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Quality control at Westlakes.

With EC standard regulations coming into full force this year, quality control systems have never been more vital to the meat industry. At Westlake Foods Ltd's Sheffield processing plant, the forthcoming tests for BS 5750 accreditation are welcomed because a total quality management system is already in place.

It may come as no surprise that Westlake are fully prepared and operational in this area, as they are leading the field into the single market with their pioneering technique of seam-boning, hitherto unknown in the UK. But how does their quality control system differ from that of competitors who claim to make similar exhaustive checks?

Westlake's method of checking meat and equipment ensures a maximum of quality assurance and a minimum of disruption by guaranteeing full documentation and personal accountability for the checks made. From the moment the meat first arrives at the factory, it begins to go through a series of checks that are not finished till the raw material is safely in the hands of the customer. The physical attributes of the meat - appearance, odour, etc. - are rigorously inspected in the first instance, even before the meat is allowed into the factory. Once accepted, the meat undergoes microbiological tests to check for the presence of any unwelcome foreign bodies.

All meat which is processed at the Sheffield factory has its own metal identification tag. Whilst the company are aware there is some concern over the use of metal in such a situation, they feel the widespread use of plastics tags carries a higher risk because nobody has yet invented a plastics detector! Furthermore, a computerised yield system assures customers of traceability, even as far back as the farm of its origin.

During processing, checks are carried out regularly, monitoring the temperature of the meat and ensuring there is no deterioration in its condition. In fact, opportunities for deterioration are few and far between as around one and quarter forequarters of beef are boned out every minute.

The crucial part of their procedure lies in the comprehensive documentation of checking procedures. A signature must be provided for all checks, so that key personnel are always accountable. The |jewel in the crown' of their quality control procedure is the remedial action sheet, which provides all the information necessary for the implementation of corrective action. For example, if a piece of meat is found to be too fatty, the action sheet will state that it should be retrimmed or returned to the supplier. Anyone can identify a problem but it takes organisation and attention to detail to have the capability to rectify areas of shortfall.

Quality control at their plant is not simply an end-of-line assessment, tacked on as an afterthought - all factory personnel play an integral part in what is an ongoing process, ie, Total Quality Management. All equipment, including fridges, scales and metal detectors, is checked at regular hourly intervals. The process of isolating potentially affected meat is made more efficient by the recording of results. For example, if a metal detector is passed fully operational at 10 am and found to be faulty at 11 am, only the meat which has come down the line during that hour needs to be quarantined for rechecking.

Strict attention to hygiene is seen as vital and Westlakes use an ultra violet water purification system for the water used to clean the factory, in conjunction with the appropriate chemical cleaners and sanitizers.

Product specifications vary widely and raw materials are constantly checked to ensure that the needs of the customer are being met - by measurement of the dice size of cubed meat, for example.

The checking process does not end once the product has left the factory. Meat is distributed to cold stores that are visited regularly by the company's representatives, who continue to check the temperature and general condition of the meat. This provides the customer with every assurance of excellent quality, right up to the moment when their product is received.

If a problem occurs, reference can be made to the detailed recorded history of the meat. For example, the exact temperature levels at which the meat was handled at each stage of the operation are at the finger-tips of troubleshooters.

The Westlake system utilizes an integrated chain of accountability, co-ordinating both people and modern machinery, so that from the farm to the customer's factory, trace-ability is always assured and quality guaranteed.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Westlake Foods Ltd.
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:731
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