Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are the mainstay of any manufacturing operations, chemical, mining, automotive, etc., but for the purposes of this discussion, the focus will be on food operations. SOPs differ from cGMP’s (current Good Manufacturing Practices) in that one comprises detailed work instructions, and the other is a list of “do’s and don’ts.”
Explore this issueAugust/September 2006
Standard operating work instructions are beneficial, regardless of the complexity or simplicity of the process. SOPs are also beneficial for standardization of work between hourly associates, between shifts or between different branch plants. Keep in mind that every plant branch may have some particular characteristics that may require fine-tuning of corporate derived SOPs, even if using the same manufacturing equipment. SOPs can be used to ensure that management clearly knows what they want done and how to do it. In order to write an SOP, managers must clearly know the process. Often it is helpful to have experienced workers give input on the best ways to perform tasks.
Written SOPs can benefit in disciplining troublesome employees. In one particular facility, an hourly associate was going to be suspended for an action he had taken. However, he was able to claim he had never been told that particular action was not to be taken, and the company had no records to validate.
In industries which operate under ISO requirements, all procedures will be written in great detail, for both safe equipment operation, and the actual manufacturing process, following formulations and step-by-step recipes.
Thirty years ago, there were four types of records; shipping and receiving, production, personnel and QC (quality control). Nowadays, records comprise of the above and include HACCP, recall programs, preventive maintenance, cleaning and sanitation, cGMPs, SPC if applicable (Statistical Process Control) and security protocols.
Many of these programs may be required by regulatory agencies or large customers, while others can stand on their own merit. In the case of HACCP and recall programs, there can be assigned responsibilities for managers in crisis management teams, up to and including who has authority to talk to the media.
Standardized work instructions and SOPs can function as training protocols for new hires and serve as a way to prevent tenured workers from taking short cuts. In certain equipment intensive process industries, like soybean oil or HFCS, in which a centralized control computer operates the plant, it may take months, or longer than a year, for an operator to become proficient in operating the plant.