Guidelines for Optimizing a Sanitation Program for Food Processing

Foodborne illness is a common and costly—yet preventable—public health problem. CDC estimatesthat one in six Americans gets sick from contaminated foods or beverages each year, with 3,000 deaths. USDA estimates that foodborne pathogens impose over $15 billion in economic burden annually. Food and beverage manufacturers have set effective sanitation practices as a top priority to prevent foodborne illnesses and protect public health, along with complying with FDA regulations. However, due to day-to-day customer demands, equipment reliability issues, personnel issues, and quality concerns among many others, there is very little time to focus on ensuring each sanitationcycle is effective and efficient.

Ineffective sanitation practices are a result of inadequate cleaning methods, lack of standard cleaning tasks, lack of an understanding of how to execute the job, and personnel lacking the right materials or tools to perform the job. Inefficient sanitation often occurs when the sanitation cycle takes longer than planned, resulting in reduced productivity and low utilization of an organization’s assets due to rework (known in the industry as a re-clean) to swab and test equipment again because it didn’t pass post-operation sampling. With repeated instances of ineffective sanitation practices, it is only a matter of time before a food safety risk detonates into a reality.

Myriad reasons contribute to ineffective and inefficient sanitation practices, including:

  • Employees spending large amounts of time looking for tools and materials;
  • A lack of a streamlined and well-defined process, resulting in poorly coordinated execution; and
  • Employees having to wait for equipment to shut down or for other employees to finish their tasks before starting sanitation procedures.
  • The following three guidelines provide a basis for building the foundational elements to optimize a sanitation program that fully leverages time and resources and ensures that equipment is performing at maximum capacity.

I. Use SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies) Principles to Streamline and Optimize the Process. SMED is a lean technique where the premise is equal to the Formula-1 racing pit stop mentality. The objective is to get the car back to racing as safely and quickly as possible. This mentality should be the equivalent of the time it takes to perform sanitation and get a production line up and running in the safest, most effective, and most efficient manner.

Using SMED principles will make each sanitation cycle more structured, repeatable, and easier.

SMED consists of seven steps, which can be applied to any sanitation process.

1. Measure the process. First, you must have a clear understanding of all cleaning requirements, such as which assets must be cleaned and what exactly must be done to ensure each asset is thoroughly cleaned. When measuring, you must start by observing the process and documenting assets or areas to be sanitized, who performs each task, steps to perform each task, and the time it takes to complete each task. A Gantt chart should be used to perform this first step and should be used as a baseline to start implementing your improvement efforts.

2. Determine and separate the internal and external steps. Internal steps are those that can be done only with the equipment stopped. External steps can be done while the equipment is working. In the Gantt chart, next to each task, indicate whether it is internal or external. Once you have identified all external and internal activities, the process will need to be refined with the objective of performing all external activities before shutdown. Some of these activities include staging cleaning carts, ensuring all cleaning supplies are readily available, ensuring water temperature is adequate, and preparing standard cleaning cards for personnel involved in the sanitation process.

3. Create parallel activities. Sometimes multiple employees perform sanitation activities in parallel. The goal is to perform simultaneous activities throughout the process to prevent employees needing to wait for another employee to complete a task before starting another job. For example, if two assets require a hot temperature washdown and each asset takes one hour to wash down, it takes a total of two hours to wash down both assets. By installing another high-pressure hose, you could reduce the cycle time to one hour to wash down both assets.

4. Reduce internal steps. This consists of improving the efficiency and execution of all internal tasks. Start by exploring the option of purchasing cleaning tools that will reduce labor efforts. Those may include handheld foamers and spray devices, foam tanks, foam carts, and cleaning carts to prevent employees from excessive walking to gather cleaning tools.

Centerlining is an excellent methodology for expediting setup time and achieving vertical start-ups. Parts color-coding and hard stops are another way to optimize setup times.

5. Reduce external steps. Similar to the reduction of internal steps, you’ll need to reduce external steps by moving all necessary items as close as possible to their location of use, ensuring all materials needed are available in sufficient quantity and appropriately stored (e.g., the 5S method, see sidebar below for more information), displaying setup kits on the machine or on tool boards or carts dedicated to the setup, and using a preparation checklist (to be included in the setup standard).

There is no limit to creativity when it comes to finding new ways to make internal and external steps more efficient.

6. Test and verify the new process. Once the new method is refined, it is now time to test, validate, and improve the new process. Start by observing the process once again. Make sure you have sequenced all tasks appropriately, adequately categorized internal and external activities, verified that all non-value activities have not been re-introduced, and most importantly, that you refine the process as you uncover additional opportunities for improvement.

7. Standardize the new process. Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, famously said, “Without standards, there can be no kaizen (continuous improvement).”

After the new process is established, develop standard work for each one of the tasks required. Standard work routines will ensure that the work is done the same way every time and will not only drive efficiency in the sanitation process, but also effectiveness to make sure the job is done right the first time. Standard work routines must include lock-out tag-out procedures, safety considerations, tools to be used, chemicals and cleaning materials, and steps to perform each task. Standard work routines must be as visual as possible. Pictures are a great method for visually depicting critical points.

After sanitation standard routines are developed, it is critical to ensure the workforce is appropriately trained. It is quite common to hear that standard operating procedures are in a binder somewhere in a cabinet collecting dust. There’s a lot of truth in the age-old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Standard work routines must be as visible and accessible as possible.

II. Implement a Sanitation Management System. Management consultant, educator, and author Peter Drucker, who contributed to the foundations of the modern business corporation, is credited with one of the most important quotes in business management: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Once the new sanitation process is implemented, you must measure its effectiveness to determine if you have reaped the benefits of your efforts.

Sanitation procedures should be treated like the large-scale downtime events that they are and as a practice that if not done correctly, will put public health at risk. Thus, a Sanitation Management Operating System (SMOS) should be installed. The SMOS is a closed-loop process that allows the team to plan, prepare, align, monitor/control, report, and improve sanitation cycles.

The following meetings and tools can be utilized as part of an SMOS.

Pre-sanitation preparation meeting. The objective of this meeting is to review and discuss improvements or changes that have been implemented since the previous sanitation cycle, production cutoff times to determine what and when sanitation preparation activities will take place, food safety considerations for the upcoming sanitation cycle, and workforce availability and assignments.

Sanitation visual board. This is used to monitor sanitation cycle time on a short interval control basis. Also, the sanitation visual board can be used for other items such as communication of assignments, pending corrective actions from previous sanitation cycles, and discussion of the performance of prior sanitation cycles. The sanitation visual board is a strong visual aid during sanitation shift pass-on meetings.

Sanitation shift pass-on meeting. The objective of this meeting is for leads and supervisors to review and discuss the status of the sanitation efforts, watch-outs, or areas that require extra cleaning, as well as any challenges presented during the previous shift.

Sanitation post-mortem meeting. Sanitation performance is reviewed through measures such as actual sanitation cycle time versus planned cycle time, number of re-cleans, microbial loads, labor hours, and setup and start-up times.

III. Use Kaizen Events as a Platform to Continuously Improve. Who better to help make improvements than those who execute the work? The philosophy of kaizen is to involve all employees in making small, incremental improvements in their work areas every day while giving the process owners the tools to continually improve the process, resulting in the removal of time and resource waste.

Kaizen events is a proven technique that will accelerate improvements and change while gaining employee support and buy-in.

The first step is to develop a kaizen charter to define the problem and scope, determine the impact to business and target, identify team members, and set the schedule. This is followed by training to teach the team basic lean techniques and, most importantly, the principles of SMED, 5S, and standard work. After everyone is trained, sanitation must be observed to identify variances in the process and standard work routines or to identify improvements.

Once observation is completed, the team will brainstorm and prioritize ideas for improvement. The idea is to implement most of the ideas during the kaizen event, but action items will be captured for those ideas that require more time to implement. It will be critical to define and agree to a kaizenfollow-up strategy to ensure completion of all action items.

Finally, we must measure the results and celebrate the victories!

Sanitation improvement efforts are not a one-and-done event. A process management operating system and kaizen execution require a structured, disciplined approach where sponsorship and follow-up from upper management are paramount.