Recent events such as last year’s Escheria coli outbreak at several well-known fast-food chains and in the California produce industry, which lost more than $100 million as a result of contaminated lettuce and spinach, have increased the level of skepticism being directed at food processors. While government oversight and public attention drive processors to adopt new food safety solutions, preventive strategies increasingly focus on new technologies that enhance process controls.
Process control is the umbrella term used to describe all controllable factors driven by safety, quality, and cost that positively or negatively influence finished products at all stages of production and preparation. Examples of process controls range from government regulation and hazard analysis and critical control point compliance to selection of raw materials, processing, storage and distribution, data collection, employee hygiene, and training.
Under the best circumstances, a vigilant and well-informed manager who is constantly monitoring line processes can pinpoint and remedy problems before they happen. Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible for a line manager to monitor all workers at all times, so a host of problems can occur. Food pathogens may result from a failure to monitor temperature variances during cooking procedures, and food contamination can occur when employees fail to wash their hands after using the restroom.
No matter how effectively we manage and comply with rules, regulations, and equipment alarms, it always comes down to the human element. Improving the effectiveness of labor is the most critical control point and offers the greatest opportunity for processors. Fortunately, there are tools available that enable management to monitor labor in ways that reduce risk and optimize processes.
Remote but Live
Remote Video Auditing (RVA) from Arrowsight (Mount Kisco, N.Y.) is a process optimization tool that combines remote auditors, video monitoring, live feedback LED screens, and daily and weekly reports so that plant managers can more effectively monitor labor performance controls across plants.
“The American food industry is extremely safe, even with all the recent problems,” says Mark W. Moshier, president of Arrowsight’s Food and Beverage Division. Moshier has 18 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, having served in senior level positions at Tyson Foods (Springdale, Ark.) and PepsiCo (Purchase, N.Y.). He was also vice president of operations at Keystone Foods Corp. (West Conshohocken, Pa.) for five years, where he was responsible for manufacturing, procurement, operations, security, process design, and operational food safety compliance.
“Line-of-site management needs to continue, and there’s never going to be a magic bullet that prevents every catastrophe from happening,” Moshier says. “With RVA, we’ve seen great success in benchmarking critical process controls points—identifying the actual performance threshold—and then improving behavior through proper feedback. Analyze, verify, and train are key elements of the program.”
Arrowsight’s mantra is that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million. According to Moshier, the company has established an annual 10-to-1 return on investment in plants where RVA is installed with process proof points in place in as little as 90 days. Since these facilities typically employ from 400 to 2,400 workers—many of whom are non-English speaking immigrants—video technology offers a competitive advantage.
“The nice thing about video,” Moshier says, “is that it doesn’t care where you come from, what language you speak, how long you’ve been here, or what size or shape you are. As a training and coaching tool, it is much easier to communicate with staff through a video format, and it’s a great leveler in terms of the language barrier and diversity that exist on the factory floor.”
Utilizing video hardware and software, RVA analyzes employee performance at critical control points within a manufacturing facility—in real time—from different locations. By remotely viewing and reporting data back to management, Arrowsight’s off-site auditors can help to improve productivity dramatically, which leads to best practices and can also bring about significant improvement in individual skills.