Intro to Quality Assurance
How can the quality of products you use affect your health?
Suvecha Dahal, Senior Content Creator
June 21, 2017
The milk you use in your tea every morning, the rice that you have for lunch and the fabric of the shirt you are wearing right now. How do you know it is safe?
Locally packaged grains and products found in the market.
Why is it important to talk about safety of the products you use?
Contaminated, low quality and unsafe commodities can have hazardous consequences to the health of the consumer. As a consumer you have the right to seek assurance about the safety of the products you are using. To ensure these products are not affecting your health, it is critical to ensure the quality of consumer goods. That is where quality assurance comes into the picture.
Similarly, exported items can be rejected leading to loss of not only business and money but puts quality of exports from Nepal in a bad light.
What is quality assurance and why do you need it?
Simply put, quality assurance is required to evaluate if a product or commodity is safe for consumers to use and to release to a market. It consists of various processes to determine if the product meets the specifications of the national or international standards for quality. Each country has its own specifications for quality for different types of goods. And there are accredited programs and laboratories that can carry out these standardized tests and inspections.
Apart from being a consumer, as a business house and entrepreneur, you need to ensure that your products are safe to use before releasing in the market. If a commodity does not meet safety requirements, it should not be distributed in the market. If it is found to be, it can be recalled from the market leading to loss of corporate image, brand name and money. At the worst of it, it can lead to hazardous impact on the consumer’s health and life too. Similarly, exported items can be rejected leading to loss of not only business and money but puts quality of exports from Nepal in a bad light.
Tea leaves are popular export products.
In the Nepali market, how do I know if a certain product is safe to use?
Each country has its own policies and methods to ensure consumer safety. Usually, there are government regulations and laws which govern the assurance of quality.
In Nepal, bodies like Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology regulate standards. However standards are very rarely enforced beyond the initial certification that is sometimes required by businesses. These initial certificates are then used year after year for numerous batches of products. Nepal Standards certification are issued to some commodities, however there is no organisation that can issue quality tested certification sign to food products. So the packaging of the product can not carry any sign to denote that it is quality tested. So for a consumer, it is in fact very difficult to find out if the commodity they are using is safe. Similarly, it is difficult to track and test fresh vegetables and food collected from farms across the country. This lack of appropriate guidelines and enforcement could lead to the high likelihood of substandard products released in the market.
This lack of appropriate guidelines and enforcement could lead to the high likelihood of substandard products released in the market.
How do you measure quality?
Quality can be measured by quality assurance laboratories and service providers. Accredited service providers have well defined assessment guidelines and standards to produce results that are precise and accurate. This assurance leads to consumer confidence that the product they are using is safe.
Processes for quality assurance is based on the specifications. These specifications can vary depending on where it will be used or exported to. Quality assurance processes could include laboratory testing of the product and visual inspection of its distribution channels, depending on the requirements.
Depending on the product, laboratory test can reveal a lot about the sample. In Nepal, the most common tests which can be easily monitored in food grains, processed food, fruits and vegetables are – if the product has: Antibiotic residue, Aflatoxin contamination, Microbial contamination, Heavy metal contamination and Pesticide contamination. If any of these contaminants are present, the commodity is not safe for use.
Are there laboratories that can conduct these tests in Nepal?
There are several government and private laboratories. However only few laboratories who conduct quality assurance tests are equipped with advanced instruments. There are also numerous International Accreditation Schemes like GLP, ISO 17205, ISO 9000 series, however most laboratories are not well informed about such standards. Laboratory Accreditation is also not the top priority for the Government, but it can be hugely beneficial for checking the quality standards / performance competence of the laboratory itself. In Nepal, Zest Laboratories is the first laboratory to be internationally accredited as per ISO/IEC 17025 : 2005 since 2011 in the field of Chemical, Biological & Mechanical Testing.
What causes the contamination of goods?
At the farm or micro production level, these are the major issues that compromise the quality of the food product:
- Improper agricultural practices along with poor hygiene at various stages of food chain
- Lack of preventive controls in food processing
- Lack of information regarding Good Agricultural Practice (GAP)
- Misuse of chemicals; contaminated raw materials
- Inadequate and improper storage
Poor hygiene and contaminated animal feeds can affect the health of the animal as well as animal products.
Small scale producers do not fall in the range of monitoring by the Government as most of them are not licensed. Performances of medium and large scale producers are unsatisfactory as well since the level of sanitation and hygiene is barely maintained. These manufacturers do not recruit expert human resources and do not invest in manpower training. Some industries have been accused of using their Accreditation Certificate just for advertisement purposes.
So, why isn’t this talked about more often?
Reasons could be summed up in the following points:
Focus on price instead of quality
Consumers mainly focus on the price and not on the quality of the product. Large group of Consumers in Nepal are constrained by their purchasing capacity; meaning that they are attracted to buy low priced products. This induces the manufacturers to lower their food safety standards in order to reduce their price.
Lack of information about consumer rights
While buying a product, consumers hardly look whether the product is quality certified or not. Similarly, consumers are not aware of their consumer rights to seek quality assurance of the products they use. And the industries take advantage of such ignorance on part of the consumers and claim that their products are tested and approved. However, in Nepal, there are no sufficient and legal mechanisms to check assurance of the claim made on the packaging /labeling whether the product is in fact quality tested.
Lack of data and resources
There are no records on the adverse effects of illness that occur through consumption of contaminated food. Due to the unavailability of such data, food safety is not prioritized by the Government and businesses. The Government lacks sufficient infrastructure and human resources to regulate food safety all across Nepal. Also due to political instability, Food Acts have not been revised and updated. To top it all, research on the subject of food safety is largely untouched.
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