‘Why’ Things Don’t Always Go Well in Food and Drink Manufacture

Whilst exhibiting at Pack Expo in Las Vegas in early October, the news broke about the date code issue at 2 Sisters Food Group’s West Bromwich factory. In the USA, this was largely overshadowed by the deeply distressing news about the lunatic gunman holed up in the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas who shot and killed 58 people and injured hundreds more. Understandably, the second of these issues overwhelmed the public consciousness overshadowing all else, at least in the USA.

Coincidentally, we were in the Mandalay Bay Hotel, the day before the shooting, having a quiet, if extortionately priced beer, and commented upon how lax the security was, in that you could walk anywhere along The Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) and enter any of the fun palaces, without being challenged about anything; no personal searches or searches of baggage.

How galling it was, therefore, for us to read in the various American journals, the following day that the authorities could not understand how it was possible for an individual to bring in and secrete 17 firearms into the Mandalay Bay, without detection. We could have told them exactly how it was possible, because the all important security which they believed was in place, either wasn’t, or was ineffective.

Whilst the shocking event in Las Vegas and the apparent problems at 2SFG bear no comparison in their degrees of seriousness, it did make us think more about the difference between the management ideology and the factory floor reality.

The Three Management States:

  • What Management Would Like to be Happening
  • What Management Believe Is Happening
  • What Is Actually Happening

So often manufacturing companies install information management systems/control systems, based upon what they would like and expect to happen forthwith, train operational personal on equipment usage, then expect them to get on with it and for the beneficial results to follow. The control technology is the ‘What’, as we call it, quickly followed by the how, the who, the where and the when.

The Vital Missing Component is ‘Why’

During our 40 plus years, within the food and drink industry, we have found the greatest benefits are achieved from any process, procedure or new technology if the operational personnel understand firstly ‘Why’ it’s important and what could happen if the new procedures are not diligently followed.

Without the ‘Why’, an essential part of the communication is missing, leaving operational personnel to look for ways to make their lives easier.

For example, Taking Short Cuts, really the same as Breaking the Rules, or ‘Going off Piste’. They believe that they have found a new, smarter, perhaps in their view, a less wasteful, way to do their job, so they take it. Sometimes they get away with it, but often they don’t, because they don’t understand that the established and sometimes painfully achieved Standard Operating Procedures are there for good reason.

One good example of this is in quantity control to satisfy Average Quantity Law. Though this has been with us since 1979 (replacing the old Minimum Quantity legal standard for prepackaged goods), it is still little understood in many areas. Consequently, we have found many examples where operators will select packs or bottles from the production line, upon which to do their statistical control checks, which they know will satisfy the legal requirements. This means that such pre-selected samples may not be representative of the production batch. Most operators and many factory management personnel do not realise that this is fraud. Though there have been very few prosecutions for such selective sampling, the penalties if caught, can be very severe, i.e. up to two years in prison and £5,000 fine.

In our training sessions, therefore, we always explain why it’s important to ensure that the samples taken from the production batch are representative of the whole batch and we ensure that operators are under no illusion as to the possible consequences if they don’t follow the rules.
Fabrication of kill dates, repackaging older product and mixing product killed on different dates are, without doubt, very serious allegations and reinforce the need, not just for automated systems to reduce human error, but also the need for better training and greater understanding of health risks associated with such behaviour. But here again, operators need to be trained not only on what needs to be done, but ‘Why’ and to have a clear understanding of what could happen if they do not follow these important instructions.

During my research for this article, people have said to me ‘but surely this is just common sense’. The trouble with common sense is that different people have different interpretations of what’s common and what’s sensible, especially in factory environments where the workforce may come from multi-cultural backgrounds with a totally different mindset of what is and what is not acceptable.

For these reasons, we have been against the installation of systems which merely focus upon the control of one or two parameters such as coding and label verification or weight control, but in favour of comprehensive systems which go much further to nail down total compliance from goods inwards to dispatch. Even the best and most effective systems, however, can only be truly effective when the training, understanding and support goes with them.

Since 2SFG began in 1993, the growth and success of the company has been nothing short of meteoric, now with more than 30 factories within the Group and over 23,000 employees; especially impressive performance through the banking crisis of 2008 and at a time when some other big players have either been taken over or reduced in size.

To see this much growth this quickly, whereby 2SFG now deal with virtually every UK supermarket chain, it seems the Company must already be doing so many of the right things and have clearly invested heavily to achieve this, not only in compliance, but also in materials utilisation and efficiency. But, as this most unfortunate episode shows, no company, however large, can assume that the right things are being done all of the time, simply because personnel have been shown what to do. Apart from controls and training, instant performance visibility, frequent internal audits, followed by further training where the need has been identified, and full traceability become increasingly important. Understanding ‘Why’ and the potential consequences of non compliance is, however, of paramount importance.

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