Inspections Aren’t the Answer

On this month’s cover, we ask, “What’s in your grocery bag?” In light of recent events, we could have just as easily asked, “What’s in your pet’s food dish?” Or in your kids’ toy boxes, for that matter?

The recent flurry of recalls—on everything from toothpaste to Barbie accessories—has been a black eye for some of the world’s largest producers of consumer products. These widespread events—and the resulting media attention—underscore the need for quality and improvement in the food supply chain and beyond. It will take significant progress in this arena before we see the desired results. Until then, the already record number of recalls will continue to escalate.

At press time, several large companies with palpable clout—think Disney and Wal-Mart—responded to toy quality issues by announcing aggressive plans to inspect or institute third-party inspections of the toys they sell. Certainly, this is not the best solution to the problems, but given the significant costs involved, producers will likely be spurred to action when they are held acccountable for that expense.

Quality Progress continues to cover the stories behind the recalls in the Quality News Today online daily news postings (available at www.asq.org) and within the pages of this magazine. This month, we highlight food safety in John Surak’s article, “A Recipe for Safe Food: ISO 22000 and HACCP” (p. 21). The article explains how these two approaches work together to create an effective food safety management system, and how their proper implementation can contribute to quality throughout the entire supply chain.

Stepping up inspections won’t address the real cause of today’s recalls. This point is neatly recapped in the June 2007 Quarterly Quality Report, “Food Safety—A Quality Management Systems Approach,” released by ASQ (www.asq.org/quality-report/reports/index.html).

“The problem is, the science of quality has told us that more inspection is not going to inspect the defect out of the product,” said Steve Wilson, chief quality officer for the U.S. Commerce Department’s Seafood Inspection Program and an ASQ board member. “Asking, ‘Do we need more inspectors?’ is a loaded question, because usually you do need more inspectors—but only because of the way the current system is designed.”

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