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For those of us old enough to remember when they were initially available, those first clunky mobile phones were mind-blowingly amazing. They were absolutely magical—you could actually make a call from the middle of a field a mile from your house without a mile-long phone cord. The technology was immediately a must-have for those with the means. But looking back at those days now, sitting with our do-everything smartphones in our pockets, the technology of the first mobile phones seems stone-age primitive. If you asked it a question, it responded with a stony silence.
Parallels can be drawn to a similar technological revolution that has occurred with the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) sanitation monitoring systems designed for use in the food industry. When they first became available in the 1990s they were simply astonishing. In just seconds, ATP systems could determine if food contact surfaces were microscopically clean. They provided an instant solution to verify the effectiveness of critical sanitation protocols needed to help ensure the safety and quality of food products. However, nowadays the methodology used in the early ATP systems seems pretty primitive.
The earliest ATP units were bulky and big, and while certainly not bad when compared to other alternatives for monitoring surface cleanliness, including growing cultures, their features were limited compared to today’s options.
Rob Soule, sanitation product manager, Neogen Corp., sees the evolution as being, “all about the information” the ATP systems provide. Where in the past the immediate pass/fail determination for a site was enough, today’s more sophisticated managers want to look at trends and deeply analyze their test results to better understand the effectiveness of their sanitation efforts. They also want to improve sampling programs to ensure that sites provide a representative sampling of the facility and get the attention each one deserves.
“RFID technology has many uses and we applied it to sanitation monitoring to help our customers develop their sanitation monitoring programs. We didn’t invent RFID technology,” states Soule. “We simply took this terrific technology that’s been used in everything from inventory tracking to cattle identification to toll booth access and figured out a way to automate some of the things that our customers were telling us take up too much of their time.”
Easing Test Plan Creation
As in the early days of ATP system usage, each facility is still required to develop a sanitation monitoring program that is unique to that facility. Whether the program is part of the operation’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) program, sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOP), Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliance, or similar sanitation monitoring initiative, the goal is the same: Identify critical control points in the facility that are the toughest to sanitize effectively, and the likeliest to pose risks of contamination to that facility’s food products.
Once the higher-risk points are identified, a daily test plan can be developed to monitor the effectiveness of the facility’s sanitation program by testing any or all of the points. Because most facilities have more critical control points than can be realistically tested on a daily basis, in the past supervisors had no other choice but to take the time to attempt to tailor daily test plans to best ensure the overall cleanliness of the facility.
With today’s ATP sanitation monitoring systems, all a supervisor has to do is identify test sites just once as either being mandatory, meaning they are tested every day, or as being of lower risk, which means the sites are among those that are tested on a random basis. With this information, a test plan can be automatically created on a daily basis—completely eliminating the supervisor’s once daily responsibility.