In early 2016, Dole Food Company, the largest global producer and marketer of fresh fruits and vegetables, was forced to recall its branded and label-packed salads after consumer reports of Listeria infections. By February, the number of cases spiked across multiple states as well as Canada, resulting in numerous hospitalizations and a single death.
In today’s digitally-driven world, food and beverage recalls should no longer happen. Consumers should never fear for their safety, and businesses can avoid the financial nightmare that follows a food-product recall. In addition to causing major health concerns, food recalls lead to a significant loss in future business. In fact, a survey conducted by Tyco Integrated Security reports that 15 percent of consumers will never purchase a recalled product again. What’s more, one in five will even avoid the product’s manufacturer altogether.
With the stakes of a recall so high, companies would be wise to pursue more sophisticated maintenance solutions for the sake of their customers and their own bottom line. Solutions do exist, and one of the best typically involves a predictive maintenance strategy. For food and beverage businesses, predictive technologies can prevent foodborne illnesses, avoid product recalls, and keep consumers safe and happy.
The Concerns of the Food and Beverage Industry
When processing foods and beverages, or anything related to food production for that matter, a company’s maintenance strategy directly affects production abilities and profitability. Poorly-cleaned equipment or unsafe conditions for temperature-sensitive machines, like freezers, can lead to an inferior or potentially harmful product.
Proper maintenance here is not only mandatory, but it’s ethical as product quality impacts consumers’ health. As producers of products for consumption (like drug manufacturers), food and beverage businesses are subject to and must comply with stringent regulations from organizations like the FDA. These standards also differ from product to product. For instance, dairy has its own additional pasteurization regulations. When these rules are not met, companies can get cited and fined, or worse, shut down altogether.
Beyond the traditional cost benefits of poor maintenance practices, businesses must also consider their relationships with shoppers. Food is a daily part of consumers’ lives, and even minor disruptions can turn into a PR debacle that makes shoppers wary. For example, during Chipotle’s E. coli outbreak, customers who had come to depend on the company for a convenient meal were left disappointed. Not only was the food hazardous, but it also forced consumers to alter their routines in unwanted ways. Reputation and word of mouth are major factors in the food and beverage industry, and companies cannot afford recall blemishes.
How Predictive Maintenance Can Help
To meet regulatory standards and achieve greater efficiencies, food and beverage companies can turn to predictive maintenance strategies. Unlike reactive maintenance strategies in which businesses solve maintenance issues only after they have occurred, predictive maintenance uses real-time data within a cloud-based computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to solve problems before they get out of hand.
In the food and beverage industry, this could mean catching a rise in temperature before food spoils. As sensors note rising temperatures in a freezer, these values are automatically fed to the CMMS to flag when average temperatures have neared a pre-set safety standard. The system itself can then create a work order or trigger an e-mail notification (or both) to a technician to perform maintenance, all before any product issues occur. Maintenance strategies that leverage calendar-based plans with historical data or typical asset life spans are a good start, but they cannot anticipate business needs like predictive strategies can. What’s more, rather than having maintenance technicians controlling machinery at random, a predictive strategy allows companies to set guidelines for who is modifying what work orders, and when.
True ROI from a maintenance strategy comes with avoiding problems in the first place. Calendar-based maintenance strategies are greatly enhanced when businesses leverage predictive capabilities integrated with a CMMS. Together, the two strategies form a modern maintenance approach that can help companies address unanticipated errors and preserve their reputations.
In the case that regulations are not met, food and beverage businesses can then use preventative maintenance to assist auditors in finding the source of a problem. No longer do employees need to fumble through files and manually-entered spreadsheets to produce applicable data for auditors. Rather, companies can turn to digitized inspection and incident records as part of their CMMS’ Occupational Safety & Health function and say, with confidence, what specifically has happened and who was involved. Never underestimate the importance of easy access to accurate data, particularly when working with auditors to pinpoint the source of a problem (even down to the assets).
For businesses in the food and beverage industry, performing maintenance across numerous factories gets exhausting. However, as the Dole Listeria outbreak proves, the risks of recall are severe. A single recall can cost companies millions of dollars and consumers their lives. To avoid this outcome, businesses should consider predictive capabilities to keep business growing and to preserve strong and safe customer relationships.
Lachance, president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group, Inc., has been developing CMMS for the maintenance professional for more than 20 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.