Efficiency and Safety Improvements in Food Manufacturing
BY CHRISTINE TORRES
Published June 24, 2021
At a rapid pace, food manufacturers of all types are making long-overdue process upgrades to meet growing demands. It is probably one of the biggest positives from the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, as facilities have had to push progression for safety, compliance, and efficiency. What is being done now to improve processes and how will today’s modernizations evolve for the future? When solid communication combines with strong workplace safety programs in food manufacturing, the result is a chef’s kiss in efficiency.
New Demands and Safety
Food manufacturing conducts frequent audits, and in the past year and a half, some of that has needed to be done remotely. Benefits to remote work: savings on auditor and personnel costs, flexibility, keeping pace with the working world, and fast prep time, according to SafetyChain, a plant management software company.
“Unfortunately, waiting until the threat of the virus is completely gone to have an audit performed could cause your certification to lapse, which could risk the loss of important customers,” said Shamonique Schrick, a food safety and quality assurance specialist at SafetyChain. “In the future, remote audits will likely become more commonplace.” She says remote audits and platforms like SafetyChain help food manufacturers save on costs, keep up certifications, as well as maintain flexibility in keeping pace with the remote working world as demands rise.
The market demand, size, and growth are on a continuous growth pattern fueled by voracious appetites for organic, clean, and healthier foods. This demand is putting ample pressure on established facilities and a trimmed workforce. When facilities are producing in mass and at max speeds, safety and efficiency can fall to the wayside. Throw in some complications for sanitation and disinfection amid a global virus, and it is a recipe for even more disruption.
In a rush or a panic, employees might be tempted to cut corners. That is when accidents can happen. USDA data shows there are more than 30,000 food and beverage manufacturing companies in the U.S. In 2019, there were 49 fatalities in the food manufacturing sectors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the past year, for example, neglecting to follow a simple lockout tagout program, a worker cleaning a mixing machine died when the equipment started. In another incident, a worker failed to wear proper personal protective equipment when handling chemicals and was injured due to asphyxiation.
Some of the common injury activities in the food manufacturing industries are sprains, cuts and tears, fractures and bruises, and thermal burns. This is because workers are in environments that require repetitive and awkward motions, working around wet, cold, or warm areas, and around sharp blades and other types of machinery.
Remind and Communicate
With so many improvements and frequent changes in protocol these days, it is good to communicate with workers and remind them of safety best practices, compliance methods, and sustainment activities for efficiency. Good communication is not only part of improved safety and bottom lines, but also crucial to having a healthy workplace culture.
- Ergonomics: Remind workers to use proper ergonomics and provide tools and resources to support improved body movement. Employee ergonomics training is critical to a safe work environment. Employees must know how to use machinery safely and correctly and understand the company’s safety requirements.
- Chemicals: Cleanliness is vital in food processing, but the chemicals for various activities, including cleanup and sanitation, can be harmful to workers. Employers need to educate employees about safe handling to avoid accidents, exposures, and injuries, such as chemical burns or poisoning.
- Reporting: Audits reduce quality issues and establish strong lines of communications to address inefficiencies quickly. Remote audits need accurate labeling for digital documentation. Start with a risk assessment for biological, chemical, and physical hazards. Document changes since the last audit and focus on critical needs.
To further support safety, compliance, and efficiency goals, signs and symbols are important in food manufacturing and processing. Visual tools such as signs remind workers how to conduct work that meets expectations. Signs and labels can also prevent foodborne illness by notifying workers where to wash hands, when to sanitize what equipment, or locate tools for raw goods. In combination with 5S floor marking, signs even cue traffic, create boundaries around dangerous equipment, and direct workflows. When thorough communication combined with strong safety are on the menu, efficiency is lasting.