A study into the use and proliferation of Lean Six-Sigma principles in the food industry

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McElroy, Paul
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Ever since the time when the hunter-gatherers began to abandon their nomadic ways
and embrace agriculture, the organised production, processing and storage of food has
been one of humankind’s most important endeavours. Those who remained static to
till the land, and keep animals for food, began a process that remained largely
unchanged until the 18th century. At this stage, the large-scale production and
processing of food became a necessity in the then-developing world, to feed the
populations who had migrated from the land to operate the new processes brought
about by industrialisation.

In this manner, food production and food processing also became industrialised. While
continuous improvement (CI) methods began to creep into the non-food sector of
industry around the commencement of the 20th century, it was much slower to take off
in the food industry.

Since the onset of the 21st century, the CI concepts of Lean and Six Sigma have taken
more of a foothold, Lean more-so than Six Sigma. These sets of tools, which endorse
the benefits of reducing waste at all stages of processing, can currently be witnessed
playing catch-up across the industry, and are gaining ground. CI is not, however, as
universally applicable to the food industry as to other sectors, due to the unique set of
quality requirements in food production, where food safety, food hygiene and security

of supply are more highly prized than are absolute-precision factors, such as perfect
product size, shape or weight