Maintenance Tips and Best Practices for Food Manufacturers
In order to cope with the above challenges, there are a number of best practices food manufacturers should employ. The following tips can help you better comply with CGMPs.
Invest in training
According to a study conducted by ERG (Eastern Research Group) under the FDA, one of the top-ranked food safety problems was insufficient employee training.
Maintenance personnel should be trained on current best practices when it comes to food safety, occupational safety, and quality control. In addition, they should be made aware of why it’s important and how it helps them and the business as a whole. This training shouldn’t be done only once either—regular training meetings can help solidify best practices within your maintenance team.
Sanitation is vital to food manufacturing, and that means your maintenance team needs to make sure they keep up on regular washing and hygiene. In particular, maintenance personnel need to:
- Wash their hands before entering a food processing area and after eating, using the restroom, etc.
- Avoid placing greasy or dirty hands on surfaces that make contact with foodstuffs.
- Clean equipment after completing repairs.
The purpose is to make sure germs, dirt, debris, and other contaminants don’t come into contact with your product.
Include health questionnaires
Sneezing, coughing, or open sores can be a health hazard in any working environment, but they are especially risky in food production. To avoid the spread of disease to foodstuffs, it may be a good idea to require personnel to fill out a health questionnaire when they report for work each day, particularly if you have a larger operation with many maintenance workers or contractors.
Use coveralls and other coverings
Coveralls and jumpsuits can help prevent clothing from getting caught in machinery, but they also help prevent contaminants that may be present on workers’ clothing from mingling with the product. Other items such as gloves, shoe covers, hairnets, and beard snoods can also be invaluable when it comes to preventing contamination when working on equipment.
Cover work areas
Some maintenance tasks involve creating dust or debris. While the ideal situation would be to perform these tasks away from the main production line, that’s not always possible. In those cases, the work area or the machine itself should be covered in order to prevent debris from coming into contact with food production surfaces.
Use food-grade materials
Food-grade materials should be used in building and maintaining machines. For instance, when lubricating food processing machines, only food-grade lubricants should be applied to the machinery. When installing guards or surfaces, stainless steel is ideal, and slopes should be used where appropriate to facilitate draining.
Incorporate sensors and condition monitoring
Given the large variety of highly complex machines used in food processing and packaging, installing sensors for condition monitoring can yield massive cost savings long term. Doing so makes diagnostics easier, reduces the time devoted to routine inspections, and cuts down on the level of specialized training that’s needed.
With condition monitoring, it becomes easier to keep machinery in good working condition, since the level of expertise needed to diagnose problems goes down. Maintenance as a whole becomes more efficient as a result.
Account for planned downtime
In any continuous process, it can be difficult to find time to perform routine maintenance tasks. For this reason, it’s important to take special care to plan maintenance tasks for times when the equipment doesn’t need to be running. When it comes to recurring tasks, that can be tricky, especially given the strict timelines on many such tasks. As such, take some time to account for planned downtime periods when creating a PM plan for your facility.
Create a policy for temporary repairs
Finally, you need a policy for temporary repairs. They are not suitable for areas that come into contact with food products, and they should be used only until proper repairs can be made. Put that policy in writing, and make sure your crew is familiar with it (as well as why it’s important).
Creating a PM Program for Food Manufacturing Facilities
To create an effective preventive maintenance program for your food production plant, follow these steps.
1. Take inventory of your facility
First, take a thorough inventory of the equipment and other assets in your facility. The items that should be on this list include, but aren’t necessarily limited to:
- Food processing equipment
- Temperature control units
- HVAC systems
- Storage silos
- Mobile equipment
- Building/structural elements
It’s worth taking the time to inventory your entire facility since doing so will give you the clearest picture possible of the scope of your facility’s maintenance plan.
2. Assess the criticality and risk of each piece of equipment
Once you have a list, it’s time to prioritize your equipment based on criticality and risk. Naturally, food processing machines will often be a high priority since if they break down, they could cause significant losses.
However, anything that poses a significant risk in terms of food safety, occupational hazards, or downtime should be taken seriously, particularly if there’s a moderate to high chance of it occurring. On the other hand, improbable failure modes that would have only a moderate impact likely won’t be as high priority.
The age of equipment may also come into play here. Given that equipment in most food manufacturing facilities tends to be over 20 years old, age-related wear and tear are likely to be an issue.
3. Identify failure modes
With a prioritized list of assets, it’s time to identify specific failure modes, particularly those that are either likely to occur or which would cause significant losses. As with your asset inventory, it’s important to make sure you’re thorough with this step, since it will help you make your preventive maintenance plan more comprehensive.
4. Plan maintenance tasks to prevent failure modes
Your list of failure modes will naturally inform the kinds of preventive maintenance tasks you’ll plan for each asset. Each task should address specific failure modes. If they don’t, they’re probably a waste of time.
In this step, it’s not only important to create a list of tasks, but also to plan the timing as well. For instance, if the bearings in a mixer tend to wear out after a set number of cycles, that will let you know to perform inspections within that interval of time.
Often, your maintenance plan for a given asset may involve condition monitoring. Incorporating CBM into your maintenance strategy can help improve the reliability of key food processing equipment.
5. Enter data into your CMMS
With plans for the types of tasks to be performed on each asset and their frequency, it’s time to input that data into your CMMS. Having your system automatically generate recurring work orders at set intervals can help ease the administrative burdens of handling maintenance work in such a complex, fast-paced environment.
6. Track results and make improvements
No maintenance plan should be “set it and forget it.” Odds are, you won’t have everything planned out perfectly right from the start—nor should you let perfection get in the way of getting a plan in place. That doesn’t mean you implement your PM plan haphazardly, of course, but it does mean that continuous improvement is key to a successful program.
Keep monitoring the data through your CMMS, and make improvements as appropriate. Potential improvements you might make over time include:
- Updating PM frequencies to match those of recurring failure modes.
- Updating your program to align with CGMPs and changes to federal regulations.
- Implement sensors and PdM technology.
- Adjust tasks to better reflect actual issues in your facility.
The key is to make sure work happens where and when it needs to.
In spite of the challenges, it is possible to implement a sound preventive maintenance program in food manufacturing. Solid planning, consistent training, and modern technologies can help food manufacturers maintain a clean, safe, and reliable facility.
The food manufacturing industry has many unique challenges that necessitate a solid reliability plan. However, those very challenges can make the maintenance tasks needed to uphold reliability difficult. As such, it’s important for food manufacturers to make sure they follow best practices when implementing a PM program.
What Role Does Maintenance Play in Food Manufacturing?
In food manufacturing, maintenance supports various key objectives, a number of which are unique to food production. Among the roles that maintenance plays in food manufacturing are the following.
Keep production going
Like any other industry, one of the key roles of maintenance in food production is to keep processes going without unplanned downtime. The better that food and beverage manufacturers keep up on their equipment upkeep, the lower the chances will be that their processes are interrupted by a breakdown.
Most industries need to make sure their products are safe to use, but for the food industry, product safety is an even higher priority. Given that people eat and drink the items that leave their facilities, food manufacturers need to be absolutely certain that everything they produce is completely unspoiled and free of harmful contaminants.
Keeping production line equipment in good condition helps prevent contamination while making sure foodstuffs come off their line properly prepared for consumption.
Reduce lost products
Whenever equipment breaks down in a food manufacturing facility, it puts the product itself at risk. The longer food is left to sit out, the higher the chances they will have to be discarded, due to spoils. For products that have strict temperature control requirements, the likelihood of food going bad increases. In a facility that produces thousands of pounds of product every day, that can result in massive losses in addition to the reduced production time.
Naturally, preventing breakdowns with preventive maintenance can all but eliminate these losses.
Maintain regulatory compliance
Given the fact that people ingest the products that come out of food factories, there are many strict regulations that manufacturers in this industry must comply with. Failing to comply with those standards results in hefty fines, as well as a lost reputation as a manufacturer.
Maintenance work helps keep machines in a state that complies with federal standards, such as the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs).
Common Maintenance Challenges in Food Manufacturing
Food manufacturing faces a number of challenges that most other industries don’t have to deal with, at least to the same extent. These challenges include the following.
Strict regulations to follow
Like other industries, food manufacturers have to comply with standards, such as those set forth by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, they also have a number of other regulations to keep up with, including standards from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Inspections can happen at any time, so the facility needs to always be kept in strict compliance. In addition, these standards can change from time to time, with the level of scrutiny and strictness generally increasing as time progresses.
Cleanliness standards and wet environments
To keep up with federal regulations and prevent contamination, food factories need to be kept spotlessly clean. Everything from random debris to flakes of rust and paint need to be kept clear from foodstuffs, in order to make sure the product is completely safe for consumption, so frequent cleaning is vital to a food manufacturer’s operations.
However, as hard as this may be on its own, it can also introduce additional difficulty by creating a wet environment. Equipment must be designed and built to withstand these environments, such as by using only food-grade stainless steel, but the issues don’t stop there. High-pressure washers used to clean equipment can strip coatings on machines and cause injuries to employees, and the wet environment itself often poses a slip-and-fall hazard.
Aside from the challenges of keeping equipment clean, they also need to be working at all times. The machines used in continuous food manufacturing processes are often highly complex, and there’s very often a need for specialized training to diagnose problems with each individual piece of equipment.
For instance, one machine may have programmable internal logic while another might be hardwired. When something goes wrong, knowing which type of logic a machine uses is just as important as being familiar with its moving parts, but that’s only useful if a technician has had dedicated training with that specific piece of equipment.
Given how many machines are used in these production lines, that can result in fairly high personnel costs. Alternatively, condition monitoring and predictive maintenance can reduce those expenses, but those have their own upfront costs as well.
The difficulty of maintaining food production equipment is only compounded by the fact that it is often used as part of a continuous process. Finding the right time to perform inspections or routine maintenance might be difficult when different tasks have their own schedules. Again, condition monitoring can help here, but the actual work of maintenance still needs to be done when machines are offline. Naturally, careful maintenance planning and strict LOTO procedures are crucial.
Additionally, the more machines that are added to a production line, the higher the odds of a breakdown, thus causing the whole line to halt.
Along with the downtime caused by breakdowns, the product itself is at risk if the equipment goes offline. Some machines need to be serviced quickly, in order to prevent as much losses as possible, but at times, that may not be possible.
As such, routine maintenance often needs to be planned for times when the equipment is not running, so that foodstuffs aren’t left to spoil. Additionally, maintenance processes shouldn’t put the product at risk for contamination.
Stringent quality control
Quality control is key when it comes to food production. In addition to making sure food products are safe for consumption, QC issues such as making sure it has the right flavor, avoiding damage to the packaging, and so forth are all vital.
Given how many machines are used in these processes, the amount of QC needed tends to be very high. Even something as simple as adding packaging machines to the end of the production line can massively increase the number of failsafes and controls needed in the process.