Quality Control

What is quality control?

Quality control measures are all the checking activities which are done in your plant to ensure only quality products reach load out. They include:

  • sampling
  • loose item control
  • testing, for example chemical residue testing, species testing
  • inspecting, for example scanning of carcases by trimmers
  • monitoring, for example chiller assessment of carcases, carton meat re-inspection
  • measuring, for example fat depth measurement, temperature.

In meat processing plant, quality control is an important part of the Quality Assurance system.

What is variation?

Variation is when the product does not match the specification. In a meatworks this might be such things as wool on a lamb carcase or bone chips in a carton of meat. All product varies but there is a point when this variation becomes unacceptable to the customer, the company or government regulators like the Department of Agriculture.
Our specifications identify what is considered to be acceptable variation. The maximum variation from the standard that will be accepted is called the critical limit. Some variations have a zero tolerance. For example no excreta is acceptable on the product but one hair on a carcase would be acceptable.  A variation that is greater than the critical limit is called the deviation.

What is sampling?

Quality Assurance officers often take a sample of the product rather than examine the whole production run. A sample is when we take one or more from a lot of carcases of cartons of meat. Checking these will give the Quality Assurance officer an idea of what the rest of the carcases or cartons of meat are like. The number of samples that have to be checked is laid down in the Quality Assurance procedures.

How is product monitored?

Product monitoring involves selecting a number of samples and checking if they meet the specification or standard required. The checkers look for defects on carcases, offal and carton meat. Defects of carcases include:

  • hair
  • wool
  • hide
  • grease
  • rail dust
  • stains
  • toenails
  • faeces
  • pizzle butts
  • bruises
  • disease
  • abscesses
  • ingesta
  • pieces of viscera
  • blood clots.

Defects in carton meat include:

  • excreta
  • ingesta
  • bruises
  • blood clots
  • bone chips
  • abscesses
  • hair or wool
  • foreign objects
  • smears and stains.

The monitoring of this product is done against set standards that must be achieved in the sample being inspected. This standard is laid down in the AS4696:2007 Australian Standard for the hygienic production and transportation of meat and meat products for human consumption and in the Department of Agriculture Meat Hygiene Assessment Program. The Approved Quality Limits (AQLs) or criteria tell the monitors when a sample is unacceptable because it has too many defects.

Each type of defect is weighted. The less serious defects have a low weighting while serious defects have a high weighting. This means there only needs to be a few serious defects and the sample is unacceptable. The production run has to be reworked at enormous expense and effort. Some defects are considered so serious like excreta and ingesta that one defect found on the sample makes the whole run immediately unacceptable.

How is the process monitored?

Not only is the product monitored and inspected but the way the meat is processed is also monitored.
Company QA officers and supervisors check employees regularly to make sure:

  • knife kits and personal equipment are kept clean
  • SOPs are followed
  • work instruction or task descriptions are followed.

Monitoring includes visual checks on knife kits. Protective equipment swabs may also be taken to check on bacterial contamination. If there is a deviation from SOPs or work instructions a corrective action will be taken. Corrective action could involve anything from speaking to a worker about the problem to retraining the worker.

What tests are performed on meat products?

Samples are taken to test for chemical residues, species, product hygiene, diseases, chemical lean, product temperature and bacteria counts on carcases.

What is inspection?

In all abattoirs in Australia an inspection is made of all the livestock, carcases and viscera or guts processed. In export works this is performed by Department of Agriculture officers. In domestic works company employed inspectors do this work. Western Australia has government inspectors for domestic works.
This inspection is part of product monitoring. It aims to detect disease and contamination that represent a health risk to consumers.
The meat inspector decides if the offal is:

  • fit for human consumption
  • fit only for animal or pet food
  • to be condemned.

The meat inspector also decides if the carcase is:

  • fit for human consumption
  • has to be trimmed on the retain rail before it is passed fit for human consumption
  • fit only for animal or pet food
  • to be condemned.

Company employees also make other types of inspections such as pre-operational hygiene inspection and boneless meat re-inspection.