Quality assurance is important in all industries, but when it comes to food safety it’s important on several levels. As Henry Ford famously said, “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” We suspect he’d probably agree that doing it right is important when the whole world is looking, too.
As food safety becomes more prominent in the news and on social media, the role of quality assurance has increasingly come under the spotlight. That’s why quality assurance teams in the lab and using the right products are so important.
April Schumacher and Aubrey Poling work in quality assurance for 3M’s food safety products, including 3M™ Petrifilm™ Plates both familiar with the attention that goes into ensuring the quality of products at every stage, meeting safety and regulatory requirements, to ensure their customers’ quality assurance departments have what they need to do their jobs.
April and Aubrey know that food manufacturers are looking for the most productive solutions. Quality assurance departments also feel the need to show their value by preventing problems to ensure the food products are safe and feature the quality consumers expect. That’s why they love bringing solutions that save time and are easy to use for everyone in the labs.
Journey to food safety and quality assurance
“I like finding a solution to a problem – using data and science to find the answer and make the right choice,” says Aubrey, a quality engineer in 3M’s Food Safety Department.
Aubrey was pursuing a degree in genetics at the University of Wisconsin – Madison when she realized how much she enjoyed her microbiology classes and wanted to pursue that area for her career. She started her career working in a lab that tests food from manufacturers, specifically for qualities including fats and carbohydrates. She later moved to Minnesota for a job testing food samples for pathogens. “That’s how I got to know 3M products – as a customer,” she says.
When Aubrey heard that 3M Food Safety had a job opening in the quality department, she was excited to make the move because she was familiar with the quality of the 3M product line.
April works with Aubrey on the 3M Food Safety Quality Assurance team. She has always been interested in disease and human health, so she studied bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and got her Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. “I was looking for ways to have a positive impact on human health,” April says.
After some time doing academic post-doctoral work, she was ready for a change. “I was looking to have a more direct impact,” she says. “I like 3M’s culture and mission of science improving lives and knowing that the products I’m working on can have a positive impact right away.”
April works on ensuring the quality of the products manufactured by 3M and making sure that standards are met. If there are any updates to regulations, AOAC, or ISO standards, she helps update processes to ensure customers receive the product that they expect.
Helping to reduce the margin of error
One of Aubrey and April’s top tips for quality assurance labs in food processing? Look for methods that decrease the opportunity for mistakes. That’s what they love about 3M™ Petrifilm™ Plates, which are easier to use than traditional agar methods. Additionally, the plates are stable and consistent from lot to lot which lessens the need to investigate variability in test results.
They also save time – a study of 274 U.S. food-processing plants found that 3.6 hours of time was saved per day by technicians when they used 3M™ Petrifilm™ Plates instead of agar. And the plates give faster results – technicians can get answers in about half the time.
There are fewer steps than agar methods, so rather than preparing petri dishes and agar, the ready-to-use plates just require technicians to inoculate, incubate and interpret results. The results are also easy to understand because they use indicator dyes to facilitate colony counting.
“Knowing that our products are clear makes the lab employee’s job easier,” says Aubrey. “I want to help them make the right decision. I don’t want them to have to second guess.” April points out that working in quality can be hard. “But it’s important you want to have solid data to make your case.”
“Each customer has their own needs,” she says. “We have a lot of products for a lot of needs. Understanding those needs and picking the right products is almost as critical as the test itself.”
She points out that 3M has a lot of solutions to help food manufacturers test products quickly.
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The Environmental Monitoring Handbook
Learn more about the importance of environmental monitoring and the steps you can take to be more proactive about food safety in your facility. Download the full handbook by visiting 3M Environmental Monitoring.
Each chapter includes in-depth guidance on important topics for food processing and handling facilities.