Standard Operating Procedures - Don't underestimate their importance
An SOP (standard operating procedure) is a procedure specific to your operation that describes the activities necessary to complete a task. Any document that is a “how to” falls into the category of an SOP. Don’t underestimate the importance of SOPs. Well written SOPs are the backbone of a successful operation.
SOPs are a HACCP Plan prerequisite and are required if you do official processing. Even if you are a custom exempt plant or a retail exempt operation not operating under HACCP, you still need SOPs to help assure food safety, employee safety and maximize efficiency of operation.
Following are some tips for writing, implementing, documenting and reassessing SOPs.
1. Keep in mind the reasons for writing an SOP
- To ensure compliance with regulations and that standards are met
- To maximize production
- To ensure food safety and worker safety
- To prevent manufacturing failures
- To be used as a training tool. All too often SOPs are written to meet a regulatory requirement and then filed in a 3-ring binder. SOPs should be used as a training tool so employees know how to correctly do their jobs.
People tend to support things they help develop. Involve employees in writing tasks for SOPs they perform. This will help assure the SOP is more complete, useful and accepted. A well-written SOP helps facilitate training. Having complete step-by-step instructions on how to complete a task helps trainers ensure that nothing is missed and serves as a reference document for trainees. A well-written SOP can also help to facilitate cross training. An SOP can serve as an excellent reference document for employees filling in on jobs they do not normally perform.
2. Formatting your SOP
- Follow a step-by-step format
- Keep sentences brief and use simple terms
- Consider your audience. Keep in mind your audience’s prior knowledge of the subject and their language skills. Your SOP must be worded in such a way that your employees can understand the message you are trying to convey.
- Do not make your SOP too long. If it is longer than 10 steps consider breaking it into a couple of sub-SOPs. People find it difficult to follow long SOPs.
3. Test the SOP
Get several employees to test the SOP and give feedback whether the instructions are accurate and easy to follow. It is a good idea to test the SOP on someone who has never done the process before. People with prior knowledge of the process may be relying on their knowledge to get through the process rather than what is written in the SOP.
4. Review the effectiveness of the SOP
After a new or revised SOP has been in use for a few weeks get feedback from the workers that are using it. Is it accomplishing the goal for which it was written?
5. Documenting the use of an SOP
If the SOP is used to support your HACCP Plan make sure you document each time it is followed.
6. Reassessing SOPs
SOPs should be reassessed whenever you change a process or introduce a new process. They also need to be reassessed each year when you reassess your HACCP Plan.
Remember: Well written and properly implemented SOPs are a “secret of success.” Take the time to critically look at your SOPs. Doing so may pay you big dividends.