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Teaching Tip: Pareto Charts and Pork Processing

December 14, 2013

hogs2When Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906, he hoped to shock readers about the mistreatment of immigrant workers in Chicago’s slaughterhouses. Instead, his book created outrage over the unsanitary conditions it described—how poisoned rats got swept into the sausage grinders; how tripe and cartilage were dyed and flavored with spices and sold as canned ham; how men in the cook room occasionally fell into open vats and sometimes went undiscovered for days, their flesh sold to consumers as lard. Sinclair groused that the book became a bestseller “not because the public cared anything about the workers, but simply because the public did not want to eat tubercular beef.”

 Now 100+ years later, if you read the latest edition of BusinessWeek (Dec. 9-15, 2013), you will likely eat a lot less pork in 2014. The lengthy article, titled “The Truth About Pork,”  documents how the US Dept. of Agriculture cut the number of inspectors on the pork processing line with the agreement that plants would hire their own quality assurance officers. Line speeds that are now “dangerously fast” and there are vastly increased violations of food safety requirements. A recent USDA Inspector’s General report states: “As a result, there is reduced assurance of  inspectors effectively identifying pork that should not enter the food supply.”

The good news is that the data provided makes for a nice example which can be used to construct a Pareto chart when you are teaching Chapter 6. Using the 223 violations in 2012 at a sample plant (Quality Pork Processors, in Minnesota), students can construct an interesting chart. Here are the safety violations: Food contact preoperational sanitation–69 violations: Contamination such as fecal matter–60: Sanitation lacking–46: Nonfood contact surfaces unclean–20: Record keeping errors–10: Condemned carcasses–8: Inhumane hog handling, mislabeling, misc. violations–10.

Sinclair predicted that the industry would make sure inspection addressed only the barest concerns about the deadliness of a product. Repeatedly he warned against letting meatpackers carry out their own inspections. His warnings still resonate.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2013 7:58 am

    A horrible story that explains possibly the most important operations improvement principle beautifully.

    Though it leads to another question…

    How bad exactly is “Food contact preoperational sanitation–69 violations”?

    Compared to the other dangers that face us in the modern world is this a big number or not?

    I won’t pretend to know the answer, but it is an interesting question.


  2. December 18, 2013 10:48 pm

    James, yes, a good question. I am certainly no expert either, but I suspect they catch only a small percent of the “defects” in the slaughterhouse system.

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