The old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is true in many arenas. When it comes to cleaning and sanitation in the food industry, a small investment can ultimately save millions and protect your brand, not to mention ensure the safety of the people who consume the food and beverages processed in your facilities.
Although there are standard requirements for cleaning and sanitation in the food industry, going above and beyond just the bare minimum can help prevent costly outbreaks. Employing cleaning and sanitation best practices in your facilities will help protect your products, your customers, and your business. Here are 10 best practices to follow.
1. Engage all personnel
Maintaining quality in a food processing facility is everybody’s job, and an essential component of quality is sanitation. Even the people who don’t participate in the sanitation process should have an awareness of its importance and understand how their actions can have an impact. This starts with leadership ensuring that sanitation teams have adequate resources to perform the work, including time, training, employees, equipment, sanitizers, and potable water.
2. Provide ongoing training
All employees who work in a food processing facility should be trained in food safety, personal safety, and sanitation procedures. Annual training is not enough for people to retain information, so training events should happen more frequently to reinforce new concepts.
3. Create a documented program
Even if the sanitation crew knows what needs to be done, it is a good idea to have a documented program that outlines what needs to be cleaned, how often it needs to happen, what sanitizing products should be used, and what procedures are in place to verify cleanliness. For the sanitation step, the documentation should also include details such as what products to use in specific situations, how to apply the products, how long they need to stay on surfaces, and how to rinse them.
4. Check your water quality
Potable water is an important component of sanitation, and the quality of the water can affect how cleaning and sanitation products perform. For example, hard water will form soap scum, and silicates can leave a white film when used with certain types of products. Have the water quality in your facility analyzed once a year and, when necessary, condition the water to achieve the desired chemistry.
5. Follow sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs)
Every step in the cleaning and sanitation process has a SSOP, and they exist for a reason. Have documentation readily available for sanitation crews, especially for processes that don’t happen frequently. SSOPs should include information such as:
- How to dismantle equipment
- Application procedures for specific equipment
- Chemical concentrations for sanitizers
- Contact times for sanitizers
Closely following SSOPs is critical because using chemicals at the wrong concentration or not following specific steps could result in ineffective sanitation.
6. Clean the drains
Drains often get ignored because they are not highly visible, but they can be a source of bacteria and biofilms that could contaminate areas that have already been cleaned. Because of this risk, it’s a good idea to clean drains first to reduce the chances of cross-contamination during the cleaning and sanitation process. Implementing a weekly drain cleaning program can also help you avoid potential issues.
7. Verify sanitation processes
Confirm that surfaces have been sanitized using the appropriate steps. This might necessitate the use of UV flashlights and ATP swab tests. Simple tests include visual inspections and ensuring that water sheets off the surface and does not bead. If any tests fail, repeat the cleaning and sanitation process until they pass.
8. Use verification data to improve processes
When you gather data to validate the sanitation process, share it with the team so they can continually learn. When the results are good, celebrate those successes and reward the team for a job well done. When the results are not good, determine why so that everybody will learn how to improve in the future.
9. Protect sanitary spaces
Once an area has been sanitized, it should be isolated to keep it that way. Set up cleaning stations at entry points so employees can clean boots, tires, and any other equipment that will come into contact with sanitized surfaces. Use signs, barriers, and color-coding to physically indicate the areas of the plant that are clean and those that are dirty.
10. Color-code sanitation tools
Buckets, mops, scrubbers, hoses, sprayers, and other equipment that is used for sanitation should be dedicated only for that purpose. Color-code your equipment so that it’s clear which items can be used for specific tasks to help avoid cross-contamination between sanitation and production equipment.
Cleaning and sanitation in the food industry are critical for maintaining quality. They are necessary steps that should not be taken lightly or rushed so the facility can return to production. Taking the necessary time to thoroughly sanitize, training personnel on the appropriate techniques, and investing in the most effective sanitizing products will help ensure that your facilities consistently deliver quality food products.