Getting it Right: Sanitation Protocols

Cleaning and sanitization play an important part in any food processing facility, whether a continuous or batch process, regardless of the complexity or simplicity of the operation. Certain industries, particularly meat, poultry and seafood, have stringent cleaning and sanitizing protocols due to the myriad potential problems which may occur.

These protocols are also required by regulatory agencies, and while other operations may not require such stringent cleaning, i.e., warehouse/distribution centers, it is in the best interests of both the processor and their customers for cleaning/sanitizing to be conducted.

Good sanitation, removing trash, litter and debris can remove potential food sources for pests and remove potential pest harborages within the facility. Cleaning can also be associated with good preventive maintenance; clean equipment will often operate better than dirty equipment. A satisfactory cleaning program is an essential prerequisite for an effective HACCP program.

Often there is a designated supervisor/manager with overall responsibility for cleaning/sanitation programs. Depending on the size of the workforce, this associate may do the actual cleaning or supervise a cleaning staff. If supervising, personnel must be adequately trained in the importance of cleaning, in cleaning techniques, and in chemical safety. Often those responsible for sanitation are also associated with quality assurance. Effective cleaning can also have an impact on employee morale. There is a term known as “quality of work life,” and working in a clean and organized facility is better than one that is not.

Some Definitions
Clean: free of visible dirt
Sanitary: free of disease causing microorganisms
Sterile: free of all microorganisms
CIP: Clean-in-place
COP: Clean-out-of-place
PLC: Programmable logic controller

CIP operations can work either in continuous or batch systems, when equipment may be out of service for a specific window of time. CIP systems are generally automatic, controlled either by a central computer in a process control room or often by a PLC in the process area. Once a piece of equipment, or an entire subsystem (tanks, transfer lines, pumps, heat exchangers, centrifuges, fillers, etc) is not in use and ready for CIP, the sequence often runs as this:

  1. A hot dilute caustic step, about 0.5 to 1 percent NaOH, often with varying levels of sodium gluconate as an anti-scaling compound, functions as the first cleaning step. The caustic can be recycled to the supply tank for reuse, with a conductivity meter to determine the cutoff between spent and good caustic.
  2. This can be followed by a hot water rinse.
  3. A sanitizing solution would ensue; most common are iodophors, quaternary ammonium compounds, hypochlorite, or peroxyacetic acids. Sanitizers are designed by manufacturers to be used at low concentrations.
  4. Final hot water rinse to remove any excess sanitizer.

Elapsed times and chemical concentrations for each step vary considerably, based on the system/product susceptibility to microorganisms.

Common industries utilizing CIP would include dairies and breweries, while COP is essentially the process of disassembling equipment, cleaning by hand or automatically, usually in an industrial sink. This method of cleaning can be done on specific pieces of equipment at any desired intervals.

Numerous industries would have production on day and swing shifts, with midnight shift devoted to cleaning and sanitation. Examples of these would be meat, poultry and seafood. In these cases, QA personnel and frequently USDA would be available for an early morning pre-op sanitation inspection. If equipment is not satisfactory, cleaning is repeated. Often, industries will use quick checks to determine effectiveness of microorganisms killed. Most common is the ATP bioluminescence test, which relies on a color change if ATP from micro cells is present. Equipment not in current use is generally cleaned, covered with plastic sheeting until use is needed.

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