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Technology and automation can disrupt an industry and even get blamed for eliminating jobs. Yet, for food processors trying to keep up with sanitation and safety requirements, automating certain tasks can help food processors address labor challenges.

Food processing plants are finding it increasingly difficult to hire the help needed to complete sanitation procedures in their facilities. The labor pool for sanitation workers is shrinking while wages for those laborers are increasing.

Manual sanitation can also be grueling, monotonous work in a difficult environment and, it usually takes place during third shift so that the plant is cleaned and ready for production in the morning. In some cases, sanitation jobs can even be dangerous.

Automating a plant’s cleaning and sanitation practices isn’t a magic bullet for solving labor issue, however, it does provide more efficient and effective ways of filling labor gaps while allowing sanitation crews to focus on more significant tasks.

Here are three ways automation helps solve labor challenges in food processing:

1. Reducing menial tasks for sanitation workers

One of the main opportunities for automation to make a difference is through the elimination of the most basic sanitation duties.

Picture a worker standing over a conveyor with a hose, spraying side-to-side for hours on end. There’s very little thought involved, but the repetitive nature of the task will likely cause physical fatigue and a lack of alertness due to boredom, which could lead to unsatisfactory sanitation.

This is an example of an undertaking where automation makes a lot of sense. When you automate the practice of hosing down a conveyor, you remove the need for labor and you ensure consistent cleaning happens every time.

2. Improving plant safety

There are also certain duties that are dangerous for sanitation workers. One that immediately comes to mind is cleaning spiral freezers. It’s a tight space that can be foggy and slippery due to ice on the floor.

Automating the cleaning of a spiral freezer lessens the likelihood of workplace injury because it eliminates all the manual climbing and maneuvering through an unsafe space.

3. Creating workforce efficiency

When your crew avoids menial and potentially dangerous activities, the workers you do have can provide more value. You’ll always need those “boots on the ground” to ensure proper sanitation. Automation technology allows you to get the most out of your labor force.

Beyond improving efficiency in labor, sanitation automation can also support more efficient use of chemicals, water, and energy while helping you create reliable and repeatable processes. Plus, a major benefit of technology is that it provides data, allowing you to track a variety of factors and provide the numbers to justify the investment in automation.

While sanitation automation can ease the pain of a tight labor market, ultimately, it will improve food and worker safety, as well as provide significant cost savings over time.