Cleaning chemicals are at the core of any food plant sanitation program. Safe and successful food production depends on using chemicals properly to clean and sanitize all processing areas. There’s little room for error when it comes to managing sanitation products—especially when auditors come calling.
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Audits are ever-present in the food industry. Some are industry driven, such as Global Food Safety Initiative and Safe Quality Food audits. Government regulations trigger USDA, FDA, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections. And customers may require yet another round of audits and inspections at your plant.
Each of these audits may cover different aspects of food production. But regardless of the type of inspection, you can expect plant sanitation and chemicals to come under scrutiny. The best way to prepare for any potential audit is to always follow chemical handling best practices and document them religiously from start to finish.
The basics of chemical handling are simple—use the right chemicals, at the right place, and in the right amount. It’s critical to adhere to the chemical product label, which specifies what the product is to be used for and how it should be mixed and stored.
Make sure your operation doesn’t have in-plant “chemists” who create their own cleaning concoctions. For example, mixing bleach and quaternary ammonium together can be an effective detergent for removing tough colored soil, like tomato-based sauce. However, the bleach label does not allow it to be combined with other chemicals. Any product mixing that’s not listed in label directions will be a red flag in case of audit. Plus, mixing incompatible chemicals, such as chlorine with acid, could produce toxic gases and safety hazards for employees.
All cleaners and sanitizers within the plant must be used for the purpose on the label—not to clean the parking lot, for example. Always stay “on-script” to stay audit-ready.
Some’s Good, More’s Better? Not.
This old-school saying would be a definite red flag for auditors. Always stay within concentration ranges specified on the chemical label for the product and how it’s being used. Lower concentrations may not effectively sanitize the food production area, while higher concentrations would be wasteful and costly.
Also keep in mind that the U.S. EPA classifies disinfectants and sanitizers as pesticides because they control microbes in the environment. Using a higher-than-labeled chemical concentration could risk EPA action against your plant—and risk food contamination.
The only way to know for sure that you are using correct chemical concentrations is through titrations to verify products have been mixed with the proper amount of water. Titration data is one of the key metrics that inspectors will look for during an audit of your chemicals.
Real-time titrations are recommended. Here’s why: If you mix and use a chemical product on a Monday and don’t run titration tests until Wednesday, you may have spent two days using the wrong concentration. That could jeopardize food safety as well as raise issues at inspection time.
Even before mixing and titration, make sure to use chemicals only from a licensed chemical blending facility. Look for a company that provides technical support and supplies high quality dispensers and foamers to ensure proper product application. Also, ask your chemical supplier about its quality control procedures. Ideally, the chemical manufacturer or blender should test each lot for purity and potency prior to shipment.
Don’t Overlook Your H2O
An often-overlooked factor in sanitation chemical efficacy is water quality. Test water at least once a year and anytime your municipality notifies you of changes in the water supply.