April 15, 2021 | Mark Paradies

How Effective is Your Food Safety Root Cause Analysis Process?

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

My History of Food Safety & RCA

I’ve been teaching, facilitating, and leading process improvement efforts for over 40 years. I have only known about the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis for less than half of those years. I spent eight of the first 25 years of my career as a Production Manager or Plant Manager in two different food plants, where our goal, naturally, was to improve our processes on a regular basis. We achieved a lot of process improvement success at these two locations, in spite of using the more traditional, opinion-based root cause tools (such as the five whys, fishbone diagrams, and fault trees). I can say, without hesitation, that use of TapRooT® as our food safety root cause analysis methodology would have led to even greater benefits.

Food companies should be hungry for TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis, just as other highly regulated industries such as medical device sterilization and energy production. I believe that any process, in any type of organization, can benefit from the design and systemic advantages that are inherent to the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis approach. Food companies, in particular, should embrace this approach more than they have to date. Why do I feel this way?

Why Should Food Companies use TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis?

To begin with, food safety is just as, if not more, critical as personal safety in a food plant. In fact, it has been my experience that food safety receives an even greater focus than personal safety does in your average food plant. This is simply because a food safety incident can affect so many customers.

Most food companies know this. In turn, they invest a lot of time and money in safeguards to help make sure that product recalls don’t occur or that contaminated food does not find its way into the marketplace in the first place. At the same time, these same companies often fail to search for better – more cost-effective – safeguards and controls to ensure an equivalent, or higher, level of food safety.

How Much Money Do You Spend to Find and Fix Problems?

Think about it.  How much time and money do you invest trying to get people to follow Good Manufacturing Practices?  How successful are you?  What systems do you rely on to make sure that batch errors don’t occur or that equipment breakdowns don’t result in late or lost customer orders? How do we make sure our products have the right labels and other product information on them?  Ingredient errors, equipment breakdowns, mislabeled products, and other forms of food rework and waste occur daily in most food plants. Fortunately, we have multiple levels of safeguards in place so these everyday problems don’t compromise order accuracy, timeliness, or food safety most of the time.

In short, food companies spend the time and money to prevent mistakes. They want their product to leave the plant with the correct label, ingredients, and quantity.  They expend a lot of effort to prevent customer injury from either the production process or the food itself. Key questions remain, however: 

What are these costs? How could the use of the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis help significantly reduce these costs? How often does your current root cause analysis process help you find and fix the systemic causes of human error and equipment failure? How do you know?

Why is TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis a Great Food Safety Root Cause Analysis Process?

The answer is relatively simple.  A lot of research and customer experiences have helped create the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis approach.  The TapRooT® Root Cause Tree® Diagram represents a list of the 103 main root causes of human error and the 22 root causes of equipment difficulty.  The larger TapRooT® Process helps you conduct better investigations of a given problem, better define the true root causes of those problems, and develop corrective actions that are more likely to both be implemented and work.

The TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Process does not rely on the knowledge and facilitation skills of the user to find the root causes of problems, like the more common opinion-based root cause tools do. The design of this RCA process helps you filter out those possible root causes that evidence does not support.  The hundreds of questions in the TapRooT® Root Cause Tree® Dictionary help you learn to ask better questions in general. Better questions help improve both your investigations and the food safety root cause analysis process itself.

When I reflect back on my food plant management career, I can vividly remember the different types of human error and equipment difficulty that I would encounter every day.  I was able to analyze and address many of these issues so that the problems did not come back. This was due to my years of process improvement experience, plus more than 20 years of service as a Baldrige National Performance Excellence Award Examiner. I can easily say that we would have made faster progress, at a lower cost, had we had the benefits of the TapRooT® RCA at our disposal.

How Effective is Your Food Safety Root Cause Analysis Process?

I have led more than 50 problem-solving team projects and more than one hundred individual process improvement projects. These experiences taught me a lot about root cause analysis. I shudder to think what my improvement success rate would have been, or how much time and money we would have wasted, without these skills. How do you try to get people to follow the rules, do their jobs right the first time, and keep your equipment online?

Food safety, personal safety, and equipment reliability are paramount in keeping a food plant running effectively.  How our food safety systems protect our products, our people, and our customers contributes significantly, or takes away from any food plant’s profitability.  If you serve in a management capacity in a food plant you most likely know this. What you may be less aware of is how the TapRooT® root cause analysis process could help you reduce the costs of your safeguards, rework, and waste. You might also increase your equipment uptime.

How do you find root causes? You be hungry for TapRooT® RCA!

Keep improving! – Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

Learn About TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis

Start learning about TapRooT® RCA by attending one of the courses described at THIS LINK.

Also, consider attending the Global TapRooT® Summit.

Finally, consider reading THESE BOOKS.

And stop this kind of problem-solving…

Quality, Root Cause Analysis
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