Eyes Wide Open

Melamine food scare should remind consumers to stay alert, ask questions about products

The widening melamine food scare has prompted some concerns over food safety on the U.S. front.

Melamine, the same industrial contaminant that was found in tainted pet food from China, has been linked to the deaths at least four infants and has sickened 54,000 babies in China since September.

No illnesses have been reported in the United States. As a precaution, however, some Chinese-made food products suspected of being contaminated have been pulled from grocery stores across the United States.1 Canadian authorities, too, have recalled several products.2

Recently, investigators were still unraveling how melamine made its way into the food supply. Melamine is now considered a controlled substance in China, and its production and use are supervised by the government.

Authorities in the United States continue to watch developments in China and issue advisories on products they suspect might contain melamine. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month expanded its import controls on Chinese dairy products and food and feed products that contain dairy ingredients and were manufactured in China.

Along with state and local officials, the FDA also began nationwide investigations to check Asian markets for Chinese-made infant formula that may have been brought into the United States.3

Advisories, recalls and investigations like these are expected from the FDA. These, along with testing activities by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), illustrate the safeguards already been in place to protect U.S. food supplies.

Consumers, too, can influence what ends up in the grocery store. They can’t be expected to decipher every ingredient listed on food package labels and know what they mean, but they can educate themselves on some and ask questions about others, said Steven E. Wilson, chief quality officer at the U.S. Department of Commerce seafood inspection program and a regional counselor for ASQ’s Food, Drug and Cosmetic Division.

"This is difficult, but the consumer needs to start to understand what a particular ingredient is on the label," Wilson said. "Some are preservatives, which are necessary for processed products. Some are color additives to make the product more attractive."

For example, some frozen tuna packaging will contain a statement that it was processed with carbon monoxide to retain its red color while frozen. The process is safe, but some consumers may be alarmed. Reading the label and asking questions gives them better insight as to what they are buying.

 "I like the fact that I’m getting more people asking questions: ‘What about this label? Shouldn’t it say this?’ That’s what consumers need to do," said Wilson, also a lead figure in the field of hazard analysis and critical control point.

Perhaps what might seem like innocent inquiries about ingredients could eventually lead to further product testing or compel manufacturers to adjust how products are processed. Perhaps if there are enough questions or concerns about a specific ingredient, a strong public outcry could put pressure on manufacturers to change the product or the way its processed.

The FDA (www.fda.gov) and the USDA (www.usda.gov) websites are two resources to begin research on food manufacturers and what’s in the foods you eat.

—Mark Edmund, associate editor


  1. The Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/melamine.html#update
  2. Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka), "More Melamine Troubles in Canada," Nov. 10, 2008.
  3. The Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2008/NEW01896.html.


Real Change: Few Voting Problems in ‘08 Election

Based on previous election snafus, nobody would have blamed voters for fearing the worst before heading to the polls Nov. 4: Would they encounter optical scanners that were anything but optimal, touchy touchscreen machines that would freeze at the first sign of human contact, and bunglers manning the ballot boxes?

What transpired instead was a smattering of problems that could better be described as hiccups and were treated in a similar fashion—with a bit of patience and the knowledge they would be gone soon.

The largely smooth process was due in part to Barack Obama’s wide margin of victory, which resulted in fewer challenges to voting results. But it also reflected the increased familiarity election officials and voters had with the machines employed to help select the nation’s next commander-in-chief.

That’s not to say voters didn’t encounter difficulties: Problems with machines in Chesapeake, VA, led to seven-hour waits; a scrambled registration list clogged one ward in Kansas City, MO, for about two hours; and a printing error in Gwinnett County, GA, made it impossible for high-speed tabulators to read the ballots and forced election officials to copy the 19,000 votes by hand onto new ballots.1

In Pennsylvania, machines malfunctioned in Philadelphia County and led to the use of emergency paper ballots. That resulted in tabulation being completed days later.2 Early indications were that the problems were caused by poll-worker error, according to Bill Rubin, supervisor of the Philadelphia County Board of Elections.3 And, in Santa Clara County, CA, 57 machines from Sequoia Voting Systems failed, resulting in long delays before paper ballots could be employed.4

For the most part, however, the issues came early in the day and were straightened out in short order. A glitch in Knox County, OH, saw the two major presidential candidates dropped from the ballot of one precinct’s touchscreen machine. For a while, the machine was only capable of casting ballots for Ralph Nader, leading a poll worker to offer use of the machine to anyone who wanted to vote for the independent candidate.

Nobody took him up on the offer.5

—Brett Krzykowski, assistant editor


  1. Amy Goldstein and Mary Pat Flaherty, "Sporadic High-Tech High Jinks Don’t Cast Outcome in Doubt," Washington Post, Nov. 5, 2008.
  2. "Voting Machines Cause Few Problems," Associated Press, Nov. 5, 2008, http://edition.cnn.com/2008/TECH/11/05/voting.machines.ap/index.html (case sensitive).
  3. Sara Lane, "Some Machine Problems Reported in Philly," CNN.com, Nov. 4, 2008, http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/11/04/voting-problems-reported-in-philly.
  4. John Simerman, "Record Voting Day Sees Few Glitches," Contra Costa Times, Nov. 5, 2008.
  5. Paul Souhrada, "Obama, McCain Missing From Some Ballots," Columbus Post-Dispatch, Nov. 4, 2008, http://blog.dispatch.com/vote08/2008/11/obama_mccain_missing_from_some.shtml.


ASQ Names New Fellows

Twenty-one ASQ members were awarded fellow status by ASQ’s board of directors in late October.

The 2008 fellows are: Jonathon L. Andell; S. AnilKumar; Bruce D. DeRuntz; Necip Doganaksoy; B. Reddy Gottipolu; Brian J. Horstman; David B. Levy; Joanne D. Mayo; Andrija Milivojevich; Raul F. Molteni; Vijayan N. Nair; Kim S. Niles; Gregory F. Piepel; Steven Richard Pollock; Denise E. Robitaille; Norma Simons; Nicholas L. Squeglia; Sunil Thawani; Johan Veltmeyer; Gamal S. Weheba; and Linda Westfall.

According to ASQ bylaws, fellow status may be awarded to a member who has 15 years of quality related experience, meets minimum score requirements across six professional categories, is sponsored by peers and endorsed by his or her ASQ section or division, and has been a senior member for five years or longer.

For more information on the new fellows, go to www.asq.org/media-room/press-releases/2008/20081030-fellow-status.html.


2008 Baldrige Recipients Announced in November

The recipients of the 2008 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award were expected to be named in late November.

This year, Baldrige examiners sorted through the applications of 85 organizations: three in the manufacturing category; five in service; seven in small business; 11 in education; 16 in nonprofit; and 43 in healthcare. Thirteen of the applicants were selected for site visit reviews in October.

Judges were scheduled to meet in mid-November and make their recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

The Baldrige program is managed by the National Institute of Standards Technology, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, with sponsorship and administrative support from ASQ.

ASQ News

ASQ IN THAILAND  Gary Bargenquast, ASQ’s country councilor for Thailand, gave a presentation on innovation and the future of quality at the International Quality Convention in Bangkok last month. The event was organized by Thailand’s Department of Industry Promotion, Ministry of Industry.

ASQ FELLOW RECOGNIZED  Marcos E. J. Bertin of Argentina was recognized last month for his efforts in business and community by the Asociación de Dirigentes de Empresa, the oldest business management association in Latin America. Bertin has been an ASQ member for more than 40 years. He is the founder of IPACE, an ASQ WorldPartner and the past president of the International Academy for Quality.

Nearly 50 people attended an open house at ASQ headquarters in late October. The event featured a presentation by Jim Smith, an ASQ fellow and the large power systems division director of quality support at Caterpillar. Smith described how he became an ASQ member and how he and his company, an ASQ enterprise member, see quality as a valuable resource—especially during difficult financial times. ASQ Executive Director Paul Borawski talked about how ASQ can help deliver quality solutions.

ANDRES TO ADDRESS CONFERENCE  Speakers from Tyco Electronics, Sharp Health Care and Competitive Solutions Inc. will be featured at this year’s Quality Management Conference, March 5-6 in Irvine, CA. The conference is organized by ASQ’s Quality Management Division and Software Division. ASQ’s president-elect, Peter Andres, and software specialists will also speak at the event. For more information, visit www.asq-qm.org.

PRICE CUT  State and local governments can buy training from ASQ at the same prices federal agencies pay. Last month, ASQ extended its General Services Administration (GSA) rates to the other levels of government. Prices on more than 300 instructor-led and web-based training products are discounted up to 25% through this arrangement. For a complete list of courses with special GSA pricing, visit www.asq.org/gsa.

Short Runs

ISO 9001:2008, the new edition of the most widely used standard for quality management systems, is now available for purchase from ASQ. The new edition replaces the year 2000 version currently used in 170 countries.  The standard costs $76 for ASQ members and $95 for nonmembers. Visit www.asq.org/iso9001 for more information about the standard.

THE INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission have issued a new electronic version of one of its guides. ISO/IEC Guide 98-3:2008, Uncertainty in Measurement—Part 3: Guide to the Expression of Uncertainty in Measurement is available from the American National Standards Institute (www.ansi.org) in the United States or from other ISO national member institutes.

LABORATORIES THAT TEST cribs and pacifiers can be accredited under new requirements from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board/ACLASS announced that ACLASS meets the safety requirements and will offer this accreditation of the laboratories. For more information, visit www.ansi.org/news_publications/news_story.aspx?menuid=7&articleid=2012.


Quick Poll Results

Each month, visitors can take a short, informal survey, and we post the results. Here are the numbers from a recent Quick Poll:

Because of the state of the global economy, are you worried that your quality department, positions and projects will be among your company’s cuts?

  • Yes 61.1%
  • No 38.8%

Answer the most recent Quick Poll question posted:

Could quality methods and principles have prevented the current financial crisis?

  • Yes
  • No

Most Popular

QP’s website tallies the number of visitors and the hits each article receives. The following is a recent ranking of the most popular articles.

  • "Simple Tools for Complex Systems," Amar Raja Thiraviam, June 2006.
  • One Good Idea column, "Find the Answers You Seek," Ray Harkins, August 2008.
  • "10 Quality Basics," many contributing authors, June 2006.
  • "Crosby’s 14 Steps to Improvement," the late Philip B. Crosby, December 2005.
  • Standards Outlook column, "Know and Follow ISO 19011’s Auditing Principles," J.P. Russell, February 2007.

Keeping Even More Current

Read the latest local, national and international news related to quality in Quality News Today. You’ll find nearly 10 articles a day on quality topics including air travel, healthcare and product recalls.


QP looks back on an event or person that made a difference in the history of quality.

Dec. 10, 1976

Harold F. Dodge, one of the principal architects of the science of statistical quality control, died on this date.

Dodge was born in Lowell, MA, in 1893. He earned a degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1916 and a master’s degree in physics and math from Columbia University in 1922.

Dodge was a statistician at Bell Laboratories from 1917 to 1958. At Bell in the 1930s, Walter Shewhart introduced the theory of using statistical methods to solve quality control problems. Dodge and a colleague, Harry G. Romig, are credited with building on Shewhart’s statistical process control concepts by introducing acceptance sampling methods.

The Dodge-Romig Sampling Inspection Tables have been called Dodge’s most important work. During his tenure at Bell, he developed the basic concepts of acceptance sampling, such as consumer’s risk, producer’s risk, double sampling, lot tolerance percent defective and average outgoing quality limit. He originated several types of acceptance sampling schemes, CSP-type continuous sampling plans, chain sampling plans and skip-lot sampling plans.

He chaired the ASQ Standards Committee for many years and was chairman of the American Society for Testing and Materials Committee E-11 on statistical methods. He is one of ASQ’s most often honored members: Dodge was the second recipient of the Shewhart Medal (1949), sixth recipient of the Grant Award (1972) and fifth honorary member (1965). He was also a fellow and founding member of the society.



Who’s Who in Q

Name: Laura Cottingham.

Residence: Brandywine, MD.

Education: Master’s degree in quality systems management, National Graduate School of Quality Management.

Previous jobs: Associate dean of student academic affairs at the National Graduate School of Quality Management; a 21-year career in the U.S. Army where she served in the 5th Special Forces Group and the 101st Airborne Air Assault Division.  

Introduction to quality: In the 1990s, Cottingham shared an office space with a quality manager. She began reading quality-related books. As she began to transition from the military, she began to pursue a career that would reach across all industries and let her apply skills critical to the success of businesses.

Current job: Consulting associate with Booz Allen Hamilton in McLean, VA. She provides quality management support to the Department of Treasury Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 program management office.

ASQ activities: Member and former chair of Section 0509 ISO 9000 user’s group; served as an assistant test proctor for ASQ exams; senior member.

Published works: "Using ISO 9001 and Performance Metrics to Achieve Intended Business Results," a technical paper to be presented at next year’s Annual International Conference on ISO 9000.

Recent honors: Inducted as a member of the 2008 Women of Color STEM Alumni; recipient of Booz Allen Hamilton team appreciation awards in 2006; and a U.S. Army legion of merit recipient in 2003.

Quality quote: The most notable characteristic of organizations that embrace quality is their progressive sustainability over time.


This month’s Web Watch focuses on measurement and metrology. For more quality-related websites, visit www.asq.org.


CMMTalk.com provides an online community for computer measuring machine programmers and professionals. The site includes a list of the most popular forums in the left-hand menu. Users can also search for a particular topic in all forums.


The Coordinate Measurement Systems Committee (CMSC), an international group of measurement specialists, offers a variety of measurement and metrology resources on its website. Measurement news, information on conferences, a long list of links and CMSC membership application materials are among the features of this site. It also includes a link to a free download of Convert 4.10, software that will convert popular units of measurement and has the ability to create custom conversions.


As a resource for calibration professionals, this site has several directories (providers, training, software, consulting, organizations and supplies), along with a calendar, discussion board, career center and news.


Test and Measurement Tool Users Community, sponsored by tool manufacturer Fluke, is primarily a collection of discussion forums. Topics include digital multimeters, clamp meters and testers, thermography, safety and process instrument calibration.


The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s units and uncertainty site has content on the values of constants and related information, in-depth information on the international system of units and guidelines for the expression of uncertainty in measurement.

Found An Interesting Quality Site?

If you come across a noncommercial site that could be useful to other quality professionals, e-mail it to medmund@asq.org.

Average Rating


Out of 0 Ratings
Rate this article

Add Comments

View comments
Comments FAQ

Featured advertisers