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Automating Maintenance Scheduling to Ensure USDA Compliance

Cleanliness is a clear and present factor in the minds of most managers who oversee facilities where food-prep or service is part of their operations. But maintenance often takes a back seat to cleaning, when really they should go hand in hand. And too many facilities are relying on antiquated, labor-intensive systems to just to maintain the work orders and scheduling.

A small operation can get away with manual maintenance tasks and work orders to maintain facilities and remain in compliance with sanitation guidelines. But if you are managing a restaurant, a hospital, a school or similar facility, managing schedules of regular cleaning and maintenance simply becomes unwieldy without CMMS software that automates those important tasks. And complying with necessary food safety and sanitation requirements will be nearly impossible with a manual system.

Complying with USDA Requirements

Government regulations about food handling, storage and preparation are explicit and detailed. Not only do your practices have to check a lot of boxes, but your facility itself has to meet stringent requirements, both in construction and maintenance. Fitting the USDA’s definition of a “food safe facility” requires checking quite a few boxes, not all of which are common sense:

  • Garbage has clear containment and a quick path out of your facility. Trash containers have to be closeable, water-tight and easy to sanitize.
  • Exhaust systems, including fans and vent hoods have to be cleaned regularly, as they can harbor bacteria.
  • Cooling and warming appliances need regular preventive maintenance and thorough cleaning to prevent malfunction or contamination. In a single day, a malfunctioning refrigerator can compromise the safety of food.
  • Storage rooms and containers need to be thoroughly inspected on a regular schedule to prevent damage, spoilage and contamination of some sort.
  • Seasonal measures may need to be taken to prevent food contamination.

All of these requirements carry detailed, specific benchmarks behind them. And if your current maintenance program isn’t addressing some or all of these (not to mention state and local requirements for your facility), it’s time to reform some or all elements of that program.

How to Automate Comprehensive Maintenance

When you implement an automated system to address such a wide range of requirements, it needs to be simultaneously comprehensive, yet simple to use. That’s not something you see with every software solution. So make sure any product you invest in has robust customer service.

One thing that’s often overlooked when implementing automated software is getting sufficient training to the individuals who operate it. The skill of your personnel can be a definite bottleneck to the efficiencies you see. If a person is trained on scheduling preventive tasks, that’s great. But if they’re also trained in how to track inventory for materials needed for that maintenance, then they can help make budget projections, schedule preemptive materials orders and actually plan ahead for seasonal fluctuations.

That kind of knowledge, applied to traditional maintenance, fleet management and reporting operations, allows a skilled person to iron out the efficiencies that creep into your day-to-day operations. A person with the right training and tools can help you to see the big picture, which gives you leverage to make decisions that save money.

Maintenance Planning

No system can define your food safety procedures and schedules for you. Some of that is laid out explicitly in USDA guidelines, but many of them are just that: guidelines that you follow to create a plan that meets the agency’s standards.

Software solutions can help you implement your maintenance and cleaning standards uniformly, and even help you introduce cost-savings into parts of your operation that were unwieldy and complicated before. But the overall strategy for the facility will always be up to you.

Author bio: Derek Smith is a marketing manager and writer for ManagerPlus, where he specializes in topics related to preventive maintenance and asset management. When he isn’t writing about emerging technology and industry trends, you can find Derek dodging trees on a ski slope somewhere.

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