10 Easy Improvements for a More Sanitary Processing Plant

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In the modern processing world, facilities are continuously striving to improve their sanitation programs. To safeguard against contamination problems and provide a quality product, processors must always be looking for ways to give their cleaning programs a boost.

Sanitation is also vital to reducing corrosion in processing systems. In the food, dairy, and beverage industry, microbiological induced corrosion (MIC), if not properly attended, can become a financial detriment to the plant.

Improving your sanitation program can sometimes require a hefty investment of time and money, like purchasing new equipment or hiring additional staff. But not all improvements need to put a strain on your resources.* Here is a look at 10 easy improvements for the sanitary industry that you can make to upgrade the sanitation results in your processing plant.

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1. Create a Culture of Clean

The culture of an organization is the foundation on which everything is built, and the sanitation program is no exception. Management commitment is the most critical element in driving corporate culture, so create a dialogue with upper management about how they can support a facility-wide culture of sanitation and food safety.

As you are taking positive steps toward creating a "culture of clean," ask for management's help and support for culture-driving initiatives such as:

  • Communicating effectively with employees about the importance of sanitation.
  • Engaging and involving all employees in sanitation tasks and activities.
  • Training and reinforcing good food safety behaviors.
  • Creating and maintaining a food safety culture team.
  • Maintaining a customer-driven focus for all sanitation activities.
  • Measuring and re-assessing your food safety culture on a regular basis.
  • Making a long-term commitment to sustaining and improving food safety.

2. Get Everyone Involved

From top management on down, get everyone on the sanitation bandwagon. Company-wide awareness of the sanitation effort enables cooperation, compliance, and consistency.

First and foremost, be sure that executives and managers have a strong commitment to a top-notch sanitation program. Include them in training and organizational meetings to remind them that sanitation is fundamental to food safety, quality, and productivity - all of which impact the bottom line. By truly understanding the importance of the sanitation process, they can help ensure that you have the proper equipment, staff, and training resources to do the job right. Their support as good role models will make it easier to create, support, and maintain a culture of sanitation and food safety.

Other departments can have equally important roles in strengthening your sanitation program. Include maintenance staff, production workers and office personnel in training events to give them a better understanding of how crucial sanitation is to their job security. Solicit feedback from all departments on how your sanitation efforts can improve. Create teams comprised of staff members from all departments and assign them tasks to periodically audit, inspect or double check compliance. Remember - the more buy-in you have from all departments, the stronger your sanitation program will be.

3. Know Your cGMP

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has outlined current good manufacturing practices (cGMP) or food manufacturing facilities in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Part 110 (21 CFR 110). This document covers the FDA requirements for all aspects of food manufacturing, from employee cleanliness requirements through sanitary operations and hygienic equipment design and cleaning. It also serves as one basis for FDA inspections.

Share copies of the cGMP with your sanitation staff and help them to get familiar with its requirements. Use it as a guide for organizing your cleaning programs, schedules, and checklists. Knowing the FDA requirements for proper sanitary operations will help guide your sanitation program and keep your sanitation efforts headed in the right direction.

4. Build a Structure

The sanitation department depends on structure to be effective. Establish a clear, thorough and sustainable master cleaning schedule that can be repeated and documented as needed. By scheduling cleaning tasks for processing industry equipment months in advance, you can be prepared to maintain proper sanitation standards despite fluctuations in production and available resources.

When drawing up your schedule, be realistic. Consider available manpower, production schedules and any special types of equipment or services that will be needed. And remember, even when sanitation and hygiene principles for sanitary processing plants are consistent, the way you apply them to your facility can vary widely. So structure your cleaning methods and routines to suit your plant environment.

Your master cleaning schedule should include things like:

  • A complete list identifying all areas, equipment, and tools that must be cleaned. Take care to keep the areas or equipment groups to a reasonable size. Divide large areas or groups of equipment into zones or sub-groups to make them more manageable. Don’t forget to include cleaning plans for your floors, ceilings, walls, and drains.
  • Dates for each area or item to be cleaned, or a stated frequency for each cleaning task. Common frequencies for various cleaning tasks may be daily, weekly, monthly, or annually. Don’t use the generic “as needed” in lieu of a frequency. Instead, schedule a regular inspection, then document whether cleaning is called for or not.
  • Lists of persons and departments responsible for doing the cleaning.
  • Specific, easy-to-follow cleaning instructions for all equipment, facilities, tools, and containers.
  • A checklist containing each cleaning step so the operator can verify completion with their initials or signature. A checklist can be a valuable work record in the event of an inspection or if a contamination issue arises.
  • Guidelines for cleaning buildings and grounds.

5. Train, Train, and Cross-train

The more employees know about your sanitation program and key sanitation issues, the better the program will be. Schedule regular training meetings to ensure that everyone is well versed in the scope and strategies of your sanitation program. You can even invite some of your sanitary fitting suppliers to conduct training classes about their products. Start with the basics and work your way toward more complex sanitation strategies. Some training topics to cover might be:

  • Appropriate sanitation principles - cover the "whats" and the "whys" of your sanitation program.
  • Good food handling practices.
  • Proper use of the chemicals, tools, and equipment used for sanitation.
  • Appropriate personal hygiene practices.
  • The science of cleaning - how cleaning agents work.
  • cGMP requirements.
  • Proper use of personal protective gear, lock-out tag-out, and chemical safety.
  • Opportunistic training: food safety issues, new trends, and new products.

As with most of the other operations in the plant, it is also a good idea to cross-train sanitarians to assure that they can function in different roles when the staff is short of people. Every employee, including managers, should also receive initial food-safety protocol training and receive refresher training on a regular basis thereafter.

6. Celebrate Success

It is important to celebrate the successes of the sanitation staff. As your sanitation practices improve, the overall performance of your facility will improve as well, so take some time to share these improvements with everyone.

Start by identifying a few key performance indicators (KPI) related to your sanitation program, then use them to set some performance goals. Track your progress on posters containing graphs or charts. These visual aids will let all employees know that your sanitation efforts are producing positive, tangible results. Working together toward reaching your goals will incentivize all employees to do what they can to make your sanitary processing plant more sanitary. When you reach a goal or milestone, recognize the accomplishment with a special reward or activity. Some of your sanitation KPIs might include:

  • Consecutive days without a contamination or non-compliance issue.
  • Improvements in shelf life.
  • Cleaning tasks completed on schedule.
  • Improvements in swab test measurement results.
  • Plant inspection results.
  • Employee sanitation training hours.

7. Evaluate Your Equipment and Plant Design

The sanitary design of your facilities and equipment is a major contributor to making your sanitation program more effective. It also has an impact on sanitation expense by reducing the amount of chemical needed to clean and sanitize as well as minimizing labor and overtime. Sanitary design makes cleaning faster and more efficient. The easier the facility and equipment are to clean, the more effectively the cleaning can be done.

Conduct an inspection of your equipment and building to identify machinery or spaces that are troublesome to clean effectively. Make a list of non-hygienic design elements in your plant, then submit the list to management for redesign or replacement.

Hygienically designed equipment should be:

  • Food grade.
  • Cleanable to a microbiological level.
  • Made of materials compatible with cleaning solutions.
  • Accessible for all maintenance, cleaning and inspection procedures.
  • Free of areas that could collect product or liquid.
  • Free of unsealed hollow areas.
  • Free of pits, cracks, recesses, poor welds, or corrosion.
  • Hygienically compatible with other plant systems.
  • Able to facilitate validation of cleaning and other sanitary protocols.

Hygienically designed facilities should have:

  • Distinct hygienic zones established within the facility.
  • Protocols established to control the flow of personnel and material to reduce hazards.
  • Design elements to control water accumulation within the facility.
  • Controlled room temperatures and humidity.
  • Controlled air flow and air quality.
  • Building components, site elements, and interior designs that facilitate sanitary conditions.
  • Utility systems that are designed to prevent contamination.
  • Sanitary design elements integrated into the facility design.

8. Verify

The verification of cleaning processes is a high priority in the food processing industry. It is used to show proof that the cleaning system consistently performs as expected. Your cleaning schedule should include some type of verification and documentation procedure to prove your efforts are paying off.

Depending on your requirements, there are a wide variety of techniques for determining the presence of soil residue. Here are some examples:

  • Organoleptic - the name sounds complicated, but this easy, inexpensive technique is merely the term for using your sight, smell, and touch to check for unclean surfaces. With nothing more than a flashlight, mirror, and ladder, you can check equipment and building surfaces for unclean areas.
  • Surface Moisture - most soiled surfaces become hydrophobic, so water tends to bead up and become visible in the presence of soil.
  • Dyes - specific dyes with an affinity for certain soils like protein or starch can be applied to a surface to make the soil visible.
  • ATP Testing - adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is a compound found in all organic material. Bioluminescence testing for residual amounts of ATP on surfaces is a quick and easy way to check for cleanliness.
  • Microbial Testing - swab samples of surface residue can be tested and analyzed to determine the presence of mircoorganisms.

9. Emphasize Personal Cleanliness and Conduct

Some very simple behaviors in your sanitary processing plant can be big contributors to achieving a cleaner and safer environment. The day-to-day habits of your staff are a reflection of your culture, so encourage and mandate good behaviors such as:

  • Pick up and properly dispose of any trash, paper scraps or packaging that is lying around. Not only can these be safety hazards, but they can harbor bacteria and contribute to recontamination. Provide appropriate containers and suitable waste storage areas.
  • Prohibit the use of chewing gum, tobacco, or food in manufacturing areas.
  • Reinforce the use of hair nets, beard nets, gloves, and shoe covers where required.
  • Clean up any product or ingredient spills immediately. Exposed organic matter is an open invitation to insects and other pests.
  • Remove any standing water and facilitate drainage for any areas where water or other liquids can accumulate.
  • Restrict staff members with certain ailments, diseases, wounds, skin infections, sores, etc. from all food handling areas.
  • Require frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer solutions.
  • Remove jewelry, watches, etc. before entering the food handling area.

10. Color Code

A clearly defined system for color coding tools and containers for different areas of your food manufacturing site can help eliminate the most fundamental causes of bacterial or allergen cross-contamination. Not surprisingly, most auditors and customers look very favorably on facilities with color coding programs.

Start by dividing your production areas into visually separated zones based on risk to the product. Assign each zone its own color for production and sanitation tools and containers.

Keep it simple. Resist the temptation to assign a different color to every process in every area. The goal is simply to avoid cross-contamination. Using too many colors or color combinations can make the system confusing and ineffective.

Make sure the tools and containers are stored in the same area where they are used. To avoid confusion, clearly mark the storage brackets or shelves where the tools belong.

* In cases when simple steps are inadequate, more cost-effective solutions require investments in cleaning systems that recover their costs by streamlining cleaning processes, reducing shutdown time, and increasing plant safety. That is when clean-in-place (CIP) systems offer more comprehensive, automated solutions to sanitation problems.

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Central States Industrial Equipment (CSI) is a leader in distribution of hygienic pipe, valves, fittings, pumps, heat exchangers, and MRO supplies for hygienic industrial processors, with four distribution facilities across the U.S. CSI also provides detail design and execution for hygienic process systems in the food, dairy, beverage, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and personal care industries. Specializing in process piping, system start-ups, and cleaning systems, CSI leverages technology, intellectual property, and industry expertise to deliver solutions to processing problems. More information can be found at www.csidesigns.com.