As giant food processors and ingredient companies reorganize, acquire, and divest their assets to re-position themselves, quality programs are facing the brunt of some of these changes; many companies are having to modify programs to better align with important changes, such as new leadership, loss of technical expertise, and resources being stripped to bare bones. Activities such as these are becoming commonplace and almost expected in the food industry.
Despite these changes, quality and safety are not dispensable in a consumer driven market. Minor changes in quality can influence buyer behaviors; however, safety impacts are not as resilient. As the march continues to further cost reductions through automation in manufacturing, sanitation is on everyone’s radar as a place where innovation may just be the solution we are all looking for.
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In just a few months, 2018 has become a record year for listeriosis-related deaths on a global basis. As of mid-May, a record of 204 deaths and 1,033 cases of listeriosis have occurred in South Africa in the largest outbreak in recorded history, where consumers of a popular meat product were struck with illness from consuming the contaminated product. The consequence on employees has been the loss of an astounding 2,000 jobs related to this incident.
Even though approximately 1,600 people are affected by listeriosis each year in the U.S. and 260 of them die, the global burden of Listeria is not as easy to quantify. A 2010 study published in The Lancet estimates 23,150 cases of illness and 5,463 deaths. Listeria contamination has been a sore spot for both frozen and fresh products, both being directly tied to inadequate sanitation practices.
Listeria is the top pathogen being targeted by the vast majority of processing sectors from ready-to-eat dairy products to frozen vegetables, refrigerated and frozen meals, prepared fruits, and numerous foods that can harbor Listeria. While prevalence data is incomplete at best, there are significant gaps in the actual harborage considerations, ecological niches, and biofilm dynamics that support the prevalence and propagation of Listeria, making proper cleaning and sanitization vital to controlling contamination.
Several high-profile outbreaks of listeriosis in recent years, like cantaloupes, packaged salads, caramel apples, and frozen vegetables, have been caused by biofilm accumulation and transfer, or the use of equipment in unintended ways. Moreover, many of these cases could well have been prevented principally by properly planned and executed sanitation programs.
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But what does proper planning entail?
Mastering the Master Plan
The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations’ guidance on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) can be supplemented by maintaining a well-documented schedule that aligns everyday hygiene with the overall plant and its equipment.
Develop an equipment inventory containing a coversheet of equipment description in written and graphical form with intended use, equipment specifications, manuals, manufacturer and technical support information, date of installation and history of maintenance events (preventative and restorative), and functional and hygienic inspection records.
A master sanitation schedule should include the master plan for the entire plant and a breakdown of each part that requires cleaning and consists of the following at a minimum:
- Each piece of immovable equipment;
- Moveable equipment and implements/tools (forklifts, bins and carts, etc.);
- Facility structures and items used by operators (personal protective equipment, cleaning tools, handheld equipment, etc.);
- Surfaces including walls, floors, and ceilings;
- Utility inlets and outlets (water, air);
- Sanitary facilities and waste disposal areas for both production related waste and trash from all areas of the facility (sewer, solid waste, liquid waste, liquid treatable waste, recyclables, trash, etc.) and their surrounding areas;
- Daily or weekly activities separate from periodic or deep cleaning plan scheduled activities, which should be visible to all personnel; and
- Details of WHAT needs to be cleaned, WHEN it needs to be cleaned, HOW it needs to be cleaned, WHO will clean it, using what SPECIFIC equipment (color coded brushes, pads, hoses, steam, or jetting equipment), for HOW LONG with what specific PROTOCOLS (time and temperature, scrubbing action, etc.), and PRODUCTS (potency and quantity of detergents, water, sanitizers).
Know Your Targets and Gather Data
Listeria is only one of many organisms to be concerned with. Pathogens such as Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Shiga toxin producing E. coli, Vibrio, and Campylobacter are all major targets for sanitation. While these organisms are of economic interest to prevent illness, spoilage organisms that are abundant in processing facilities are not regularly sought after through planned swabbing exercises.