Cross-contamination in food processing facilities can happen in a number of ways, and not all of them are as visible as you might expect. Not properly cleaning work surfaces or utensils is an obvious and preventable source of cross-contamination, but there are many other unexpected ways bacteria can travel. Having an awareness of these potential causes of cross-contamination and taking the appropriate measures to prevent them will help you protect your brand and maintain a sanitary food processing environment.
Consider these seven unexpected areas of cross-contamination in food processing facilities and whether they might be happening in your company.
1. Post-Harvest Contamination
At produce farms, post-harvest contamination can occur from unclean hands touching food or food-contact surfaces when employees go from farming areas to processing zones. Training workers, implementing hand-washing protocols, and providing the necessary wash stations can help prevent this potential source of cross-contamination in food.
2. Cross-Contamination from Storage Bins
Stacking storage bins directly onto soil and then bringing the containers into a processing facility can also bring bacteria into a clean environment. Place bins on tarps or other ground coverings to keep them separated from the soil below. Regularly clear the tarps of dirt and other debris to keep the bottoms of containers clean. Sanitize bins between use to remove any bacteria that might be present.
3. Cross-Contamination During Rapid Cooling
Rapid cooling is a reliable method for preventing the growth of bacteria, but if food is not properly stored in refrigerators, it can lead to cross-contamination. Follow the recommended protocols for storage of different types of foods in the same refrigeration units. For example, keep uncovered containers on higher shelves to prevent other foods from contaminating them, and follow the rules regarding distance from walls and floors and which products should be above or below others.
4. Contamination from Footwear
When employees walk in fields, compost sites, or other areas outside of clean zones, they can bring bacteria into a processing facility on their feet. Use foot baths or timed foamers to sanitize footwear when employees walk between zones. Train personnel on the importance of being aware of transition zones and cleaning their footwear when entering a facility.
5. Contamination from Mobile Equipment
The same challenge applies to carts or other mobile equipment that is transported between clean production areas and farms or compost areas. Using timed entryway foamers can help reduce the bacteria on equipment wheels and prevent cross-contamination between zones.
6. Poor Maintenance of Records
Good record-keeping can also help prevent cross-contamination. The food industry has adapted and adopted the 5S system from the manufacturing world—sort, set locations, shine and sweep, standardize, and sustain. Having a clear system in place and keeping track of when a facility has been sanitized will help ensure that sanitation protocols are being followed. Maintaining good records not only helps prevent cross-contamination, but can also help track the source of an outbreak if one does occur.
7. Improper Hand Hygiene
Handwashing facilities for sanitary areas must be maintained so that they have a safe level of bacteria. Personnel must be trained on proper use of the station, including requirements from the FDA Food Code to wash hands:
- When entering a food prep area
- Before putting gloves on
- Before preparing food
- Before handling equipment or utensils
- When changing tasks
- After handling equipment or utensils
- After using the bathroom, sneezing, eating, or drinking
- After handling animals
In addition to following best practices for washing hands, employees must also be mindful of when gloves should be changed, which is often in the same instances as when handwashing is recommended.
Consider D7 for Preventing Cross-Contamination
When it comes to preventing cross-contamination in food processing, knowledge is power. Educate employees about the many ways bacteria can be transferred and the importance of maintaining sanitation protocols. To learn more about how D7 can be used to prevent cross-contamination, read our case study, How Process, Automation, and the Right Chemistry Led to a Minimum 99.9999% Reduction in Facility Entrance (Entry Point) Bacteria.