Monday, February 1, 2010

Food Processing Issue 2: Finding the solution

Did everyone do his or her homework?  Then let's get started...

To summarize the audio link from the previous post--the Vienna Beef Company opened a new, state-of-the-art plant in 1972, moving from the south side of Chicago to the north side.  Unfortunately, the new plant did not make hot dogs the right way.  The texture was poor (referred to in the story as 'snap'), and the color was off.  They eventually found the solution; the hot dogs needed to ferment in a warm room before being cooked in the smokehouse.  In the old plant, the fermentation ocurred while a worker named Irving transferred the products from manufacture to smokehouse.
Ideally, every company should examine their products using chemical tests, physical tests, and consumer tests.  The first two approaches provide quantitative baselines that allow a company to track their products' respective performances over time.  The final test lets the company predict performance issues and fix them before bad products are released to the public.  It sounds like the Vienna company did not perform regular chemical or physical tests (and in the '70's, such things would have been more difficult to do than they are today). 
One possible research project would have been to establish chemical, physical and consumer baselines for the product and then correlate it to product performance described by the consumer tests.  (In the food business, sensory testing involves sampling the food and describing the attributes like snap.)
Another research project would study the operations transfer from one plant to another.  Even though the Vienna company moved into a brand-new facility with the latest processing equipment, the new equipment did not make the product as expected.  A bench-top simulation of the process that tracked the behavior of the ingredients as they are combined together to make a hot dog might have found that Irving's trek through the plant was responsible for the color change and improved snap.
I've worked on both baseline product characterization and new plant launches, both as long-term projects tied to the fiscal year and short-term emergency projects where things had to be fixed quickly.

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