BRADENTON, Fla. -- A comprehensive company intranet system can be one of the more effective ways to improve and maintain sanitation practices, according to one industry expert.
Mike Nolan, plant sanitarian for Tropicana Products, reported the juice processor's ongoing program has lowered consumer complaints 38%, and improved internal audit scores 40%.
"The whole idea of the audit program is to identify and improve -- not point fingers," he said.
And, though normally part of the infrastructure of large manufacturing facilities or corporate headquarters, the intranet is certainly adaptable for use by individual supermarkets, Nolan told SN, after speaking at the Food Safety Summit in Washington.
The sanitation audit, conducted monthly by Nolan at Tropicana's 280-acre facility in Bradenton -- and at two other processing locations in Florida -- is part of a larger umbrella quality-control program incorporating Good Manufacturing Practices.
But sanitation in particular is one area where success can depend on the actions of a single individual, and Nolan has constructed his sanitation intranet site to encourage interaction and proactive thinking. First and foremost, however, the site is used to report the necessary compliance rates of the various departments he monitors every month.
Violations are recorded on a point basis during unannounced visits, and subtracted from a score of 1,000. Anything at 970 or higher is considered on target by the company. Anything less and "e-mails fly," said Nolan.
Those scores are posted on the site, though locked to all but personnel working in that particular department. This is one measure that prevents finger pointing, said Nolan.
Summaries are also e-mailed directly to management for action. They, in turn, are required to send back completed response sheets via e-mail. Depending on the severity of the violation, supervisors and the workers have a certain amount of time to correct deficiencies, said Nolan. For example, the most severe breach of regulations -- a six-point penalty -- must be corrected within 24 hours.
"One of the strengths this audit has is that, if violations are not corrected, the points double," he said. "By doubling points, it really raises the focus on issues that were not being corrected in a timely manner, and it catches the attention of senior management real quick."
Likewise, Nolan holds post-audit meetings directly with shift supervisors and key shift personnel, and sometimes even attends general shift meetings to discuss the audit scores.
"This is a very important part of the process, because it has to do with communication. After the audit is done, the auditor sits down with the manager, and we go over every issue -- 'Why did this happen?', 'Why did I find this?"' he said.
The use of a digital camera has proven to be especially helpful in illuminating both violations and above-average work. All of it -- good and bad -- is posted on the intranet sanitation site. The bad photos illustrate violations in the audits, and the good photos go into a separate file with universal access.
"Every issue found is photographed with a digital camera and put on the intranet," said Nolan. "We utilize them as a training tool; we actually train against the audits. And this is what the departments use for training. During the shift meetings, while reviewing the audits, I can show them the photographs, and everyone learns what 'wrong' looks like."
The good pictures are designed to counteract the morale-damaging potential of the audits, and empower shifts to take measures preventing violations in the first place, noted Nolan. In support of that, the site also provides a wealth of sanitation-related information beyond the audit results. Among the documents posted are Tropicana's own GMP handbook; a number of quizzes; a companywide contact list; and links to related sites run by regulatory agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
"The problem with audits is they're always looked upon negatively because you're always finding out what people did wrong. What I've tried to do with this program is find positives, too," said Nolan. "And we do find a lot of things people are doing right. And we take pictures of those actions and put them up on the intranet as well."
Management finds the intranet can be an additional record-keeping resource, since the database holds more than just the most recent audit, he said.
"By having it on the intranet, you can go back and track to see how your department's been performing," said Nolan, adding that management is required to create trending for the audit findings, a process that helps them identify key data.