We hardly spare a second thought for our food. We assume that the food we eat is safe and up to standard, right? Before food reaches our supermarkets, restaurants, and plates, it needs to undergo quality assurance. This is where local start-up Q2 comes in. THINK gets in touch.
Consumers and companies alike might only think of food safety in terms of health issues, but Maltese start-up Q2 Consult knows that it also has an influence on a company’s bottom line. The start-up is on a mission to educate and equip companies to better understand the importance of food safety standards and how they can ultimately benefit their operation.
‘Through my studies and work in the industry, I began to realise that most companies do not pre-empt or plan for issues that could come up, wasting funds and resources in the process. When businesses are reactive, it leads to them forking out substantial funds to solve said issues,’ explains Food Safety Technician and Consultant Jean Pierre Sant over a video call. Issues such as product recalls cost businesses reputational damage as well as losses in revenue.
Launched in 2014, Q2 Consult is Sant’s brainchild, and it is largely a one-man operation. The consultancy offers food safety training programmes and works as something of a one-stop shop for food businesses. Sant described an exhaustive list of services the consultation has carried out to assist companies in complying with standards and ultimately to create more efficient operations.
Whetting his appetite
Sant explains how it was the unsavoury experience of buying a bag of mouldy oats that set the wheels in motion.
‘I was shocked, and I also noticed that the labelling on the packaging was all wrong. So I called the company in question and ended up working with them on improving their labelling, and it snowballed into various other small projects.’
Sant then went on to find more clients in need of help with their labelling practices, but he soon realised that he needed to diversify his portfolio. So he decided to become a food handling trainer to combine two of his passions together.
‘I’ve always enjoyed the dynamic nature of teaching and discussing issues with students, so having the chance to impart anything I learned in this subject was immediately appealing to me,’ he says, adding that he also sometimes tutors students at the University of Malta.
His enterprising spirit later pushed him to come up with an online system to store his training materials and allow students to have access to them outside of contact hours. He explained that although he stood to lose some of his favourite parts of teaching (ie. the human interactions) the move allowed him to pursue more projects and grow his business.
‘I started conducting what are known as HACCP studies (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), which are crucial for food businesses in identifying risks and potential issues specific to them.’
While these studies are extremely detailed and time consuming for him, they also require collaboration and participation from the company itself. In other words, it isn’t an issue that companies can just throw money at; they need to take ownership of the processes and keep up with them accordingly.
‘Part of my job is to train companies to take responsibility for these studies, so I designed three levels of training they can undergo, going from a basic Awareness Course, on to a Foundation Course, and finally to an Intermediate understanding of the process.’
Biting into the market
Being a young and flexible project, Q2 Consult often offers more bespoke services such as hygiene audits and consultations to ensure businesses comply with Quality Management Standards. He also frequently assists fledgling food businesses, by pointing them in the correct direction and representing them in all dealings with the Environmental Health Directorate. Individual projects present him with the opportunity to explore new courses of action or ways in which he can use his expertise to address new areas of business.
Discussing all his past work gives the clear sense that Sant is very keen to impart any and all knowledge that he gains from these experiences, and looking back at his history reveals an openness to new subjects as well as enviable stamina leading him to develop innovative ideas on multiple occasions.
‘When I was doing my A-levels, I stubbornly refused to study the more logical routes such as a Maths and Physics combinations, but decided to follow subjects I was passionate about, namely Physics and Biology,’ he explains, adding that the two subjects were not enough for him to step into a University Degree. He chose instead to study for a Diploma at the Institute of Fisheries Management.
‘One of the modules focused on the previously mentioned HACCP studies,’ he says, adding that his tutor, perhaps spotting his aptitude and interest in the subject, asked him to assist in further research.
‘I instantly fell in love with the subject, and although it would be some years before I would be able to use that knowledge in my job, it was a subject that stayed with me and which I continued to research in my spare time.’
Sant then went on to hold a range of jobs in Fisheries, Shipping, and later on at a company doing Fossil Fuel Analysis. Finally, however, his old tutor pushed him to take on a job as a Food Safety & Quality Manager at a local food manufacturing company.
‘At that point I had no official experience in food safety, but I had the instincts and energy for the role. Even though I met considerable resistance from some of the team members, I persevered and helmed a project to reorganise the way the company managed its data and handled its food safety operations.’
Although slightly disheartening as an experience, the job left him with an ability to deal with people in management positions and galvanise companies into action in spite of any general culture of apathy, which is undoubtedly invaluable to his work now.
Food for thought…
Since setting up the consultation, Sant has also read for a Masters in Entrepreneurship, where his thesis focused on creating software to incorporate the Food Safety Management Systems he works with.
‘This was in 2018, and by 2019 I had created a business plan and was ready to create the software,’ he said, explaining that he had even lined up a software engineer to assist him in the project. ‘Sadly, however, by 2020, the Covid pandemic put a spanner in the works, and many businesses are still not confident enough to invest in new software.’
In his original plan, the software would have been available to businesses in exchange for a monthly subscription, and it would have dealt with all matters of food safety and associated regulations. Despite the setback, Sant is demonstrating characteristic adaptability and resilience. The new plan is to release the software in modules for businesses to purchase as and when they need them.
‘We would offer individual modules like the HACCP module or a nutritional calculation module for instance, and businesses will then hopefully be able to pick and choose the modules that best suit their needs.’
The software hopes to guide businesses through the procedures and requirements of their individual businesses and to prompt them to do any checks when they are necessary. In Sant’s vision, it would ultimately give businesses the ability to do away with having to hire Quality Managers for the most basic of checks. Q2 Consult hopes to continue expanding the program, allowing it to store nutritional and company data, generate templates for labelling, and give users access to important data to facilitate their transactions, all at the touch of a button.
Although it is perhaps facing its biggest hurdle yet, Q2 Consult is taking up arms against all things waste, and steering the local industry to a more sustainable future. Taking his inspiration from circular economies, Sant seeks to prove that adequate preparation and the correct technology can lead companies to be more sustainable and eliminate waste altogether. ‘It might seem reductive and obvious, but the less waste we have — be it food waste or money — the richer the business will be, so why not attempt something that seems so logical?’