Fight Pathogens and Microbes in Processing Areas

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a two-part series. Part one, “Critical Sanitation Issues in Food Service,” appeared in our October/November issue.

In part one of this article, we reviewed the evolution of food safety regulations for food service establishments. We discussed the critical sanitation issues found in food service operations, specifically addressing the zones that strongly affect key areas of the food service facility, namely zone 3, the immediate environmental zones around the food processing area, and zone 4, the general environment of the food plant. These areas are discussed in chapters five and six of the 2005 Food Code. In this article, we will focus on the lucrative targets for pathogen and spoilage microbes—the food processing areas of your food service operation.

Purchasing new or used equipment that adheres to the 2005 Food Code’s criteria and has National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) approval gives you a chance to properly clean and sanitize all food contact surfaces in your facility. No matter who approves the equipment, if you do not sanitize properly, the food safety risk will remain huge for your operation and your customers. We will now concentrate on some critical equipment sanitation issues.

Cutting Boards

First, let us focus on cutting boards and tables. If a facility requires a wood surface or utensil, it is important to select hardwoods. The daily manual sanitation regimen for cleaning wood surfaces must be impeccable, with good housekeeping during handling and processing.

Wood or NSF-approved plastic cutting boards can be placed in a dishwashing unit; this is the preferred cleaning method, because the chemical concentrations and water temperatures thoroughly clean the porous surface.

Several years ago, Arthur Miller and his colleagues in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pa., compared how effectively various manual-cleaning regimens removed Escherichia coli 0157:H7 from hardwood cutting boards and polyethylene boards.1 Room temperature ground beef was placed on each cutting board type for a set period. The boards were swabbed, and the bacteria counted. The boards were cleaned, and the bacteria were counted again.

The study found that both surface types had comparable log reductions of the E. coli 0157:H7 strain. Moreover, while some hardwoods, like ash, had a slight inhibitory effect, the rest had little effect. In fact, hard maple food contact surfaces exhibited a slight increase in microbial numbers within the 30- to 90-minute time sampling periods. Some prior studies cited in this study found dishwashers were unable to remove target meat pathogens from the wood board, while others found that many woods have natural inhibitory effects against pathogens.

This study offers two takeaway messages. First, many variables influence sanitation efficacy on cutting boards, including the type of hardwood or the synthetic plastic polymer used. Second, as Miller recommended and I strongly concur: Any cutting surface used for food preparation is a critical control point, with the primary control being stringent, consistent sanitation.

Mixers and Blenders

There are many variations and sizes of mixers and blenders in food service operations. Some are the size of typical ribbon mixers/blenders found in large processing plants, and others are the size of typical home appliances.

Equipment scale determines whether the unit should be manually cleaned and sanitized. For small bench-top or home consumer-type units, use a three-compartment sink and color-coded brushes for all removable food contact components. I still prefer a small portable foam cleaning unit for table-top units, because coverage is more complete.

For larger floor-mounted units, foam clean and sanitize with applicable component tear down (e.g., mixing paddle/agitator blades). Manual cleaning is required for large floor-mount units. Whether your operation uses small home appliance units or large processing units, use the proper color-coded brushes, non-abrasive green pads that can be properly cleaned, or single-use fabric wipes. And as the Food Code admonishes, do not use sponges.

Kettles and Fryers

Stainless steel kettles can be cleaned with powder or foam cleansers.

Stainless steel kettles can be cleaned with powder or foam cleansers.

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