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FOOD SAFETY: Preventive Maintenance is good business

April 11, 2003
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Building food safety into your operations will provide paybacks to your company. Some food safety professionals seem to forget that we are in the food business. Besides producing foods that are safe and wholesome, we need to work together to assure that companies make money. I believe that managers need to look at food safety, quality and sanitation programs as “cost savings centers,” not cost centers.

One of the prerequisite programs for HACCP is preventive maintenance. Although HACCP has given preventive maintenance programs a higher profile, they should have been an integral part of your operations from the start. This applies not just to the food industry, but to any business. The importance of preventive maintenance and equipment made national headlines during the first week of April. Someone at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport forgot to make sure that one of the scanners at the security checkpoint was working properly. When the error was detected, all passengers had to be cleared from the terminal and sent through security again. You may say, “That is not the food industry,” but I have seen similar occurrences in food plants. Operators can forget to turn on a unit or even may turn something off if it begins to act funny, such as a metal detector which suddenly begins kicking out product. The action should have been to determine why there were so many kickouts, not make the assumption the unit was misbehaving. Making sure something is working (and turned on) is part of the overall maintenance program.

Management must communicate to staff that HACCP and its prerequisites are a top priority. Only then can both the plant and maintenance staffs ensure that the program is in place and is working properly. Line workers, supervisors and equipment operators must understand that it is part of their job to report problems or impending problems. These are the people who work with the equipment or lines day in and day out, so they should know when a unit’s performance changes— be it a vibration, sound, etc. Whenever there is a problem, they must inform their supervisors immediately. Being safe instead of sorry can save downtime, potential damage to the unit, and help assure food safety.

At the heart of the preventive maintenance program are the men and women who maintain the equipment. They are often the most stubborn people in the plant and believe (usually rightly so) that they can fix anything. Plant management needs to work with the maintenance staff to develop regular schedules for routine maintenance. Another important step is to have the maintenance staff document whatever they do—be it routine work or a major repair. The records may be on paper or in electronic form, but they should include not only what was done, but how long the project took. The maintenance record may now be used as a tool to assure that the equipment has been maintained as required in a HACCP program, or it may also be used to document how an individual unit is performing.

As noted above, mechanics, electricians and plant engineers believe that they can fix anything, and often relish the challenge of keeping a balky unit running. If you can go into your records and show these individuals how much time and effort has gone into a piece of equipment, you have a tool that can be used to support the purchase of new systems. Russ Grant, director of facility services at Rich Seapak in Brunswick, Georgia, has seen how good documentation has made believers out of the maintenance staff. The factory records are kept in a CMMS (computerized maintenance management systems) and are used to not only demonstrate that it is time to replace something, but which systems are a better buy. As in the movie Jerry Maquire, Rich Seapak feels that good documentation helps to “show them the money!”

Preventive maintenance should be an integral part of every food processor’s daily operations. It is a program that can help reduce downtime, prevent or minimize equipment damage, extend the life of your systems and be used to evaluate equipment performance for forward planning and systems upgrades. It is a true cost-savings center.

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