Part 2: How to start, build and maintain your SOP
Part 3: The role of technology in SOPs
*Highlighted parts are incomplete – awaiting feedback via email interviews
It could be argued that the origins of Standard Operating Procedures, commonly abbreviated as SOP or SOPs, is closely tied to the history of fast food chains in America, but that point is still largely debated. SOPs can be traced back to the military industry, who realised that SOPs were core to the smooth functioning of military bases (needs to be confirmed from sources)
SOPs are the mainstay of any manufacturing operations, but for the purpose of this discussion, the focus will be on food operations. Core to any food operator or manufacturer’s food safety and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan are the facility’s existing structure. The foundation of this structure is its SOPs.
An SOP is a set of written instructions that document a food manufacturer’s routine or repetitive activity. Specific to food manufacturing plants, for example, the term applies to production, manufacturing and support area processes, jobs or activities.
The development and use of SOPs are integral parts of a successful food safety, quality and sanitation system, as they provide individuals with the information required to properly perform their jobs. Using SOPs promote quality through consistent implementation of a process, task or job. Also, if clearly written, SOPs can minimise miscommunication and variation between individuals or organisations.
The term SOP may also be used interchangeably with ‘protocol’ ‘job instruction’ or ‘work instruction’.
Thinking that SOPs are not relevant to you, whether you own a restaurant or a manufacturing plant, can prove to be fatal. For example, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Reportable Food Registry annual report, 37.9 percent of all food recalls were due to undeclared allergens. After investigations, the true cause of these recalls was traced to either an SOP that did not exist or was inadequate, or to a failure to adhere to one or more of the applicable procedures, including label review, residual chemical testing, sanitation, recall procedures, storage, training and more.
*Graph with Statistics – getting from source
In addition to creating harm and generating bad publicity, recalls are expensive: the average cost associated with these allergen-related SOP failures has been estimated at $US10 million per recall.
In addition to helping promote food safety and prevent food recalls, SOPs can also serve as the basis for implementing an effective program to include employee training as well as a tool for coaching and development. SOPs also help to identify control points, as well as their limits to monitor and validate the process. Corrective and preventive actions can be identified to address issues.
SOPs will also help you, the owner, in establishing time, labour and material requirements for a job or task, and serve as a checklist for internal audits.
Now that you know what it is, let’s talk a little more about how to build an SOP.
Laying the Foundations
Operation specific SOPs can be created by writing down the steps taken when performing specific tasks in your operation. Think about the areas in your operation where SOPs are needed. Start with the areas which you currently spend the most time communicating about (i.e. handwashing).
When you reach the step of implementation, conduct an employee in-service to share the information and have it available for employee review. SOPs will be useful for training new hires, refreshers and updates for all employees, and a way to insure that all employees are doing their jobs in a consistent way. You will want to do an annual review of the SOPs and update them as needed (i.e. new equipment, Food Code changes).
The SOP must be formatted in such a way that it provides all pertinent information so that an employee with some knowledge of the area, equipment and tools can read and perform the functions of the task safely and effectively.
SOPs should be clearly worded so as to be readily understandable by a person knowledgeable about the concept of the procedure. Use diagrams, flow charts, pictures and computer screen shots to help break up long sections of text. These visual aids especially help in the training of the SOP.
Care must be taken to include all necessary information without becoming too detailed. Below is an example with an adequate level of detail and another with too much detail, making the SOP overwhelming to the user.
• Good example: “Step 4. Rinse thoroughly with warm water.”
• Poor example: “Step 4. Rinse thoroughly using the sanitation station located on the back wall, near the door, with boosted pressure, warm water. Use the blue hose fitted with a 2–4 gpm, 15-degree fan-spray nozzle. Turn on main valve at sanitation station.”
A Cyclical Process
An SOP is an ever-changing, “living” document. As such, in an effort to continuously improve a process or task, updates are required. Indeed, improvements should be actively sought and changes often made. These must always be tracked and communicated effectively.
This “continuous improvement” cycle can best be described by a variant of the Deming circle, also known as plan, do, check, act (PDCA). The Deming circle is an iterative, four-step method used for the control and continuous improvement of processes.
The PDCA steps include the following four phases:
Plan (Develop Procedures)
Develop the SOPs, establishing the objectives and processes necessary to deliver the desired results. This will, in turn, establish goals, priorities and baselines to achieve.
Do (Perform Procedures)
Perform the SOPs. In other words, execute the plan, conduct the process and make the product. Collect data for charting and analysis.
Check (Verify and Validate Procedures)
Verify and validate the SOPs by studying the actual results, as measured in the “Do” section. Compare these results with the targets or goals from the “Plan” section. Look for deviations between the development and the execution of the SOP. Charting data can make it much easier to see trends over several Deming cycles.
Act (Revise and Improve Procedures)
For each significant difference between actual and planned results, once the root cause has been determined, develop a corrective action/preventive action (CAPA) plan. Determine where to apply changes that will include improvement of the process or product. If, after one or two passes through the Deming circle, the process does not improve, further refine the CAPA plan to include more detail in the next iteration of the cycle(s). Alternatively, greater attention may be required in a different stage of the process.
Some final advice: (box)
While it is true that sometimes an experienced supervisor can use his best judgment to rectify a situation, it can be impractical to write a protocol for every scenario that can occur. In this case, SOPs for corrective actions can be of value.
Following written SOPs can ensure that injuries and accidents can be avoided. Written SOPs can also prevent hourly associates from taking short cuts in their operations; in some cases these short cuts may not be
intentionally to cause difficulties, but workers may feel they have a better way to do a task, and may be unaware of unintended consequences.
It is also beneficial to periodically review SOPs to ensure they are accurate and up-to-date, reflecting any product or process changes. In one warehouse distribution center, during a discussion of cleaning procedures, the general manager asked whether he really needed a written procedure, stating to “take a broom and sweep.” Depending on the quality of his workforce, he may need a written SOP, as workers cleaning would sweep aisles and wide open spaces, but would not sweep corners, behind and beneath equipment and pallets.
It is also true that in fairly small plants with a small workforce, many actions will be handled more casually and verbally than having all work instructions documented. It is a manager’s discretion when determining how detailed to make SOPs and operational methods.
Credits: ASI Food Safety Consultants
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