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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Phase IV: From dedicated to continuous clean-up

The organization will need to gauge the process and determine when to begin cross-training teams in clean-up for all shifts. The transition can begin with extended production days and cycling clean-up among the shifts to build competencies in both sanitation and production. As skill levels progress, work cells develop which are capable of conducting all operations. Let’s look at a couple of cases to illustrate.

In a ground meat processing operation, cross-functional work cells reduced total cycle time — shutdown to start-up — to less than three hours. Each member of the work cell went through training in teardown and assembly, sanitation and production. The sequencing of sanitation procedures and self-inspection were established and reinforced daily using work standards and check sheets. The result: a 40 percent increase in productivity and a 25 percent reduction in inventories over two years.

In another case involving an entrée operation, cycle times were reduced by two hours. Assembly and processing specifications were developed for each product and line configuration. Each cell had a “process owner” who was responsible for identifying setup and materials and assigning crew for start-up. Sanitation team members were cross-trained in equipment operation and quality inspection. Within the first year, start-ups were averaging close to 90 minutes before shift changeover.

As skill levels and capacity requirements increase, dedicated third shift cleanup can be replaced with cleanup on demand. Frequencies of cleanups will be determined by either formulation conflicts or microbial activity.

Notice 27-06 underscores the need for a high level of operational sanitation and visual control. Establishments also must routinely evaluate and demonstrate adequate prevention of product contamination or adulteration. Correlating observations of processing conditions and baseline microbial data should be conducted and retested at regular intervals.

A new consumer need, technology or competitor is always on the horizon. Innovation and continuous improvement must be established to avoid becoming another example of the consequences of failing to grasp change.

The more acquainted you are with lean, the more enticing it becomes. Focusing on customer value and voraciously attacking waste are the cornerstones of lean. When a target level of performance is within reach, a higher performance target is established. Thus, lean is a journey and not a destination.

Note to Management

The author chose lean sanitation as a means for introducing the basic concepts of lean management. The tools are pretty straightforward and can be grasped with a modest amount of education.

The benefits make a compelling case for becoming lean — double digit improvements in sales, productivity, inventory turns and ROI are common. However, cherry-picking lean techniques will yield only a fraction of the available benefit. Conducting a couple kaizen events or implementing kanban here or there is not implementing lean.

Lean is a transforming process that requires top executive commitment and company-wide collaboration. Tearing down firmly held beliefs about what customers really want and driving out non-value-added activity in the design, production and delivery of goods and services is a daunting undertaking. But as executives and investors look back on the limited benefits ECR and ERP provided during the past decade, perhaps lean is the critical piece in the equation that is still missing.

Harold Tessman was a plant engineering executive with Tyson Foods and  Rich Products Corp. and was senior vice president of operations at Pinnacle Foods. He now heads consulting firm Lean Partners LLC, where he can be contacted at 479-236-1622 or at

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