Joe Stout: A Passion for Clean

by Joe Stout
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In everyday life, we know people who are really good at something they do. For example, a person may excel at playing cards, golfing or making chili in a cookoff. Often we hear questions such as, “How did you learn to make such a good dish,” or “How did you become so good at golf?” You could bet this was not the first time the person participated in such activities. No doubt they had repeated the process time and time again and learned more about the actions involved or the technique needed. Every time they repeated the event, they enhanced and improved their abilities and the ultimate result. The fact of the matter is they had passion for what they were doing and conscientiously applied learnings from the last time, each time they repeated it. This is a passion for excellence and perfection — in essence, it’s the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.”

For those involved in any aspect of the food industry, we need to apply this approach to ensure food products are safely produced and delivered to consumers.

How can you apply a practice-makesperfect approach to what you or your plant employees do regarding sanitation, quality or food safety every day? Let’s talk about some possibilities on how to do it better.

PATH FORWARD.

It all starts with a cleanable facility and with equipment designed to be easily cleaned. As an advocate of the relationship of sanitary design to food safety, I encourage a comprehensive understanding of weaknesses in current sanitary design and the challenges poor design brings to cleaning. This understanding of design challenges can be gained by using an equipment or facility-design checklist. The Grocery Manufacturers Association or the American Meat Institute offer such checklists that can be used to evaluate current designs and modify them as needed.

Develop science-based programs using existing knowledge in the industry. This is the prime step because we must have a basis for what needs to be done and a consistent approach to be followed. These programs need to be living documents that can be adjusted over time as you learn more about the successes and weaknesses in your facility.

Training is a critical component of teaching sanitation and quality personnel as well as plant management about the correct ways to clean and how to execute quality programs. All employees need to understand the basics of food safety, good manufacturing practices (GMPs), HACCP, microbiology and sanitation procedures to enable them to perform daily tasks routinely and in a consistent and disciplined way.

Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to confirm that the programs are effective and are completed at the prescribed frequency. Examples of KPIs could be actual equipment or facility cleaning vs. what is scheduled; clean equipment measurements such as bacterial or pathogen environment swabs (listeria or salmonella); plant inspection results; GMP compliance; or employee training.

Finally, practice does make perfect. Continuous improvement of preparation and procedure ensures the best food safety process. This applies to our food manufacturing facilities and warehousing locations. If we see an improvement opportunity, we need to practice and practice to get it perfect.

A HIGHER LEVEL.

Elevating the process even more requires answers to questions that challenge your process. To do so:

• Solicit feedback on how to do it better

• Talk to your peers about other methods to use

• Solicit support from outside your company about correct procedures and ideas

• Talk to other employees in your own company about continuous improvement

One of the best learning events I’ve used while visiting food plants during sanitation procedures is to talk to the individuals doing the cleaning. These employees have great ideas! Ask if there is a better, safer and faster way to do a task. More often than not, the answer is yes — and all you need to do is to listen. This is also a way to motivate the employees doing the work. Another great tool is to form sanitation teams. Such efforts can build a passion for excellence, thus engaging the heart and mind of the organization.

If you are searching for excellence and perfection in sanitation, set a path of continuous improvement, and practice until you find perfection. Then continue to improve. •

Joe Stout was director of global product protection, sanitation and hygienic design at Kraft Foods, where he worked for 28 years until his retirement in March. Mr. Stout recently formed a consulting business, Commercial Food Sanitation LLC, to provide sanitation and hygienic design consulting for the food industry. He can be reached at joestout@cf-san.com.

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