Cutting Costs Without Cutting Food Safety

Departments - From the Plant Floor

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February 12, 2015

As we all know, times are rough in the protein industry. In my segment of the industry, live cattle are at their lowest supply in 50 years and the cost is at its highest with no end in sight. Companies are taking a hard look at where they can cut operational costs to increase what small margins there are.

As members of the food safety community, this can be a scary venture. As soon as we hear “cost cutting,” we become fearful that food safety may suffer. It is important to remember that we need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Having input into every decision being made in the plant is crucial. This is not a time to sit back and complain, it is a time to stand up and have what I like to call “courage of conviction.” If we sit back quietly while changes are being made, we are guilty of the problems that can and will arise.
 

Cost-Cutting.

There are two aspects of cost cutting of which we, as food safety professionals, need to be aware. The first is “operational savings”; the second is actual food safety savings. Each one, if not done right and not communicated fully with and through us, can cause major problems and affect the safety of our product.

The first thing we have to do is be the squeaky wheel. Never assume that operations will inform you of the changes they are making in order to try to improve the bottom line. As I have discussed before in this column, they do not think like you do; that’s why you do what you do. Insert yourself in every meeting, every discussion. Let your operations managers know you want to be involved in every decision regardless of how big or small it may be.

As we know, one little change in one area of the plant can have serious ramifications all the way down the line. To us, money has nothing to do with food safety. That being said, we are still here to help our business succeed.

So what are the types of things that can happen? Here is a small list of changes that operations can make that they might not communicate.

  • Changing procedures.
  • Moving or reducing personnel.
  • Cutting hours from maintenance.
  • Changing or reducing chemicals.
  • Trying something “new” such as a machine or a procedure.
     

Most of these things not only have an impact on food safety, but can change your HACCP plan. The last thing you want is a change in operations that you don’t know about—only to discover something is wrong when USDA or FDA comes in to inspect your HACCP plan or facility.

Additionally, things coud get so bad that it causes you to send out product under a wrong HACCP plan, which then needs to be brought back in or even recalled. The last thing you want is USDA or FDA asking you about the “new” chemical you are using on your product—of which you are not even aware.

Everything that changes can be good or bad depending on the outcome. Small changes in one part of your plant can have big effects somewhere downstream. It is up to us not only to be involved in these decisions but to think really hard about the consequences that could occur as a result of any change.
 

Non-Food Safety Cost.

The second part of cost savings are things we can do that help our business but do not affect food safety. We sometimes have a habit of saying “this is how we have always done things, so it must be the best way.” As food safety professionals, we need to be a part of assisting our companies in the bad times.

Some of the things you should look at when being approached to “cut costs” in the daily operations are:

  • Staffing.
  • Chemical usage.
  • Supply costs.
  • Efficiency of monitoring and verifications.
  • Water usage.
     

Don’t be afraid to look at your chemical interventions. I know it’s scary to reduce usage because we are afraid of affecting food safety. But at least take a look:

  • Are there too many nozzles?
  • Are they clogged?
  • Are you getting good coverage?
  • Are you using the right nozzles?
     

It doesn’t hurt to take a look.These are tough times for our industry. By looking for ways to save money in our operations but never compromising food safety, we can be a part of the solution.

“Always stay a step ahead or you’re a step behind.”