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For the preface of this book the authors felt that the following article, written by a food technologist from an African country - who is clearly frustrated at the lack of quality assurance, would highlight the real situation in some food manufacturing enterprises and demonstrate the need for more attention to quality assurance.

It is hoped that this small book will provide readers with the basic knowledge to start applying total quality assurance to their processes and so avoid the pitfalls described below.

"In this article I would like to look at some of the companies I have visited in which basic hygiene rules are so flagrantly flouted. The employee is a prime determinant of final product quality; hence rules about washing hands before contacting foods, use of utensils to handle products, disposable gloves, clean clothes, and protected hair need to be applied regardless of the size of the operation.

In practice what can be seen? An employee happily picking his nose while waiting for the next can on the line to fill. Meanwhile a colleague is sweeping up a cloud of dust right in the middle of the production line. At the change of shift a casual worker rushes in and quickly changes into soiled overalls and goes to the production line. He shakes his (unwashed) hands with those around. Washed hands and gloves do not feature. Late in the shift the worker goes to a dark corner for a sleep while colleagues cover for him. Rules are being ignored whilst management complain about the cost of providing clean protective clothing daily.

Even where basic processing standards are being met they are often undermined by post-processing operations. In one example seen, the rate of production far exceeds the rate of packaging. Here the excess baked product is put into large open sacks for later packaging. Under the steamy conditions in the plant it picks up moisture and becomes soggy. Workers, as they pass the sacks, dip in for a snack. The basic rules state that finished stock should be kept in separate stores. But what do we often see? Poor store management with final products in the same room as rejected raw materials and old flour bags.

All too often basic safety rules are flouted while consumers look on and public health officials turn a blind eye. In meat handling (a very high risk area) rules state that raw meat should be transported in a sealed compartment made of food-grade material, impermeable floors and with ventilation. In my country, meat is commonly distributed in pick-up trucks with a crude metal bin in the back. It is made of any metal, poorly sealed and not ventilated. The meat is simply dumped in and it then sweats as it is moved to the market. The whole system is conducive to microbiological growth. At the point of delivery the meat is hoisted onto the shoulders of a porter wearing a dirty, bloodstained coat.

Consumers, law-makers and public health officials look on, accepting such standards as a necessary evil in a game of hide and seek with microbes and germs.

But who is to blame for this often prevailing state of affairs? In my humble opinion all those involved: management for failing to provide guidance, workers for a lack of sense of duty, consumers for silently accepting the situation and the regulatory agencies for looking the other way.

As worldwide competition increases, manufacturers in African countries will have to improve their hygiene standards to have a chance of survival. Accolades will not be awarded to mediocre performance and the final arbitrators, the consumers, will vote with their feet and buy where quality and safety are assured."

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