Industrial Engineering Optimizes Food Safety Practices

While the goal for most foodservice design is to enhance operational efficiency and guest experience, industry engineering processes can also enhance food safety when done right.

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One could be led to believe that the application of Industrial Engineering (IE) in foodservice may be at odds with designs that promote food safety practices. This may be due to the notion that IE principles are all about eliminating inefficient steps in the process. While this is true, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that the application of IE principles can promote optimum food safety practices. This is accomplished by analyzing the work content of each foodservice employee on a step-by-step basis and designing the steps in the most efficient ways, as we do for any other operating process and concept investment component. In other words, the steps must be followed but in an efficient way, so as to drive a better customer experience and a higher level of compliance. As I always tell our clients during any project design or re-engineering process, "food safety is non-negotiable." Food safety practices cannot be compromised.

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As I have written in previous articles, the best way to manage labor is by following a system that takes into account the actual work content time that it takes to complete the activities along with the product mix. Following this detailed process will ensure having the right labor in the right place at the right time. While developing the work standards, it is important to take the time to complete all of the food safety related tasks and activities.

For instance, as servers bring soiled dishes into the dish room, include time for the required hand washing each time they depart this area — a critical step in the process. This means figuring out how often each staff member drops off soiled dishes and how much time is necessary for hand washing. In doing so, it is important to develop the right time standard to accomplish this each and every time. There is no room for negotiation here. The location and type of sink used would also drive for a more efficient hand-washing process. IE principles and processes will consider all of these aspects of a foodservice operation when defining the right labor to allocate to an activity.

When looking at the production kitchen, allow time for the replenishment of hot and cold condiments on the line. For example, so as to not contaminate the condiments, the labor standard should include taking a pan out for the item that has been depleted and replacing it from the inventory on hand. In order to make this step more efficient, the item to be replenished should have been pre-portioned already in the pan, and the pan located near the station, so as to minimize the time required to get this activity done. Labor time must be allocated in the prep process, as well as at the line. Now enter design. The location of where these items are stored should be near the production line; under the station or in another refrigerated or hot compartment near the station. Additionally, develop and apply a prep production so you know how many pans to prepare of each item. This minimizes prep time and can completely eliminate doing prep during peak business hours.

On the cookline, hand washing and glove replacement are also required activities that should have a labor standard allocated to it, based on the required frequency and time to accomplish this task. To make this process efficient, the location of the hand sink is critical, as well as the location and type of gloves and glove dispensing device used. Perhaps you use a glove device where the hand slips into the glove dispenser and pulls out with it on, so as to minimize the time to re-glove.

Let's take another example: moving soiled trash. Again, the facility design developed using industrial engineering principles, such as adjacency diagrams and process flow analysis, will come to bear here as we look to identify the optimum location of the trash containers. In the case where the customers dump their own trash, this could get tricky, since you want to locate it in their path, but not make the facility less retail design appropriate with this piece of furniture.

Additionally when the employee is hauling the trash, if not done right, the process could impact the customer experience, particularly for those customers in the dining room. Equipment design and process mapping could help alleviate some of the challenge here. Maybe the process could include bringing in an empty replacement trash bin that has a cover and is simply replaced with the one in the trash receptacle in the dining room. Out comes the full bin, which is lidded upon being taken out and in goes the empty one. The trash bin could have an outside design that is brand appropriate, with logos, etc. No longer would you see plastic trash bags, which are usually transparent, showing the full contents of what is in it (not a pretty sight), being hauled through the dining room.

Of course, as I have previously mentioned, a time allocation in the labor guidelines has to be provided for this activity, including the frequency of occurrence, which will vary by volume, as well as the time to get it done. Are you beginning to get the positive impact of having appropriate labor standards yet? The employee's path would also be mapped out to ensure the trash is not being transported through areas that may compromise food safety and cross contamination, and to provide the right time standard to complete the task.

There are many other applications of IE principles that can promote food safety practices by facilitating getting these completed. These are the same principles that are applied to streamlining all the other activities done in the operations. The key question we have to ask ourselves is: How do you drive efficiency into all the food safety tasks without compromising the intent and reason behind them, and facilitating getting them done as required?

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