Balancing food safety and production time

by Joe Stout
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In today’s highly competitive environment, food processors wage a constant battle between maximizing production throughput and minimizing downtime. Because bakeries and snack facilities cannot manufacture products during a line cleaning, they are always looking for ways to reduce sanitation time to increase the number of cases being shipped out the door.

However, is it possible to maximize both? How can a food manufacturer balance being effective from a food safety perspective and keeping its production numbers high?

Over the years, I’ve seen many companies succeed at being effective and efficient at sanitation, resulting in longer production runs. I’ve also observed companies ramp up cleaning and case production in the short term but struggle with both over the long haul. They start out strong but eventually lose momentum, resulting in frustration with their inability to continuously be effective and efficient. It takes persistent focus and sustained discipline to be at the top of your game to be the best at both.

The question is, how can you maximize time spent on cleaning with involvement from production? For starters, assemble a team that includes sanitation, quality assurance, maintenance and operations and empower them with this task. It is not just a sanitation team activity. The various departments should discuss in detail how each function can assist working smarter and faster in a synchronized way. Brainstorming through asking pertinent questions and developing ways to bring solutions to life should be the basis for a road map to success.

For example, is it advantageous for a plant to optimize its processes? Some lines are not capacity-constrained, so giving them more production time is not a benefit. Is the operation currently effective with its existing cleaning process? Where are you starting from? Are there key performance indicators (KPIs) that tell you how the plant is operating? These could be microbiological tests, such as active protein C resistance (APC) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), 100% completion of periodic equipment cleaning tasks and environmental monitoring results for pathogen indicators.

Based on observations, where are the opportunities for streamlining sanitation before the lines shut down? Did the previous production shift leave the plant a mess? Is the correct chemistry being used for the soils? Are the SSOPs correct? Has a cleaning risk assessment been completed based on the existing equipment and environment?

Are there significant choke points, such as a very long cleaning cycle for a piece of equipment? With a spiral freezer, you may need a defrost step and a full clean-in-place cycle before start-up. That process, however, could exceed the time needed for cleaning other areas. If so, how do you reduce the time of that choke point?

Does the sanitation team have the necessary tools and resources to accomplish an effective cleaning consistently? To reshape a challenged cleaning cycle takes planning, training and practice. Ensure multiple departments offer support while working toward your goals. Having the necessary resources in place and effective teamwork between departments are vital for success.

Once you have developed a new process for cleaning, you need validation consisting of a documented physical inspection where equipment is visibly clean with successful APC and ATP test results on hard-to-clean contact surfaces. This will indicate that the changes made are effective on product contact surfaces. This is only half of the battle, however, because the environment also must be in sanitary condition from a pathogen environmental monitoring perspective. The product contact results and environmental monitoring findings must be within spec for multiple cycles before being considered a success — and then monitored continuously. If the results slip, you must go back to the drawing board.

Assuming all is good, an SSOP update is needed to capture changes to procedures once they are validated as effective.

With an updated SSOP in hand, it is time to train the supervision and sanitors to clean the equipment and the production rooms. The maintenance, quality assurance and operations departments will need to train their employees on the new sanitation cycle. Document the training, and update the employee’s record as being qualified and certified.

Change can be challenging for the entire workforce, so please over-communicate the adjustments and explain why they’re being done through training. Equally important is the need to establish KPIs to show that your process is effective. Once the changes are implemented, delivering and executing consistent, effective and efficient sanitation procedures will become second nature to the teams involved. This is a win-win situation for both food safety and product output.
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