Safeguarding the hygienic integrity of produce within today’s large-scale food and beverage facilities is becoming an ever more complex task—as plants get bigger, demand becomes more intense, and clients expectations increase.
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Yet as these manufacturing and logistical challenges are evolving, so too are the cleanliness and quality standards that businesses are required to meet to ensure that contaminants, unwanted microbes, and harmful bacteria don’t creep into the food chain.
Not only is minimizing contamination incidents a priority for earning the trust of retailers and consumers, but governments are also expecting both domestic and foreign businesses to conform to the same high standard in order to protect against foodborne illness outbreaks.
For food that has traveled across vast distances, this means closely scrutinizing the conditions at every point of the foodstuffs journey, including where it is grown, manufactured, processed, packaged, stored, transported, and sold.
Unwanted bacteria, mold, fungi, dust, and grime can potentially enter at a variety of stages and from a variety of sources, however few areas of any facility will be as at risk as the floor area. Gravity will cause the majority of contaminants to end up on the floor at some point and hazardous microbes can enter under the shoes of employees or on the wheels of equipment.
The importance of maintaining a hygienic floor finish was exemplified recently, as an unclean floor played a key role in the disastrous Listeria outbreak at the cantaloupe producers Jensen Farms, which led to 33 fatalities, 142 hospitalized victims, the end of the business, and a criminal record for the farm owners.
Hygienic Flooring Properties
To minimize these threats, it is essential that the floor is seamless and impervious, as otherwise the germs will build up within any hard to clean gaps or cracks in the floor’s surface. Once this has started to happen, harmful microbes can spread to other parts of the facility, infiltrating the equipment, spoiling produce, and potentially becoming the start of a foodborne illness.
Coving will be required at the edge of the floor to create a seamless transition between it and the wall. Without this, substances can get trapped in the space between the two surfaces, where it can become a contamination threat over time. Coving also significantly aids the wash down process by containing the water and making it easy for the site’s cleaners to wash around the sides and corners of the room.
Excess water poses another problem to food facilities as if it starts to pool and stagnate, it can become a prime site for unsanitary microbes and substances to colonize. Floors therefore need to be pitched to a fall with stainless steel drainage incorporated into the finish to ensure that any liquids can easily flow out of the working environment.
While it is important for the floor to be easy-to-clean, this criterion may be at odds with another crucial consideration—slip resistance. Food and beverage facilities are often wet places in which to work, meaning that an anti-slip finish is vital to keep staff and visitors safe. However, a roughly textured surface can impede the effectiveness of the cleaning regime; therefore a compromise may need to be made when heavy slip resistance and ease of cleaning are both of critical importance.
Incorporating antibacterial additives into the floor is a good way to further minimize the risk from contaminants. Different flooring materials will deliver the bactericidal property in different ways, from chemically treated surfaces to incorporating a natural agent within the finish. The efficacy and longevity of the bacteria killing property will vary depending on the option chosen. The ISO 22196 test method is the accepted food industry standard to ascertain the antibacterial effectiveness of plastics and other non-porous surfaces.