Cooking with the data

For profitable cooking operations, let data drive the process and make sure goals are aligned from the production floor to the boardroom.

Cooked diced chicken ready for packaging
Cooked diced chicken ready for packaging

In poultry further processing operations, if maintaining food safety is job 1, then job 2 is doing so while increasing profitability. When this involves a cooking process, it is often described as an “art.” Be assured, it is much more science than art.

The first step in controlling any process is to identify all the Critical Control Points (CCPs) that will have an effect on variation in the process. These are not necessarily related to your HACCP program but, instead, are monitored by production to ensure a process is in control.

Think of it this way, you are a patient in a hospital who is hooked up to all those monitors. The doctors and nurses have identified those things they view as the CCPs to your health (blood pressure, pulse, oxygen in the blood, etc.). For you to get well, they want to monitor the progress of your healing.

For you on the production floor, this means identifying every variable in the process. Using the 5Ms (manpower, machines, measurements, methods and material) as a guideline ensures that you are not leaving out a CCP.

What are the CCPs? 

Material.  Regardless of the product being cooked (wings, breasts, tenders, nuggets) begin by establishing the following:

  • What is the temperature of the incoming product?
  • What is the final temperature of the product?
  • Is the product sized, and, if so, what are the upper and lower size limits of the product? What is the batter viscosity?
  • What is the breading moisture content?

Machines.  Next, identify the CCPs on the machines. To get started, walk the line and look for all the places where adjustments can be made. Document these CCPs. Examples of some of these CCPs are as follows:

  • What are belt speeds?
  • Are the belt heights aligned and do the belts attach to each other?
  • Is the batter curtain flow adjusted for even coverage?
  • Is the breading being spread evenly?
  • What are the strokes per minute on the former?
  • On the pack out line, what are the vertical scale settings and do all the buckets function properly?
  • What are the temperature settings on the sealer bars of the form-fill-and-seal machine?

Measurements.  This is also where you document all the measurements for each of these pieces of equipment, whether it is the RPMs of the belts, the dwell time of the oven or fryer, or the bags per minute on the pack-out line.

Methods would include processes such as the rate at which material gets dumped onto the belt or what the process is for checking batter viscosity.

Manpower.  And finally, manpower documents the positions and responsibilities of each operator on the line.

Create a log to document CCP settings

Once all these CCPs are identified, create a log to document the setting for each of the CCPs for every SKU and document every change made during the production run. The data collected will change the cooking process from an art to a science.

Data can be entered into simple spreadsheets or even databases allowing you to analyze it and create a “Best Practices Log” for each SKU. History will show, most likely,  regardless of how well a product is run on one shift, when the next shift comes in, they will “dial in” the process to the settings they ‘feel’ are best. You will also find there is a high correlation between a successful run (higher yield and productivity) and a controlled process. Now you have the data that will tell you the results of the decisions made throughout the process of running any given SKU.

What to do with all this science?

All this data is completely unnecessary unless it is going to be used by management to make decisions. There is no reason to go through the effort of collecting, collating and putting it in a usable format unless the culture of the organization is one that uses data-driven facts to drive the decision making process.

For instance, when measuring the temperature of a product as it exits the oven or fryer, the data does not have to be limited for use simply for your HACCP program as a go-no-go decision. It should be collected and graphed vs. any of the other process variables and studied for correlation in order to set parameters that improve yield and throughput.

Exit temperatures of between 180 F and 185 F may satisfy your HACCP program requirement, but management is also charged with maximizing yield and yield is going to be higher if the temperatures were closer the minimum temperature required by your HACCP program.

Let data drive the process

Data can and should be the driver behind any changes in the process. When operators are given the authority to change any input variable based on “this is the way we run it” rather than this is the way the data tells us to run it, large variation in the process will occur.

Without getting into all the statistical jargon, think of it like this. Every time a change is made in a process, it creates some variation. This variance becomes the starting point for the variance in the following process.

For example, speeding up the belt speed at the front end of the process, thinning the batter viscosity in the middle of the process and slowing the dwell time on the fryer each on its own creates variance, but each variance adds to the next and accumulates as product progresses through the process.

It’s called covariance, but what really matters is recognizing these variances are cumulative throughout the process. This is why it is important to document each of the points in the process and measure them.

This entire discussion is a moot point if decisions are made based on the process as an ‘art form’ or ‘because this is how we always run it.’

How to get from here to there?

The tools, themselves, are relatively easy to teach and to learn. The hardest part is setting the expectation that this is the new way of doing business.

There is a saying, “Tell me how you will measure me, and I’ll tell you how I’ll act.” If it is decided that this is the way the process is to be run, you have to make sure everyone’s objectives are aligned. If there are rewards to be given for most pounds produced, you’ll get more pounds through the process, often at the detriment of some other variable. The same holds true for the highest yield and any of the multitude of desirable outcomes in the process.

When viewing this process through the lens of Continuous Improvement, it is important to have all the necessary tools in your toolbox. If your organization has recently jumped on the Lean Manufacturing, Six-sigma or Lean Sigma bandwagon, be sure you are doing it with the right intent and with enough emphasis that it is not just another ‘flavor of the month’ in an attempt to save cost. If the patient is going to get well, the nurses, the doctors and the surgeons must all have the same goal.

The point is these goals have to be aligned from the production floor to the boardroom or what may be considered a well performing and safe production run will not increase profitability of the company.

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