Food Safety: HACCP's most underemphasized prerequisite

December 1, 2008
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Electronic maintenance management system helps ensure food safety.

Preventive maintenance is acknowledged as one of the basic HACCP prerequisites, but it may also be the most underemphasized of all. Although every food, beverage and ingredient processor has a maintenance manager or plant engineer and support personnel, not every operation manages its maintenance program properly.  Many processors still keep hard copy records and manage planning and assignments based on reviewing them. While utilizing hard copy records and managing a preventive maintenance program this way is not unsafe, there is a better way.

Electronic maintenance management programs have many benefits. For example, once the system has been populated, electronic maintenance management systems can: prompt people when maintenance is due, schedule the work, track progress, monitor parts usage and inventory, provide step-by-step work maintenance instructions for each piece, determine how long tasks took and track costs.

Many companies have rolled calibration programs for process monitoring equipment into the maintenance management system.  Some have terminals that allow mechanics, electricians or other maintenance staff members to access the system not only to collect their assignments, but to enter data that indicates work has been completed. This allows the maintenance manager to truly manage the program. In fact, many managers take on the role of both manager and record reviewer; they verify the work has actually been done.

However, a significant percentage of companies have barely scratched the surface with maintenance management systems because it takes a great deal of time and effort to keep the system up and running. Consider how many pieces of equipment, support systems (boilers, compressors and ventilation systems) and monitoring or control devices there are in even a small plant. Each of these units must be entered into the system, and with most units, there are at least two or more levels of maintenance. For example, a filling machine might be scheduled for complete maintenance once a year, but there may also be weekly, monthly and quarterly scheduled work. Simply entering the schedules for each is a significant task.

But if a company makes the commitment to fully and properly utilize the system, its benefits can be applied companywide. Perhaps one of the best examples is that the system allows the company to understand exactly how much it costs to operate each piece of equipment. This provides management with valuable information when buying new equipment or designing programs to optimize efficiencies. Some systems have the capability of capturing hours and costs for both preventive and emergency maintenance, the cost of parts, the time and cost for lubrication and other activities including downtime.  This allows the maintenance manager to present management with accurate information on not only how much it costs to operate each piece of equipment, but each processing line.

There are many different maintenance management programs from which to choose. Not only can they help ensure your processing systems are operating properly and your food production is safe, they can also help your company fully understand the costs of operating these systems.

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