A common catchphrase in pest management is, “If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen.” This is true of the steps a pest management technician takes while serving a facility, but it’s also true of the steps QA or plant managers must take to plan and implement good sanitation protocols.
Poor or haphazardly followed sanitation protocols are a leading cause of pest infestations in food processing, storage, and distribution facilities. Failing to sweep it up, wipe it up, and wash it puts a facility at a much higher risk for a possible pest issue. Failures in sanitation practices can also lead to poor or failed audits and inspections, contaminated products, and costly recalls that damage both your bottom line and brand reputation.
In fact, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which audits tens of thousands of facilities, identified documentation (or more specifically, the lack of proper documentation of cleaning procedures) as the most common reason for audit failure. Almost 20 percent of facilities audited by the BRC had non-conformities in documentation of cleaning procedures.
Good sanitation starts with having a written plan that is communicated to employees from top to bottom to ensure buy-in and accountability. Not only is good sanitation a series of actions, it is also a mindset.
Where to Start
Creating a good sanitation protocol starts with a thorough inspection of a facility to identify areas and operational practices that could be the root cause of a sanitation issue. It’s important to ask questions like, “What areas are most susceptible to sanitation issues?” or “Where do you start your inspection?”
A sample sanitation checklist can be found in the sidebar, but to get you headed in the right direction, you need to know the “hot spot” areas inside and outside a facility.
On the inside of facilities, the first-in and first-out inventory management system is a good practice to follow. If product has been sitting on a shelf two years past its use date, it can spoil and attract pests. Be sure to document using a barcode system when product arrives and when the “use by” date is approaching.
The following are potential indoor areas of concern.
Floor drains can be a big issue due to the buildup of food particles, water, and other organic matter that small flies and cockroaches love. Regular inspection and sanitation treatments are a must.
Processing machines can produce significant amounts of splatter and spillage. It may be necessary to regularly take apart certain machine components to clean and inspect for pests.
Ceilings are a source of cobwebs and spider webs, and overhead pipes and exposed beams in warehouses must be cleaned regularly to prevent dust buildup that attract warehouse beetles and other pests.
Loading docks are collection points for everything workers don’t know how to discard. Broken-down pallets, damaged shipping boxes, and spilled food commodities placed there can attract pests.
Breakrooms, cafeterias, locker rooms, and restrooms are prime pest hot spots because of the abundance of food and harborage locations. Employees bring in food and store it (and sometimes forget it) in lockers. Food waste may not be properly cleaned up in breakrooms and vending machines may have food and liquid spillage. All these are pest attractants where regular cleaning and staff education are needed to reduce the threat.
Roof leaks lead to big sanitation issues and the potential threat of harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, from bird droppings on the roof. If water collects in remote areas of a plant, it can support mold, fungi, and insect activity.
The inside of a facility isn’t the only place to check for sanitation hot spots. Make sure to regularly assess the following outside areas.
Railroad sidings are prime areas for food spillage that can attract rodents and birds.
Weed control around plants and rail lines will eliminate potential pest harborage areas. Mow grass regularly, trim trees and bushes, choose plantings correctly (non-fruit bearing trees and bushes), and leave a 2-ft.-wide rock barrier around the exterior to reduce rodent burrowing.
Proper drainage is essential to eliminating fly, termite, and mosquito harborage areas. Make sure drains in the parking lot and loading dock are clear, irrigation pipes and sprinkler heads are not leaking, and that gutters and downspouts drain away from the building.
Garbage and recycling dumpsters need to be placed on a concrete pad at least 100 feet away from a structure. The pad and the bin need to be cleaned regularly—“dumpster juice” is very attractive to flies, rodents, and stinging insects—and lids are a must. Staff members should not place bags around the bin when it is filled. Facility managers need to request more frequent trash pickups if this is a frequent occurrence.
Equipment, including pallets, pipes, storage racks, etc., needs to be stored away from loading dock doors and entrances, and all items need to be cleaned before they are brought back inside.
Good sanitation is achieved when everyone is working from the same playbook, and proper resources are allocated to training and equipment (e.g., mobile cleaning stations). Good sanitation practices must be part of a plant’s culture, and the staff should be incentivized to make it a priority. For example, consider rewards for those who complete 100 percent of the master sanitation tasks, or give rights and authority to employees for identifying unsanitary practices. Staff can also determine specific metrics to track progress, or attend sanitation seminars to find out new trends and products.
A strong sanitation program complements a good food and worker safety program. Everyone has a stake in the process, and everyone wins when it is done well.
Sanitation Horror Stories
Every pest management professional has walked into a food industry facility and stopped in their tracks due to poor sanitation practices—some intentional, some not.
Below are a few examples of situations where poor sanitation practices undermined even the best pest management programs.
The Case of the Spilled Soda. A soda manufacturer was experiencing an issue with fruit flies and could not figure out why. Upon arrival at the plant, it was noted there were no access aisles against walls to conduct inspections and cleaning (an 18- to 24-in. space is recommended). Pallets were haphazardly pushed up against walls and sugary liquid spillage accumulated beneath the pallets, providing fruit flies a prime breeding location.
Lesson Learned: Good sanitation practices include giving your maintenance and cleaning crews access to the areas that need cleaning.
A Cheesy Situation. During a routine inspection at a cheese manufacturing facility, a technician checked the floor drains in the processing area. The technician noticed the P-trap had fallen off the drain and was lying on rock bed underneath the cement slab. The drain was not connected to the sewer line, and cheese particles and water were falling unabated to the ground under the slab creating conditions conducive for cockroaches and phorid flies.
Lesson Learned: Frequent inspections are a must to stay on top of sanitation-related issues—if the technician had not taken the time to shine a flashlight down the drain, the buildup would have continued and the pest issue metastasized throughout the plant.
River Rats. Norway rats were gaining access to a large food storage and distribution facility located near a river in a major metropolitan area. In addition to the river, there were abandoned buildings, overgrown lots, and the facility stored pallets and located its dumpster right next to the building. This all added up to a facility with severe rodent pressure. It was a 24/7 facility, so doors were left open around the clock and an automatic door motion detector was installed to help keep doors closed when not in use. However, one of the workers put a piece of tape over the door’s eyelet to stop it from closing, giving the rats easy access. Once inside, the rats left droppings and urine, and chewed through shrink-wrapped pallets to eat and spoil the food that was awaiting shipment to hungry consumers.
Lesson Learned: Part of a good sanitation protocol is training employees on what not to do to allow easy pest access to a facility: leaving doors open, storing pallets next to the building, and placing a dumpster close to a door.—S.M.
The Sanitation Checklist
Having a list and checking it twice isn’t just for holiday gift shopping. It is an essential element in a facility’s sanitation program. Here is a top-line overview adapted from Truman’s Scientific Guide to Pest Management Operations of what a sanitation checklist should include:
- Exterior Areas (garbage disposal areas, drainage, weed control, pest breeding and harborage areas, etc.)
- Building Exterior (pest-proofing/exclusion, lighting, etc.)
- Building Interior (walls, floors, ceilings, floor drains, plumbing, ventilation, lighting, etc.)
- Food Storage
- Packaged and Dry Food Storage (proper storage practices, good sanitation, etc.)
- Damaged Goods Storage (segregation, repackaging, good sanitation, etc.)
- Returned Goods
- Refrigerated Areas (condensation, cleaning, etc.)
- Food Preparation Areas (access to enclosed areas, under equipment, surface areas, etc.)
- Dishwashing Areas
- Garbage and Recycling Areas (proper containers, containers covered, etc.)
- Toilet and Locker Room Areas (lockers regularly cleaned and emptied, etc.)
- Lunch/Breakroom (cleaned regularly, trash taken out regularly, etc.)
- Vending Machines (accessible for cleaning, etc.)
- Utility Areas (accessible for cleaning, no pest-conducive conditions, etc.)
- Office Areas (trash removed regularly, no food stored in desks, etc.)