Supply chain management practices were not as stringent as they presently are. Public awareness has resulted into advocacy for quality through consumer advocacy groups. This was not so in the past. This implies that consumers are more aware of the need for their foods to meet certain expected qualities than it was in the past. The implication here is that the food supply chain management process must employ internationally accepted standards to govern these chains to ascertain quality. However, the complexity of this issue is because of the enormous chain involved and the need to enforce adherence to these standards at every phase of the chain. Presently all those involved in the food supply chain from suppliers to manufacturers and distributors to wholesalers as well as retailers are focusing on modern inspection procedures to uphold quality in the food supply chain (Roth et al. 2008). This however is not without increased food prices since the costs for implementation of such systems remains high.
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However, a scholarly view exposes the futility of this approach instead advocating for the introduction of quality inspection within the overall process. Suggested best practices to manage an end to end supply process on a global scale proposes the implementation of the six Ts approach. These processes can be used to establish and maintain quality up to a certain acceptable level within the food supply chain. Transparency describes the process of openness in providing information on a food product. This is through informal as well as formal agreements between the various parties involved. Testability relates to testing a food product feature to ascertain that it is within the acceptable levels stipulated within certain universally acceptable standards. In this case, mechanisms benchmarked to high quality standards can be used in determining the conformity of such features and thus a proof of the product quality. Time relates to the period within which a food product is in transit, the time lapse before an identified contaminated food product is recalled from all consumer outlets as well as the time the disruption is rectified and normal supply is resumed. Traceability relates with transparency where it is expected that a food product have openness as far as its source or the source of its ingredients are concerned. This implies that a consumer can trace the product to its source with minimal effort. Training relates to all the aspects that go into helping the various food supply chain players to understand the socio-political, technical as well as cultural aspects of a food supply chain capable of upholding the desired quality. It can therefore be clearly seen that the food supply chain has undergone tremendous advancement unlike in the past because it operates on a global scale unlike in the past when it was localized and rarely international. Today unlike in the past trends have emerged in modern food supply chains. These have been because of the forces of commoditization, globalization and consolidation. Globalization has caused formerly traditional regional food supply chains to expand their bracket to cover global participation through importations and exportations at various supply chain levels. Consolidation in food supply chain has resulted from dismal margins gained from food supply links as well as businesses aimed at reducing costs while maximizing profits. This consolidation has resulted into commoditization.
Understanding cultural diversity and political differences is vital while implementing quality control initiatives at a global scale. According to Roth et al. (2008), "this has implications for how companies manage difficulties internally and locally and how the Chinese government for instance handles problems that have escalated in scale" (p.29). Roth et al. (2008) goes on to assert that "diversity in laws and regulations governing food supply chain in the nations around the world as well as cultural diversity necessitates a need to understand this diversity well" (p.31). It is certain that the halal standard for example is becoming globally acceptable for all food products destined for Arabic or predominantly Islamic nations. According to Roth et al. (2008), "a regulatory infrastructure that can nurture a free enterprise society represents a delicate balancing act" (p.30).
It is highly unlikely based on the complexity of global sourcing that there can be in place a single response to address the food safety risks (Bourlakis & Weightman, 2004). In order to guard against price fluctuations traded in for inspections to ensure quality, suppliers are being engaged in maintaining quality based on the six Ts. These elements are include:
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
The process of being able to trace food ingredients to their source is the main reason of traceability (International Standards Organization, 2010). However based on the fact that the food supply chain may involve many processes and channels some of which may involve subcontracting. In such a case, tracking every ingredient to its source may be a daunting task. However, traceability is necessary to enforce regulations and protect the consumer from consumption of contaminated foods.
Traceability enables recalls to be effected by the supplier in case the food product is suspect. Some ways in which traceability is achieved is through provision of economic incentives to companies that have robust traceability systems in place. Research shows that many companies are picking up this approach though slowly because of the high capital investment for such systems. However, traceability remains key issue in as far as quality management is concerned and all those involved within the food supply chain attempt to institutionalize this element as far as their food products are concerned.
This involves maintaining openness as regards the source of food or their ingredients. A challenge arises in the case where suppliers are dealt with by the companies in a cash based approaching leaving very little or no paper work at all to provide a trace. This makes this element less likely except for well-established suppliers. Factors such as smuggling will generally taint or obscure the trail and affect transparency in a food supply chain.
Unlike other hard goods, food does not have a reliable testability construct. Food involves a myriad of other things and therefore testing all these things may be impractical. Deviations in the production process can affect the food's shelf life and quality. However, these deviations may not be detected at the source. Passing phase testing within the food supply chain does not guarantee a quality food product. Additional training as well as using trusted suppliers who readily comply with certain standards in quality management process would be one way of sustaining testability in the quality management in food supply chain.
Time in the food supply chain in the following dimensions:
Transit time that is considered critical as far as freshness of any food is concerned. Delays result in additions of preservatives that can eventually affect the quality. Freezing has been proven to be ineffective as this results in increased spoilage and reduced shelf life.
Time span between discovery of food contamination and reporting. The shorter it is the better
Time to recover from a supply disruption. This largely depends on the time span between discovery of contamination and reporting and therefore the shorter it is the better.
One way of addressing this aspect is setting up time-based strategies to improve response and reporting.
The complexity of a food supply chain operating on a global scale necessitates that increased levels of education for all the participants are encouraged. The diversities in terms of cross border cultures and behaviours requires training and understanding to establish a food supply chain that can monitor and control quality effectively. Training that involves technical assistance is necessary in order to promote best practices adoptable by the local as well as international entities within the supply chain. Training on the internationally acceptable standards and definitions or protocols of addressing arising issues is a matter of thorough training. It however must be understood that the diversity between nations in terms of regulations and culture makes training important though not 100% effective in quality control management. An understanding of all technical cultural, political and social aspects enables the various parties in the supply chain to adopt a common stand.
A successful traceability process will involve an element of trust among all the entities involved in the food supply chain. Transparency as well as testability hinges very much on trust with a mutual understanding that every one within the supply chain will abide by certain guidelines in order to uphold quality.