If there’s something weird, and it don’t look good, who ya gonna call? Not Ghostbusters. Instead, turn to the people who are making it.

“Employees are the best brains you have in any plant because they work with the equipment,” said Kambiz Zarrabi, managing director, Blue Coast Bakers. “I call them the DNA of the operation.”

Mr. Zarrabi turned to line operators who discovered a way to reduce scrap on the bakery’s lamination line to 1.5% from 7%.

At J&J Snack Foods, employees have made several novel changes to reduce waste in its facilities.

“Engineering might not come up with the approach,” said Gerard Law, senior vice-president and assistant to the president. “It comes from people working with the dough every day that reveals a new solution.”

Hearthside Food Solutions relies on hourly employees for everything from improving yield and throughput to something as simple as finding a way to better release a product off the belt, said Rich Scalise, chairman and chief executive officer. The company has a suggestion box and continuous improvement teams. It rewards staff for ideas that ultimately improve the company.

“The more interaction we have with our maintenance and floor associates, the better for our company,” he said. “That’s why we have built-in processes and structure for improving how we do things.”

Improvement starts with a culture of employee engagement, noted Joe Turano, president, Turano Baking. The company provides various forums for employees to share ideas for making the bakery better.

When Alvarado Street Bakery moved into its larger bakery eight years ago, the cooperative naturally turned to employees to lay out the design of the bakery to gain efficiencies throughout the operation.

“The distribution work group figured out fleet parking and how to load trucks in the morning in the dark,” said Mr. Girkout, president and c.e.o. “The administration group reconfigured the bakery’s work stations to put them in the most efficient formats to best reflect what we need now and moving forward. Each work group’s expertise was sought. Everyone has an opportunity to provide input.”

The work groups also are involved in capital spending decisions. For energy efficiency, Mr. Girkout added, the cooperative’s owner-employees decided to put solar panels on the facility.