In the modern era of mass distribution, 24-hour news cycles and complex supply chains, food and beverage
(F&B) manufacturers are under a dizzying
array of safety regulations and operational
pressures. In response to a growing
number of foodborne illness outbreaks,
the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011
was passed to shift efforts from post-contamination management to foodborne
illness outbreak prevention.
The stakes related to contamination
outbreaks are high. Contamination can
cause long-term brand damage, cost
hundreds of thousands of dollars in recalls
and invite lawsuits. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention estimates that
48 million people get sick, 128,000 are
hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne
diseases in the United States each year.
Clearly, there’s room for improvement and
increased food safety.
While F&B manufacturers must comply
with food safety regulations, they are
still under incredible market pressure to
operate efficiently and increase profits.
Productivity improvements — such as
extensive automation that leaves fewer
workers on the production line — have
driven down costs, but, in many instances,
have sub-optimized the sanitation function.
Fewer operators running more machines
reduces labor available to efficiently
Striking a balance between effectiveness
and efficiency is critical to success. To
be effective, companies must fully and
correctly complete the steps required
for proper line sanitation to minimize
the risk of contamination. Efficiency
requires conducting these processes with
minimal disruption to the operation, and
without negatively impacting production
performance. Effectiveness and efficiency
need not be enemies. With the right
strategy, Key Performance Indicators,
execution and operational improvements,
F&B manufacturers can have their cake
and eat it too.
The Sanitation Challenge
Line sanitation is a relatively
infrequent, but very manual process.
In terms of production, it’s a non-core
activity, yet critically important. If it’s
conducted incompletely or incorrectly, the
consequences can be devastating for the
business, the brand and customers. When
sanitation is conducted properly, the result
is a safe and quality product, increased
production uptime and, potentially, more
The tricky part is that the margin of
error between a successful and
unsuccessful sanitation cycle can be
razor-thin. Ideally, sanitation should be
conducted completely and correctly at
the greatest possible speed.
The challenge lies in some
manufacturers’ view of the sanitation
process as a production-halting event that
occurs on a relatively infrequent basis and
is an outlier. Sanitation should be viewed
as part of the regular operation — a fully
planned, managed and measured activity
that is pursued with the same structure
and vigor as everyday production.
The Path to Better
Waste Reduction and
The goal is simple: achieve effective
wash, avoid waste and continuously
improve the process. By doing these three
things, you can ensure food safety without
compromising operational effectiveness.
To accomplish this, the sanitation team
starts by tracking the sanitation cycle
step by step to establish a baseline. There
are three levels of sanitation operations,
each progressing in sophistication and
complexity, and achieving a higher level
of results. The levels proceed from less
complex/more frequent to more complex/
Sanitation leaders must establish a
sanitation management system to plan,
coordinate activities, control movement of
operators and materials, and record and
report performance to upper management.
It’s critical for the operators/sanitors to
understand the steps and expectations of
the specific job. To assess if the sanitation
process has been mastered at this level,
manufacturers should be able to respond in
the affirmative to these questions:
• Does everyone on the plant floor
understand their role in the sanitation
• Has everyone on the plant floor been
trained on how to perform their role in
the sanitation process?
• Is there a documented list of steps for
sanitizing each machine?
• Is there a documented cleaning
checklist that is used to follow and verify
• Are the required cleaning utensils, tools
and chemicals documented, staged and
The basics — who, what and when —
should be in play at this level.
After establishing a baseline, the
team should be ready for Level 2, which
incorporates incremental improvement
where operators have a “stop-the-wash”
mentality when they encounter a defect.
Operators are actively engaged in the
process, recognize defects that may occur
and work as a team to identify root cause,
pinpoint solutions, adjust the process
as needed, subsequently update the
standard and retrain the team. Some food
processors will recognize this as the tried-and-true PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle
used during production hours.
Level 3 incorporates the highest level
of sophistication and reflects a step-
change improvement in the approach
By Ted Curry, Manager, Myrtle Consulting Group