QA or QC: What’s the difference? (2024)

04 July 2024

Katrin Liivat discusses the differences between quality assurance and quality control and explains how food businesses can elevate both.

QA or QC: What’s the difference? (1)

Put simply, the difference between quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA) is one of processes versus products. QC relates to the validation process that ensures products are meeting the existing agreed upon quality requirements, when QA ensures that staff have followed all standards, methodologies, procedures, and techniques to be able to consistently defect-free products.

To use an alternate definition, quality assurance exists to prevent defects while quality control exists to identify (and correct) them.

Under the broader quality management umbrella, QA involves many moving pieces that work together as and with quality control to deliver safe, high-quality food products. These include:

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): QA is only as good as its pre- and well-defined SOPs. Standard operating procedures are an integral part of your HACCP prerequisite program help to ensure consistency and outline the protocols and steps that teams need to know throughout the entire food production process.

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP): The prerequisite programs required for a food safety program have traditionally been based on current GMP whose guidelines provide quality assurance teams with a blueprint for maintaining consistently safe and sanitary food production environments, which ultimately prevents contamination, bad hygiene, and foodborne illness.

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP): HACCP is a proactive process and systematic approach to identifying, evaluating, and controlling hazards and critical control points throughout the food production process. QA teams will conduct internal and external audits on a regular basis to ensure that standard compliance is maintained. And if not, corrective actions are taken to address any non-compliance issues.

Continuous Improvement Strategies: As strict as food safety quality is, industry standards are not perfect, and neither are the people trying to adhere to them, and this is what makes continuous improvement strategies a key component of quality assurance.

These strategies can involve regular internal food safety audits, scheduled team trainings, and frequently evaluating and analysing food safety system data to identify areas of improvement.

QC demands similar things such as maintaining GMPs and implementing a HACCP plan, as well as team education and training. However, there are a few other key components of quality control that teams should know:

Use high-quality ingredients and raw materials: Once a business has made it onto an approved supplier list, sourcing high-quality ingredients and raw materials is foundational in QC because it directly influences the safety, taste, and nutritional value of the final product.

This step is crucial as it ensures that the food product meets regulatory quality standards and consumer expectations from the outset. Failing to do so could result in spoilage and contamination, which would have negative impacts both financially and health-wise.

Monitor critical control points (CCPs): Using the highest quality ingredients still requires staff to monitor CCPs throughout the production process to ensure food quality and consistency, especially where hazards are present. Monitoring CCPs will help prevent, eliminate, or deduce those hazards to acceptable levels. Common monitoring tasks include checking temperatures, chilling, allergens, and more.

Document in-process records: Monitoring and documentation go hand in hand. Without proper documentation, maintaining food safety and quality only gets harder to accomplish. Keeping monitoring and in-process documents that record things such as process time, batch size, product weights, moisture levels, pH levels, and product appearance will keep your business compliant and make it easy to verify what steps staff have or haven't taken to ensure food safety, and to implement the necessary corrective actions.

Have a recall plan in place: Food traceability plans should include clear procedures for the withdrawal of products, communication strategies for stakeholders, and methods for investigating and correcting the root cause of the recall, demonstrating a commitment to consumer safety and regulatory compliance.

In case of a recall, the QC team should have the ability to quickly and easily get the recall information into the hands of governing bodies.

QA and QC challenges

Despite the undeniable benefits of QA and QC in the food industry, maintaining high standards does present a series of challenges. Some of the most frequently highlighted ones include:

Limited resources: Not every food business has the luxury of having designated QC team. Some companies use QA a QC synonymously or combine the two roles into one. In such having limited resources could put the ability to manage quality at risk.

High operational costs: The price of a comprehensive product quality management software (QMS) can be high and, depending on a company's financial health, the price points of some QMS software might be outside of the budget.

Complex and volatile supply chains: Depending where and from whom you are sourcing raw materials and ingredients, supply chains can experience volatility, so it is wise to diversify the list of approved suppliers to help lessen risk. Giving the business more access to approved suppliers will also allow quality to come first, as opposed to potentially settling for lower quality products or suppliers.

Changes or updates to regulatory requirements: Regulatory requirements vary from product to region to country. Regulations also span a range of topics including certifications, food safety, allergens, product labelling, and traceability. Failing to comply with regulations can result in fines, recalls, or legal actions.

Advancing technology

In the longer term the digital transformation will have a net positive for the food industry.

In the International Journal of Business Administration, researchers Jan Frick and Piotr Grudowski highlighted Quality 5.0 as a paradigm shift toward proactive quality control. By monitoring and analysing data from various sources – including sensors, cameras, and other connected devices – Quality 5.0 can identify potential defects or quality issues before they occur, allowing manufacturers to take corrective action proactively. Moving from a reactive to a proactive approach will lead to more efficient production, higher quality products, and improved customer satisfaction.

Companies are using QMS to monitor CCPs and remove paper from the compliance equation. They are also using smart sensors, that integrate with food safety software, to support QC activities that would otherwise add hours to their workload every week.

As a result of this increase in practical real-time data, businesses are able to improve upon and optimise operations to not just grow the business but grow their business safely.

All of that sounds good but change management can be challenging The entire organisation requires buy-in, from entry level operators all the way up to the leadership team.

Creating a balanced QM system

In order to strike the right balance between QC and QA, it's helpful to be aware of where they sit within a quality management program. Remember, QA is a broader term, serving as a prerequisite for QC. You can view QA as a ‘setup’ where the system and parameters are defined and then QC ensures the system is functioning as designed.

So, being successful at QC is dependent on a properly designed, agreed upon, and implemented quality assurance program. Despite QA coming first in the QA and QC relationship, both are required to fulfill regulatory compliance.

Ultimately, companies need to bake both QA and QC into to the foundation of the food business – from the raw materials to the finished goods. Neither can be an afterthought without the risk of future quality-related defects, recalls, or worse, foodborne illnesses.

Katrin Liivat is CEO at FoodDocs.

QA or QC: What’s the difference? (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Cheryll Lueilwitz

Last Updated:

Views: 6189

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Cheryll Lueilwitz

Birthday: 1997-12-23

Address: 4653 O'Kon Hill, Lake Juanstad, AR 65469

Phone: +494124489301

Job: Marketing Representative

Hobby: Reading, Ice skating, Foraging, BASE jumping, Hiking, Skateboarding, Kayaking

Introduction: My name is Cheryll Lueilwitz, I am a sparkling, clean, super, lucky, joyous, outstanding, lucky person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.