Safety and Quality Decisions

Angry Bosses

I’ve faced lots of angry bosses. Angry because sometimes they have to make difficult risk decisions.

Tough Situations:

  1. Informing a new manager that products are out of compliance with tax regulations.
  2. Receiving a customer complaint because the flavor ruined their product.
  3. Receiving a customer complaint that product is spoiled.
  4. Notifying “the most responsible person” (boss) at food-producing business that:
    • Your product tested positive for pathogens.
    • Your product is associated with consumer illness.
    • You received potentially harmful product from a food manufacturer.

In general, the common link between all these encounters is respect for the boss who is responsible for making a difficult decision on the next steps. In almost every instance, a manager will quickly decide consumer safety is the priority. I’ve rarely encountered a manager that would compromise someone’s health. Quick decisions on safety issues save lives. It is important to have a “plan” and be ready to implement.

Compliance and Quality Concerns:

When there is no health risk, the decision is trickier, but there is more time to make a decision.

The possibility of jail time (for tax evasion) or loss of customer satisfaction are both concerning, but loss of human or animal life is distressing. In situation where there are concerns with tax evasion because of non-beverage alcohol tax drawback, I do not believe management has been jailed. But I am aware of “offers in compromise” and fines. Under these situations, a plan for compliance is essential.

A decision on flavor quality can be extremely stressful. Decades ago, I had to re-work an entire flavor business because of mis-labeling(artificial flavors were being labeled natural). Finding economical solutions that met sensory requirements felt impossible but I managed to be successful. It took time, perseverance and a good attitude.

Sensory Tests

Triangle tests make decisions on re-work easier. These are sensory tests which detect if there is difference between two product formulas. They are administered by providing subjects (colleagues) with three blind samples to taste. Two are the same and one is different. Subject must independently indicate which sample is different. I always ask them to describe the difference, so I have information to decide next steps.

If seven out of ten cannot correctly name the different sample in a triangle test, I move forward with formula changes. If subjects can correctly identify the different sample, then I must come up with a plan to slowly “rework” the modified formula. Slowly rework is when 10% of the new formula is worked in (as opposed to 100%). Then, each time the formula is made in production, another 10% is worked in until it is completely revised.

Sensory tests and a good panel make quality decisions easier. I do not believe any one person has “golden taste buds”.


Re-working for quality reasons involves working closely with production. It’s imperative to consult with the production staff and to regularly communicate on formula revisions and rework.

I met a customer that told me the pistachio flavor he got from my previous employer “didn’t seem the same”.  He thought the difference was the new management that bought the company. When I was employed there, he never rejected product or asked for a refund. The company lost a customer and I do not feel good about this, mostly because he blamed the new management. Customers will often notice a subtle difference when recipes or formulas are changed.

If the decision to change or re-work is made hastily, the risk is customer dissatisfaction. Dissatisfied customers can request a refund and possibly reimbursement for their product loss. This gets expensive.

I have rejected a product going to market and been overruled. Months later the customer called wanting reimbursement for a the flavor we sold them because their customers were complaining. It was an expensive error. People lost their jobs and the customer lost their confidence.

Fingers pointed at me because I rejected the lot, but did not go above the “system”. Once the emotions settled and the finger pointing stopped, systems were changed and standard operating procedures were updated.

Food Recalls

For about four years, I worked as a regulator specializing on food recalls. Public safety is the priority as a regulator, loss of business is not. If there is adequate information (or evidence), decisions are quick and easy to make because there are established procedures for food emergencies.

Planning makes food emergencies and the recall process easier. Good standard operating procedures (SOPS) can help prevent emergencies. Under the Federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), some food manufacturers are required to have recall plans and written SOPs.

If you need help with these plans or SOPs, please reach out:





  1. Mary Foster says:

    Nicely written!
    (I can related to just about every scenario mentioned.)

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