It was time for the plant’s yearly audit. The auditor was inspecting the plant along with the sanitation manager. After they were done with the walk-though, they went to the sanitation manager’s office to review the records.
The auditor asked the sanitation manager for the records indicating the last time a certain machine was cleaned. The sanitation manager said, “That’s OK, you can take my word for it.” The auditor continued and reviewed the employee’s records. The next question was, “May I see the training certificates and the renewals?” The sanitation manager said, “That’s OK, you can take my word for it – everyone’s training is up to date.” The auditor then asked to see the plant’s self-audit records. The sanitation manager said with a big grin, “We did great on them; you can take my word for it.”
After saying the plant looked “superior,” the auditor was ready to leave. The sanitation manager asked, “Where’s our certificate?”
The auditor smiled and said, “That’s OK, you can take my word for it,” while walking out the door.
The point of the joke is that clean is no longer good enough. Documentation and auditing are part of sanitation. They help produce a closed loop with quality assurance to provide validation of a facility’s entire food safety program.
Regardless of the size of the plant or organization, the basic framework is the same when building and reviewing sanitation and self-auditing programs.
The Sanitation Cycle
The sanitation cycle is made up of four parts. The first part is the Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure (SSOP) for the equipment and areas. Nothing about how to clean and sanitize is left to chance, especially when allergens are involved.
The steps, intervals, estimated time required, chemical used, and amounts are to be included. When creating SSOPs, plan for and create the changeover and allergen changeover SSOPs. When needed, the changeover SSOPs can usually be copied from the main SSOP and adjusted as needed (typically by deleting extra tasks or adding QA sign-off).
The second part is the schedule. This is the when the tasks are to be performed. The scheduling on manual systems can be split into Master Sanitation Scheduling (MSS) and “Daily Tasks.” The MSS items are tasks performed every week or longer, such as cleaning the “Overhead and Pipes in Warehouse” every 26 weeks, which would take eight man-hours. The daily tasks would include items like “Wet Clean Filler Unit No. 2,” which would take one man-hour.
The third part is performing of the tasks. In the past, this alone was enough to be considered sanitation.
The fourth part is documenting who completed the tasks and when. For auditing purposes, include signatures and dates. The staff that did the work, not just the scheduled staff, must be included in the documentation. Include reasons tasks were not completed along with the list of tasks.
Of the four parts of the sanitation cycle, only the third is visible on a daily basis to most plant staff. It necessarily gets the vast majority of the workforce and the priority. The other three parts are just as important for long-term food safety.
Clearly documenting the SSOPs provides the sanitation department with a number of clear benefits. It helps reduce ambiguity when performing tasks. There is no doubt what is expected of the staff. It allows supervisory staff to focus on higher-level issues instead of repeating items. By having the SSOPs documented, accountability is built in. The staff performing the work, supervisors and the sanitation manager all have defined accountability by having documented SSOPs.
The SSOPs are also used for training and recertifying staff. New staff can use a printed copy of the SSOP to learn how to clean a specific piece of equipment or area. Budget and manpower justification is difficult for most plant sanitation departments. SSOPs that include manpower forecasts make manpower calculations possible with the backup documentation the front office needs.