How to complete a root cause analysis

Adequately completing a root cause analysis is a vital skill that all food safety and quality professionals should be able to perform. Welcome to session 9 of the HACCP Mentor series on Food Safety HACCP Compliance 101: How do I comply with that? In this session we take a look at how to complete a root cause analysis to help stop reoccurring problems in your food business.

What is a root cause analysis?

Before we jump into the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of this topic, let’s first define what a root cause analysis actually is. Root Cause Analysis in the food industry is a process or procedure that helps guide people to discover and understand the initiating causes of a problem.

The goal of this process is to determine the missing or inadequately applied controls that will prevent a reoccurrence. With this mind, root cause analysis seeks to uncover and find the real cause of the problem and adequately deal with it rather than simply deal with the symptoms of a problem


Let me break this down further with an example you may be familiar with.

Your food business receives potentially hazardous ingredients on a regular basis.  These ingredients are required to be delivered to you chilled. Your store man constantly rejects deliveries because the ingredients are out of suitable temperature control. Instead of just rejecting the product at each delivery (deal with the symptom), you investigate and find out why the ingredients keep being delivered out of temperature control in the first place.

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Solving the Problem

There are numerous tools that can be used to solve issues and complete a root cause analysis.  Two of the most popular methods include “The five whys” and the use of “cause and effect diagrams”.  Both of these methods seek to reveal the underlying cause of the issue.  To learn more about these two methods click here.

When I complete a root cause analysis, I like to use a mixture of both of the above tools and personal skills. Two excellent skills that any food safety professional should possess include the skill to investigate and the ability to ask questions. When these two skills are combined your problem solving and root cause analysis process can become a lot easier. So, how would we go about finding the root cause of this issue?

Identifying the root cause

For our scenario there could be several causes contributing to the potentially hazardous ingredients being delivered out of temperature including:

  • The delivery vehicle is not adequately refrigerated
  • The product was not stored or chilled adequately prior to dispatch from the manufacturer.
  • The delivery driver turned off the cooling unit to save fuel.
  • Ingredients are unloaded into ambient storage before temperature checks are performed.
  • The thermometer used to take the ingredient temperature is faulty and not reading correctly.

Brainstorming is always a great place to start as it draws on the skills and experience of the group completing the root cause analysis. I am sure that you can add to my list using your own experience. Help me out by leaving your potential cause in the comments below this post.

Is your root cause analysis correct?

Time will tell if you actually found the root cause to your problem but a good indicator is that you don’t have the issue re-occur. However, you should never rest easy. Whatever control measure you have put in place to ensure the issue does not happen again will need to be routinely monitored.

6 thoughts on “How to complete a root cause analysis”

  1. Sefiu Olatunde Ikudaisi

    I have seen during an inspection a supplier using a (converted) delivery vehicle not refrigerated at all.
    Worse still the ingredient (frozen chicken) had not been chilled adequately because electricity supply to the cold room was unethically switched off to actually save cost on energy consumption.

    I did established the supply was to be delivered in another State, a journey of about 3 hours.

    1. Amanda Evans-Lara

      Thanks for sharing your experience Sefiu. This is a great example of one cause that can easily contribute to food poisoning.

  2. I agree on all this, it’s also important not just for food safety (although crucial here). For example if there is a problem with a particular dish root cause can help solve the problem i.e. is it a particular cook? or was is in fact the recipe? if in the end it was the supplier providing a poor quality ingredient a lot of time effort and failure will be carried out before the root cause is identified that could have been avoided.

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