Applying Lean to Sanitation

A recent FSIS notice allows for extended time between cleanups; lean sanitation can get you there and safely save you 33 percent in costs.

By Harold Tessman

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Sanitation is a paradox in food processing. Food safety cannot be assured without robust cleaning practices, but sanitation itself adds no value to the product. Dealing with these potentially conflicting objectives is a paramount responsibility for management.

Recognizing there is no “one size fits all” approach to product safety, the USDA commented earlier this year on the opportunities for establishments to revise cleaning practices and extend periods between cleanups.

This clarification on the required frequency of cleanup provides operators with a sizable opportunity to increase capacity utilization by developing alternate sanitation programs and decreasing non-operating hours. The upside is potentially huge — up to a 33 percent gain in capacity and associated reductions in costs, working capital and long-term assets.

FSIS Notice 27-06, issued April 16, summarizes the USDA’s position on extending processing activities and increasing the interval between full cleanups. It states:

To decrease downtime, increase production efficiency and minimize expense, establishments can extend the period between cleanups. However, establishments must … develop, implement and maintain written standard operating procedures for sanitation, and … those sanitation SOPs [must] be effective in preventing direct contamination or adulteration of product.

Notice 27-06 continues by providing further details and basic direction for developing and implementing “alternative cleaning procedures and frequencies.”

Introducing lean sanitation

Some processors have extended run times by conditioning the environment to inhibit bacteria growth and/or producing an item for multiple shifts before conducting sanitation during a changeover. This approach may achieve higher efficiency, but gains are offset by increased inventories, lower flexibility and higher overheads. Employee morale, safety and health also may be negatively affected, leading to increased turnover, absenteeism and occupational injuries.

Applying the tools of lean manufacturing to reduce the complexity and time to complete cleanup is a better approach. We call this Lean Sanitation.

Let’s take a typical processing operation running two shifts five days per week. Utilization of true capacity, defined as 24/7, is less than 45 percent. The key premise of lean is that 80-90 percent of activity is waste. Sanitation is no exception. In our example, value-added sanitation accounts for less than 90 minutes each day.

Now introduce Lean Sanitation to replace dedicated shifts and crews for sanitation, with work cells performing intensive operational sanitation and rapid cleanups as required. Production lot sizes are reduced lowering inventory and increasing responsiveness. Utilization of 24/7 capacity almost doubles to 80 percent.

Four steps of implementation

Figure 1 shows the roadmap for implementing Lean Sanitation. In pre-launch, you need to build consensus and buy-in for the initiative by outlining measurable short-term goals and securing sponsorship from senior management. Approach key members of the organization to discuss the proposal and solicit early input.

Figure 1. Lean Sanitation Roadmap

Figure 1. Lean Sanitation Roadmap.

Lean is multi-functional and requires extensive cooperation and communication among all departments and levels of the organization. Building involvement early in the process will make later stages of the transition easier.

Once the project basics are completed, senior management should announce the initiative through a series of meetings and written notices. Senior management’s visibility throughout the process will reinforce the importance, priority and long-term commitment to the changes.

Assembling the steering team will require some finesse to balance quantity versus quality. On one hand, there is the tendency to include every department and draft the most enthusiastic supporters for the project. On the other hand, too large a group will slow down the process.

It is better to limit the players and pull others in for specific assignments as needed. Adding naysayers to the team will maintain a balanced perspective. The bonus is that as pessimists buy into the program, they become some of its leading proponents.

A lean transformation is a continuous cycle of innovation and standardization. From kick-off and thereafter, the organization will constantly alternate between kaizen improvement events and stabilizing and sustaining activities.

Kaizen, a Japanese word meaning “to make better,” is the innovative component of lean. Kaizen events are organized projects narrowly focused on a specific opportunity and lasting no more than a few days. By keeping the scope of the project small and engaging both the people performing the work and management in kaizen events, breakthrough improvements are routinely achieved.

Work standards are lean’s stabilizing and sustaining element. The principles of work standards in lean differ substantially from the outdated concept of engineered work. In applying standards, we distinguish between controlling and managing. Controlling implies inflexibility, insensitivity and disrespect for other’s knowledge. Managing is a framework for conducting activities while enabling individuals to use their experience and creativity to suggest improvements.

Phase I: Assessing current conditions

The first steps are to develop a detailed understanding of sanitation practices as they “really exist,” to select specific opportunities for improvement and to identify who in the organization needs to be included at each step. Throughout this phase, developing consensus and buy-in is crucial.

Refer to the examples of a flow diagram and a value stream map (VSM) in figures 2 and 3. To develop this documentation, assign members of the team to trace the movement, tasks performed and time to complete each task using 11x17-in. schematics of the area and equipment. Two or three reviews of the entire cycle should be sufficient to collect the necessary information.

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