End-of-season maintenance at packhouses and fresh produce processing facilities plays an integral role in food safety and should therefore be carried out systematically. So writes Linda Jackson, a director at Food Focus, which advises the local food industry on occupational health and safety, environmental management, and corporate social responsibility.
Make hay while the sun shines’ would probably describe the operational strategy of most agricultural operations such as fruit or vegetable packhouses and produce processing facilities.
During the season, production comes first, and maintenance activities simply have to wait until the crop has been fully processed.
This end-of-season approach seems to contradict the preventative maintenance system most often associated with food safety management systems.But the good news is that end-of-season maintenance can be preventive in nature, provided the programme is well-planned, coordinated and executed.
Stage 1: plan for the shutdown
The great US statesman and scientist, Benjamin Franklin, was supposed to have said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Despite a lengthy off-season (up to several months in some cases), which should allow more than adequate time for effective maintenance, starting up again often looms with much of the maintenance unfinished.
Here’s how to address this problem:
Stage 2: Get the order right
The team available determines the order in which things will be done, and assigns responsibility for tasks. The order of start-up is also essential in determining the order of maintenance. Here is a useful list:
Stage 3: Use the correct tools
To save time, it is important to clearly communicate to all employees the details of the shutdown and the requirements for maintaining hygiene.
A key factor here will be the use of appropriately certified food-safe lubricants in areas of the plant where incidental food contact could occur.
Ensure that the products you use meet international standards, are prudent from a health and safety perspective, satisfy HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control point) criteria, and are certified as suitable for use in a food facility.
As an example, one such certification scheme uses the following classifications for food-grade lubricants and releasing agents:
Stage 4: shut the plant down
At this stage, the team can commence with shutdown. Bear in mind that when a shutdown involves clean rooms or a hazardous environment, it may be necessary to develop site maps and signage, which are updated daily, to inform employees and others about areas that are off-limits.
As an extra precaution, use security personnel to monitor critical access points, and keep the following in mind:
Stage 5: Starting up again
Here the team should be able to celebrate a series of small successes as the systems are started up and (hopefully) begin to run smoothly again. This phase is the ‘moment of truth’, so make sure that all issues are completely resolved. Remember that no errors are insignificant, or without consequence.
There are two steps in this final stage. First, carry out an inspection of all equipment that will be in contact with products and could not be inspected during shutdown.
Second, arrange for the food safety staff and a health and safety team to conduct a complete and thorough inspection to ensure that the plant is ready for both products and employees.
The plant is now ready to resume operation.
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