hu/photo/589503