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In the bottling plant, quality comes first

October 13, 2010
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The terms “quality assurance” and “quality control” are often used interchangeably to refer to ways of ensuring the quality of a service or product, such as bottled water. However, the terms have different meanings and many people confuse the two.

A closer look will reveal several basic differences:

Quality control focuses on the product, while quality assurance focuses on the process.

Quality control includes evaluating an activity, a product, process, or service, while quality assurance aims to ensure that processes are sufficient to meet clearly defined objectives.

In a nutshell, quality assurance, which we will focus on here as it applies to bottled water production and delivery, ensures that a product or service is created, implemented, or produced correctly, whereas quality control determines if the “end result” is satisfactory or not.

A look inside QA
Quality assurance (QA) is a system of procedures, checks, audits, and corrective actions to ensure that all design, environmental monitoring, performance, research, sampling, and technical reporting activities are of the highest achievable quality.

QA also determines whether products or services meet or exceed customer expectations.

Procedures in QA can be divided into four simple steps for success:

  • Planning: During the planning phase, the staff of a bottled water operation would assess interrelated problems, establish objectives, and point out problematic processes. They would then establish or develop processes that may be required to deliver the necessary results.
  • Implementation: During this phase, developed processes are set in motion.
  • Monitoring: The monitoring phase is an ongoing process, usually handled by a manager or consultant, which involves evaluating and testing the implemented process to make sure it meets the objectives. This also involves monitoring for potential problems and future improvements.
  • Action: During the action phase, necessary actions are applied if the results require any changes.

QA means profits
One of the major benefits of quality assurance in bottled water or any other industry is increased profits through increased customer satisfaction.

Customers are involved in the quality assurance process via surveys, customer feedback cards, and a variety of additional marketing tactics that help determine if customers’ needs are being met.

Believe it or not, companies pay attention to customer feedback because it helps correct any product or service flaws. Quality assurance also helps improve productivity or company efficiency.

Quality assurance steps are typically performed throughout the life of the product or service. This way, internal issues, flaws, or problems are constantly being addressed and corrected to increase and improve productivity. This also helps increase profits.

Who can do QA?
One thing I have noticed in the bottled water industry is that many companies are not using qualified personnel in the quality assurance/quality control department.

With so much regulatory and other activity now at the local, state and federal levels, lack of qualification can put a company into ruin or at least a state of confusion. Without the proper personnel on board, the results can be disastrous.

Whether a bottled water business is small or large, there are many types of QA services available.

Businesses may opt for an independent QA consultant or a firm specializing in QA. Because it takes skill, patience, and experience, it''s best to seek out trusted names in the business or hire through a referral.

Costs for QA services or consulting will vary greatly, depending on a variety of factors such as the type of business or size of project. Most consulting firms and independent consultants will provide an initial consultation to determine costs, or they will provide an estimate for services.

GMPs, HACCP programs, and CCPs
Bottled water is defined as a food product and is regulated by the government under the US Food and Drug Act and subsequent rules.

Bottled water products must comply with both general good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for all foods and GMPs specific to bottled water, which affect all aspects of plant operations.

Another program that is an important tool in quality assurance of food products is the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) program, a systematic and preventive approach to achieve food safety standards, using critical control points (CCPs).

It’s worth looking at all three as part of the QA process:

  • GMPs: General GMPs cover such areas as plant and ground maintenance, sanitary facilities, plumbing and sewage disposal.

    Bottled water GMPs provide detailed regulations governing plant construction and design, sanitary facilities and operations, equipment design and construction, production, process controls specific to the product, and record keeping.

  • HACCP: This program is a systematic and preventive approach for achieving food safety standards. Originally developed in 1971 to guarantee the safety of astronauts’ food in space, HACCP is now being adopted worldwide as a scientific, straightforward and effective approach to enhance food safety.

    The HACCP approach can be used by all segments of the food production continuum, including bottled water, and can be tailored to any individual product or process line. The advantage of using the HACCP system (sidebar, this page) lies in the control it provides at all times over food safety in the processing plant, from receiving raw materials to shipping the final products.

    The FDA considers HACCP, now widely used in food and pharmaceutical production, a comprehensive method for assuring product safety.

  • CCPs: In an HACCP system, production of a safe bottled water product will be structured around critical control points (CCPs). These are points in your process where biological, chemical or physical hazards posing a food safety risk can be controlled or eliminated.

Applying HACCP in bottling plants
Each bottled water plant is responsible for developing a HACCP system tailored to its own product and operations.

The system must meet all current protocol requirements and include the implementation of six prerequisite programs as well as the relevant HACCP plan for the establishment, showing details for each product or group of products.

Plant personnel are responsible for ensuring that adequate control measures are in place for any potential hazard identified in their own HACCP system.

Each facility’s HACCP plan should outline procedures for monitoring and verifying each control point, keeping accurate records and taking appropriate corrective actions when deviations from the prescribed production plan are noted.

The plant’s management is responsible for verifying that the plan is working properly.

Michael Sims is president of Conformance Design Consulting Inc., Poway, CA, a consulting firm which assists the bottled water industry with QA/QC, compliance, product liability, and other issues. He can be reached at (858) 761-2307 or by e-mail at:
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