Avoid Water Contamination From Poor Facility Plumbing Infrastructures

Most of us remember the saying “A stitch in time saves nine”.

This saying came to us from a time in life when people had to resort to repairing their own clothes due to the high cost of replacement, should a small rip turn into a larger one, due to ignoring the problem too long.

That line was often quoted by our grandmother and others to encourage us to take care of a small problem in our lives before it turned into a larger one. Many of us who heeded the wisdom in that saying were often saved from personal disasters or, at the very least, major inconveniences.

Today, when we look at the plumbing and pipe infrastructures throughout many of the aging processing and manufacturing facilities across the US, we are reminded again of the sage advice hidden in those words.

In the world of Kaizen and Gemba, this issue of a possible less-than-standard condition begets or encourages the well known Gemba Walk. Genba (from which the romanized word gemba stems), is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.” Japanese detectives call the crime scene genba, and Japanese TV reporters may refer to themselves as reporting from genba.

Putting together a plan now can save you headaches later. Start with addressing the most critical areas and turn this into an opportunity to take your food safety to a new level.

-Food Safet Magazine, Kenneth L. Fry, PE, LEED® AP

moldy and rusty water pipesIn businesses, gemba refers to the place where value is created or where the manufacturing and processing takes place – in other words, the manufacturing, processing or factory floor. It reality can be, or represent any “site”, or area, such as a construction site, a retailer sales floor or where the service provider interacts directly with the customer(s).

In lean manufacturing, the idea of applied gemba is that the problems become, or are, visible, and that the best identification and resolution to issues, in other words improvement ideas, will stem from going to the gemba or site of concern.

The gemba walk, which is similar to the term Management By Walking Around (MBWA), is an active approach which takes management to the front lines of production, in order to look for and find waste and opportunities to practice gemba kaizen, or practical shop floor continuous improvement.

In writing about how this gemba walk can save a food processing facility from the unsavory contamination caused by a leaking or damaged plumbing infrastructure, Kenneth L. Fry, PE, LEED® AP, writing for Food Safety Magazine gives us some things to look for:

You may be in trouble…

  • Does water pool in areas and not readily drain quickly?
  • Are there leaks, visible drips or wet areas that are a constant cause for concern?
  • Are the drains in your facility stainless steel? Do they have easily removable covers for ease of cleaning? Do they have removable sediment baskets? Are the corners inside the drain radiused to eliminate buildup of solids?
  • Is piping in wash down areas properly installed with stand-offs to allow ease of cleaning behind the pipes?
  • Is the insulation on the piping protected with washable PVC covering?
  • Does the equipment connected to your domestic hot and cold water systems have the appropriate backflow protection?
  • Do you constantly have a problem providing adequate flow and temperature with your hot water wash down systems?

Further, Mr. Fry states that if at least three of the aforementioned problems have surfaced, you may be finding yourself in the position of having to deal with not only food processing or product contamination issues, but hefty fines and/or lawsuits as well due to negligence on your part.

And once your reputation, or that of your brand and processing facility has tanked because of bad press and public uproar, your business may no longer BE in business. So what to do!?

As Mr. Fry goes on to say, you may still be able to save the situation with proper and immediate action(s) taken by yourself and/or your team. First, he suggests, you will want to put together a plan almost immediately (if not sooner!), wherein you address some of the most critical areas that have been discovered.

This is a good time to mention as well, that you can and should use this very “necessary” moment of upgrading and repair to your facilities to actually increase the quality of your facility. What better time could there be for doing something that needs to be done anyway?

But first things first – how to manage the repairs and upgrades that your system is in dire need of? Again some very good suggestions from Mr. Fry:

Taking positive steps…

  • Review your HACCP plan. Where are the critical areas where problems pose the biggest threat? Make these areas your number one priority.
  • Talk to your people on the line. They often know where the problems lie better than you.
  • Do plant inspections and walk-throughs on a regular basis during normal plant operations and after the line is shut down. Some problems may only stand out when things quiet down.
  • Document your existing plumbing systems and know where the weak links lie. Identify these areas and make sure maintenance is done to prevent little problems from becoming big ones.
  • Review your maintenance records and look for trends in equipment failures and problems. When viewed as a whole, these records may point to a systemic problem.

Again, we bring to mind the old saying that we learned from our grandparents – A Stitch In Time Saves Nine. In the case of a failing or aging facility plumbing infrastructure, that, when successfully upgraded and repaired, the saying could very well be “A repair in time has saved many lives!”.

Our thanks to both Kenneth L. Fry, PE, LEED® AP, of BD Engineering, LLC, as well as Food Safety Magazine for this very timely and well thought out article.

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