In the heavily regulated food and beverage industry, it’s essential that companies supply safe products for consumption. Simply put, food and beverage producers have the power – and responsibility – to reduce a preventable health burden. Consider that each year in the United States alone, nearly 48 million people (1 in 6) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No wonder Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to recalibrate focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them. As the global food system contributes to a significant public health concern, this act is meant to help prevent contamination.
For food and beverage producers, preventive maintenance is key to delivering this goal. By ensuring that equipment and facilities are in good condition and running without fail, companies can prevent food safety issues and satisfy regulatory standards.
The need to satisfy food safety regulations
The food and beverage industry is subject to strict regulations from government bodies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These and other regulators around the world don’t mandate how companies should operate their equipment and facilities. However, they are clear in the expectation that companies should operate in a way that prevents food contamination and safety risks. Compliance failures can result in legal action, fines, and even the closure of facilities.
Preventive maintenance is hampered by paperwork
That’s where preventive maintenance comes into play. Preventive maintenance ensures that equipment is maintained and serviced regularly, such as through regular cleaning, lubrication, part replacement, and repairs. This practice helps reduce the likelihood of equipment breakdowns and malfunctions that could compromise the safety of the food and beverages being produced.
Unfortunately, many companies are challenged to operate at this level because they still use paper work orders in their preventive maintenance program. This approach is proving unworkable in the face of labor shortages and growing safety regulations.
Relying upon paper-based work orders constrains a limited staff’s ability to sustain regular preventive maintenance tasks – especially in high-production environments featuring numerous specialized machines. As the backlog of tasks piles up, equipment breakdowns occur more frequently.
Preventable food safety scenarios
While these production disruptions cost money, they also pose the risk of non-compliance with regulations designed to ensure safe food production. Consider these common – yet preventable – scenarios.
Foreign objects such as metal and plastic can break off equipment and fall into food. This happened at a baked-goods facility, prompting the FDA to issue a warning letter. Specifically, the mesh-belt conveyor carrying bagels through the proofer was missing pieces that matched the shape and size associated with customer complaints. In addition, metal spikes were broken or missing from the metal aerator that perforates in-process dough, and the facility lacked any measure to detect metal in the baked goods.
Pump shafts can leak. When pump gaskets are installed or replaced improperly, are the wrong size, or are simply old, food can leak out the shaft. If not caught and corrected promptly, contamination is possible.
Metal detector alarms can go off for no apparent reason. While trained equipment operators or quality control technicians can determine whether it’s safe to resume operations, a recurring issue can go unnoticed when it happens across different shifts. Such an oversight can easily cause food or beverage contamination.
With a robust preventive maintenance program in place, such scenarios do not need to end in food safety issues. However, limited staff without the right tools will struggle to address these everyday occurrences.
Mobility is the answer
Companies are enabling their current staff to efficiently and effectively execute preventive tasks by equipping them with mobile maintenance apps that streamline daily work.
Consider the real-world example of a Sigga customer. One of the world's largest dairy products manufacturers, this company wanted to increase maintenance efficiency and system uptime in its clean production environment. Before entering the production area, the company’s maintenance technicians spend 15 minutes tagging in.
Their days were bogged down by an unnecessarily time-consuming process whenever they discovered that they didn’t have the right parts or they needed instructions for a repair. In such cases, they had to leave the clean environment, enter an office, find, and print the necessary information from SAP Preventive Maintenance (PM) – or enter a materials request – and then disinfect and re-suit before returning to the production facility.
Once the company supplied their technicians with the Sigga mobile maintenance app for SAP PM, they gained 2.5 hours per employee each day at one site alone. That’s because the app eliminated the need to leave the environment. The technicians now have instant access to the information they need wherever they are. This includes repair instructions, materials request and stock check, plus ability to send a notification for approval, then access the new work order without ever leaving the work area.
Equip maintenance technicians to succeed
Preventing issues is always preferable to addressing them after the fact. When it comes to food safety, no statement could be truer, which is why food and beverage producers are seeking to enhance their preventive maintenance capabilities. By taking advantage of Sigga’s mobile maintenance app, they can more efficiently and consistently ensure their equipment runs as needed to reduce food safety risks. In addition, the mobile app automatically maintains SAP with the data needed to prove compliance to safety regulations.