Where Compliance Meets Communication: The Basics of QMS

Tiffany M. Donica
Contributing Writer

Manufacturers must integrate policies and processes that meet or exceed industry standards and governmental regulations. At the same time, these policies and processes must also meet or exceed the expectations of customers. Many organizations develop a quality management system (QMS) to manage both aspects of quality and compliance. An organization’s QMS formalizes and directs quality and compliance activities and facilitates continuous improvement. ISO9001:2015 details the requirements for quality management systems. QMS programs can be a valuable tool in building strong relationships with customers and helping organizations remain competitive.

What Is QMS in Food?

Although food is generally safer now than in the last 100 years, recalls and foodborne illnesses capture the public’s attention and create concern and even distrust in food systems. Safer food does not mean that all food is always safe—and manufacturers, producers, and suppliers are searching for systems they can implement or improve upon to restore trust or build upon it. However, the food network that so many people rely on to deliver safe, high-quality food is more complex than ever before. With so many points at which a contaminant can be introduced in a process, an active QMS is essential to building trust in food safety.

What Does a QMS Do?

An effective food quality management system (QMS) can help food and beverage companies ensure a safe, high-quality end product and maintain compliance. To achieve these objectives, there are a few critical components every food QMS should encompass. Here, we take a look at four of the most significant elements.

  • Supplier Requirements

The organization’s management system should feature a complete list of qualification steps, as well as a way to assess the risk of each new supplier. Food Safety Magazine recommends incorporating a step-by-step process into the vendor approval system, such as performing audits to gauge a supplier’s strengths and weaknesses.

  • Inspections of Incoming Materials

To ensure products are safe and compliant, first verify that the ingredients and materials received meet safety and quality requirements. Develop a record-keeping system for incoming inspections, and keep track of critical information like date received quantity and material information. The FDA also has outlined for performing incoming inspections, including looking for abnormalities in the products and signs of tampering.

  • Supplier Scorecards

Supplier performance should be tracked regularly to ensure suppliers consistently perform to expectations. Generate reports to track and analyze data, thereby identifying any noteworthy trends.

  • Non-Conformances

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, organizations must develop nonconforming material reports (NCMRs) when any products or materials fail to meet quality control standards. Food and beverage companies should have a way to track not only NCMRs organization-wide but also by the supplier, date, and through other filters.

Of course, these are only just a few of the most important components of a food QMS—clearly, there’s a lot of data to keep track of for any management system within the food and beverage industry. 

What Does QMS Measure?

Data management is a critical component of a QMS, and tracking data allows organizations to drive quality in several key ways. A complete data picture helps organizations identify weaknesses in their processes that could require additional support from a food defense plan. Data also drives compliance and reduces variability with valuable tools like statistical process control (SPC). Integrating a QMS software platform can deliver more significant gains in continuous improvement over manual data collection. Software platforms capture data in real-time and provide it in functional reports and charts to everyone involved in the relevant processes, from operator to enterprise level.

What Are the Different Types of QMS?

There are several types of QMS, and many are industry-specific. Quality management systems that set standards or benchmarks in the food industry may operate on a national or global scale and can govern different aspects of food production and supply. Many organizations seek out multiple certifications, especially if they operate on an international scale.

  • GFSI: The Global Food Safety Initiative is a private, industry-developed program that certifies auditing platforms worldwide. A GFSI certification is a way to show customers and others within the industry that an organization has implemented a comprehensive and effective food safety program.

  • ISO9001: Any organization, regardless of size, can utilize ISO9001. Certification is not a requirement but can act as an assurance for customers and build trust. ISO9001:2015 specifically describes requirements that any organization can apply to ensure product conformity and consistency. Organizations can work with a checklist to achieve certification.  

  • ISO22000: Working hand in hand with other ISOs like 9001, ISO22000 sets standards for food safety management and applies to producers and food as it navigates the increasingly-complicated supply chain. 

  • HACCP: Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a technical system of management that examines how biological, physical, and chemical hazards can impact food safety. It provides mechanisms for controlling and reducing these hazards throughout production. HACCP is required in some food industry sectors, and in others, such as Dairy, HACCP programs are voluntary.

  • SQF: The Safe Quality Food (SQF) program is HACCP-based and provides a certification process benchmarked by GFSI. Certification addresses ingredient and packaging manufacturing, the supply chain, farming, and more. Independent verification provides customers with the assurance that an outside entity has certified an organization to be in compliance with these food safety touchpoints.


Total quality management (TQM) is based on the idea that everyone involved in the process bears some responsibility for the quality of the process or product. Viewed by many as the predecessor of QMS, TQM is an overarching philosophy with the goal of seeking customer satisfaction. However, TQM often relied on the compliance of individuals within an organization. QMS helps organizations create broadly implemented policies, creates and maintains a leadership component, and also integrates supplier relationships. Organizations that have a TQM system can still benefit greatly from implementing the structure of a QMS program.

Plan, Do, Check, Act

Plan, do, check, and act (PDCA) involves employees directly in working with quality management policies. PDCA is a component of TQM, although many organizations use a form of it with QMS programs as well. 

  • Plan: Organizations discuss goals, who is responsible for which actions, and how they will measure success. A robust plan includes both leading and lagging indicators and is a flexible and living document.

  • Do: The assessment phase of PDCA, this step is when organizations perform risk assessments and identify organizational priorities. Organizations can now implement the actions previously determined in the plan and accompany these measures with training and supervision.

  • Check: Assessments and audits can help identify the policies that organizations successfully implemented and which need continued development. The measurement point of the cycle relies on collected data to measure the success of the plan. At this point, organizations can also evaluate accidents and incidents to determine if the plan needs additional work.

  • Act: Based on the conclusions from the check, organizations can create policies that support the successes. Working through the cycle can help organizations see where policies that appear complete within the plan may allow room for risk.

The Role of QMS Software

Every organization, regardless of size, can benefit from greater data transparency and visibility. QMS software provides a central location for organizations to house everything. A quality management system can generate a huge amount of paperwork, and manually tracking the plan, various actions, assessments, audits, benchmarks, data, and more can create additional inefficiencies. A robust software platform allows organizations to act on data in real-time and access key documents for audits and checklists when and where needed. 

Since many facilities seek and comply with multiple systems like HACCP and ISO9001, tracking compliance in food QMS software is critical. Many of the regulations and benchmarks overlap, but some are distinct or complementary. Facilities can also use software platforms to create personalized dashboards that reflect the necessary information and access an employee needs based on their position and role within the organization. 

Customers are more focused than ever before on food safety and quality. Trust in an organization or food system is vital for ensuring public health and safety, but the processes are more complicated than ever before. That’s why solutions like food safety software can help. These powerful tools can offer vital insights into company performance to help you drive improvement and maintain audit preparedness by centralizing all of your critical data.

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