When we think sanitation, we think cleanliness, and when we think cleanliness, we think about an effective food safety program and the peace of mind that results from it. That’s why food safety and cleanliness go hand in hand. A clean area means an area with clean surfaces, clean air, and clean surrounding environments. One of the definitions of “clean” is “free from dirt, filth, or impurities.” And to make clean is to remove dirt, filth, or unwanted substances.
Explore this issueJune/July 2010
In food plants, dirt, filth, and impurities refer to health-related extraneous materials that can be present in a food plant environment and on surfaces and that may contaminate food products and render those products unsafe for human consumption. These extraneous materials are classified under three different health hazard categories: physical, chemical, and biological contaminants. To prevent these extraneous materials from entering food products, the production team should first be provided with a clean and sanitary processing plant, a plant that contains the minimum amounts of extraneous materials and microbial contaminants. Also, some areas of the plant, such as the ready-to-eat (RTE) areas, should be free of particular microorganisms such as Listeria.
Providing the production team with a sanitary facility ensures peace of mind that the air, the walls, the floors, the drains, the belts, the coolers, the cooking kettles, and all other food contact and non-food contact surfaces, including the surrounding environment, will not contribute to food contamination. Their main efforts can then be focused on aspects of food safety related to preparing, cooking, packaging, storing, and shipping wholesome food products.
Have a Sanitary Facility
To provide a sanitary facility, plant management should adopt an effective sanitation program by working with the sanitation supplier to select the best cleaning/sanitizing chemicals, dispensing systems, and application procedures.
In a food processing plant, one of the main areas of concern is the floor drain system. Despite the continuous and increased efforts of many food processors to reduce the number of pathogenic microorganisms, particularly Listeria, in RTE-area drains, many drains have tested positive for these undesirable microorganisms. In fact, a 2004 audit of food processing facilities in a Midwestern state by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service reported that 27.8% of floors and drains sampled tested positive for Listeria. This problem has left food processors puzzled and searching for an effective drain cleaning program.
Because most of the microorganisms, food residues, and other soils in food processing plants are funneled down into drains during the cleaning process, most microorganisms are found there, where optimal conditions for their growth and multiplication are readily available. And because the drain system (underground trunk lines) is difficult to access for an effective cleaning, food processors spend much money and labor trying to keep them sanitary, often with little success, especially when biofilm is present in the drains and at higher levels in the inaccessible underground part of the drain system.
Pathogenic and non-pathogenic microorganisms in drains typically take one of two forms. The first is free form. These are microbes that float in the drain water and are usually relatively easy to control and destroy with traditional sanitizers. In the second form, microorganisms are embedded in a biofilm.
Biofilm is a protective structure formed in drains by microorganisms when an adverse environmental condition strikes them. As microorganisms grow and multiply, they produce a chemical-resistant polysaccharide matrix, which they use to attach themselves to the drain system surfaces. Microorganisms in a biofilm exhibit high resistance to traditional sanitation chemicals.