Modern food processing and production equipment is more advanced than ever before—but while that means increased production capacity and yield, it also means more complications when something breaks down or goes wrong.

Instituting a proper preventive maintenance strategy can help you ensure that your equipment keeps working effectively, mitigating the risk of a premature breakdown.

The role of preventive maintenance

Preventive maintenance is important for the following areas:

  • Operational efficiency. A well-maintained machine is a top-performing machine. With fresh lubricant, better calibration, and cleaner systems, your equipment will be able to keep your plant running smoothly.
  • Functional performance. In addition to operating faster and with fewer interruptions, the quality and consistency of the food you produce will also improve, such as more consistent cooking times and temperatures.
  • Food safety. Better-maintained equipment also means higher safety standards for the food it processes. Poorly maintained equipment is more likely to break down during manufacturing, compromising the integrity of the food or leading to false readings of temperature or other important factors.
  • Documentation and tracability. Adhering to a maintenance schedule helps you keep better tabs on the performance of your facility, aiding in root cause analysis should something go wrong, and giving you proof of maintenance in the event of a third-party audit.
  • Repair costs. Just as changing the oil in your car regularly can save you money on more costly repairs down the line, maintaining your equipment on a fixed schedule can help you make the most of your equipment investments.

Preventive maintenance best practices

So what should you do to ensure more consistent preventive maintenance?

  1. Take inventory and assess risk. One of your first jobs is to take inventory of all the equipment you currently use in food production, and simultaneously assess the risk each piece of equipment poses. Different types of equipment will pose different hazards, based on how they are maintained. You’ll need to prioritize the more important equipment, which includes machines that have a higher potential impact on food safety and ones that are more crucial to your food production in general.
  2. Set a schedule and optimize timing. Most equipment will come with a manufacturer’s guide on how to maintain it. This will often be broken down into daily, monthly, and annual categories. Collect this information the best you can and organize a “master” schedule that allows you to keep track of all these important maintenance dates at once. At the same time, consider how this maintenance will fit best into your operational schedule; can you shut down production early one day to take care of all the maintenance at once? Or is it better to work on them on a rotation?
  3. Document proper procedures. However you decide to approach the regular maintenance of your machinery, you’ll need to formally document those procedures. There should be a single location, accessible to all staff, which holds detailed descriptions of how each machine should be serviced. This is important in case the procedure is ever questioned, or in case someone needs to take over the job.
  4. Designate authority. There should be one person (or potentially more) who are directly responsible for overseeing your maintenance programs. Otherwise, your staff may forget whose responsibility it is, or they may skip over the maintenance procedure to get things done faster in the short term. Choose someone responsible and dedicated to food safety.
  5. Keep necessary items and equipment on-hand. Different machines require specific items and tools to be properly maintained, such as special types of lubricants, or spare parts you can only get through one manufacturer. It’s a good idea to keep at least some of these supplies readily on hand, especially if they’re hard to find. Of course, doing so invokes a cost and a space issue, so prioritize the most necessary or hardest-to-find materials.
  6. Be prepared for temporary fixes. Preventive maintenance won’t prevent everything from going wrong. Occasionally, you’ll need to address small issues with your equipment with temporary or short-term fixes. You should have the equipment and personnel on staff to handle this smoothly, even with a maintenance schedule in place.
  7. Keep detailed maintenance records. As with most responsibilities in the food industry, your equipment maintenance should be documented. If your facility is inspected for safety standards, you’ll need this evidence on standby, and if something goes wrong with one of your machines, your maintenance records may be able to help you pinpoint what went wrong (and when). Trackability is always a priority in the food industry.

With these standards in place, you’ll have better-maintained equipment, and you’ll rest easy knowing your facility remains in top condition. Just be sure to make adjustments whenever you acquire new equipment or replace old ones, and keep your staff up-to-date on the latest procedures.