Root Cause Analysis and the Food Industry

Root Cause Analysis in the Food IndustryRoot 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.

This concept can be better explained through the following example. Example: You see a puddle of water on the floor near a machine in your factory. Instead of just cleaning up the spill (deal with the symptom), you investigate and find out how the water got there in the first place. There are many different methods that can be used when undertaking root cause analysis. Two of the most popular methods include “The five whys” and the use of “cause and effect diagrams”.

The Five Whys

Five Whys is the Japanese philosophy of repeatedly asking “why” to find not only the direct sources of your problems, but also the root of those sources. The process involves thinking long-term and looking both ahead and behind, not just in the present. By asking the question “Why” you can separate the symptoms from the causes of a problem. This is critical as symptoms often mask the causes of problems. Despite the fact that the process is called five why’s, there is no reason the process cannot be extended to more why’s if you are not comfortable that you have reached the root cause.

Cause and Effect Diagrams

The Cause & Effect (CE) diagram, also sometimes called a ‘fishbone’ diagram, is a tool for discovering all the possible causes for a particular effect. The effect (or non conformance) being examined is normally some troublesome aspect of product, food safety or service quality. The major purpose of the Cause and Effect Diagram is to act as a first step in problem solving by generating a comprehensive list of possible causes. It can lead to immediate identification of major causes and point to the potential remedial actions or, failing this, it may indicate the best potential areas for further exploration and analysis. At a minimum, preparing a Cause and Effect Diagram will lead to greater understanding of the problem.

The importance of Root Cause Analysis in the Food Industry

One of the underlying principles of HACCP is the establishment of corrective action to be taken when any monitoring indicates that there is a loss of hazard control. As part of this process, it is essential to find out the real cause of the hazard rather than applying a bandaid effect to issues identified. Root cause analysis when undertaken and implemented correctly can mean the difference in legal compliance or not. Undertaking root cause analysis is also a mandatory requirement of many customer standards.

The BRC Global Standard for Food Safety requires the food business to identify the root cause of any non-conformity and implement the necessary corrective action. There are similar requirements in the majority of customer standards. Please review your applicable customer or food HACCP certification standard for the requirements on root cause analysis.

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