KANSAS CITY — While sanitation tasks are performed at the end of production shifts, they should never be considered an afterthought when it comes to operations at meat and poultry processing facilities. Sanitation plays a crucial role in the safe production of food. The Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) have developed guidances, Good Manufacturing Practices (G.M.P.s) and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (S.S.O.P.s) to help processors navigate the necessary tasks of cleaning and sanitizing food production facilities.

Plants that produce ready-to-eat (R.-T.-E.) foods, specifically those containing meat, need to be wary of Listeria monocytogenes. The nature of these foods, which won’t be further cooked after leaving production, puts them at higher risk of staying contaminated with Listeria if exposed during production.

The F.D.A.’s “Guidance for Industry: Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-To-Eat Foods” outlines the current G.M.P.s regarding personnel, plant and grounds, sanitary operations, sanitary facilities and controls, equipment and utensils, processes and controls and warehousing and distribution.

Given the increasing number of food production personnel working in meat processing environments, it’s important that sanitation practices include more than just cleaning equipment. When it comes to personnel, sanitation should start with hands, gloves and footwear.

The F.D.A. recommends that all people who enter an area where R.-T.-E. foods are processed thoroughly wash their hands before entering. Personnel should use suitable utensils (such as spatulas or tongs), or wear gloves, when touching exposed R.-T.-E. foods, food-contact surfaces (F.C.S.s) and packaging materials.

Gloves and footwear worn by personnel in R.-T.-E. processing facilities should be made of impermeable material and be easily cleanable or disposable.

Employees need the right kind of outer clothing to wear in the production facility so there’s a barrier between them and the food. Clothing should include coats or smocks, aprons, plastic sleeves, hairnets, gloves or even full coveralls. Protective plant clothing should never be worn outside of the production area. Also, it’s important to have clean protective plant clothing on hand for visitors.

Periodic equipment cleaning

Daily sanitation procedures can remedy a number of sanitation issues, however, sanitation design flaws do naturally exist, so equipment must be periodically disassembled beyond what is required for daily cleaning. Periodic equipment cleaning (P.E.C.) is the process designed to manage this activity.

The basic steps of the process include:

  • Start with a clean line.
  • Tear the line down to the most complete level that can be done on-site.
  • Keep notes as to what is being done on each line so they can be repeated in the future.
  • Be prepared to do clean equipment investigational swabbing on areas of the equipment that could contain harborage points.
  • After disassembling equipment, look for potential harborage points to inspect and clean.
  • During the P.E.C. process, never tear down the equipment beyond the point that local personnel can reassemble it and always follow lock out/tag out procedures on all equipment.
  • Swab any identified flawed sites, and be sure to swab the same sites in the future to determine if the P.E.C. task is effective.
  • Initiate any corrective actions if the equipment is found to be visually dirty, the sites have out-of-standard swab results or any sites are found to have sanitary design deficiencies.

Periodic equipment cleaning is just one of the processes in an effective sanitation program for a food processing facility. Since every operation is different, G.M.P.s and S.S.O.P.s should be developed to fit the individual production environment.

Controlling pests

Pests are an ongoing threat to sanitation in any food processing facility. Developing an effective pest-control program is essential and should be worked into plant sanitation procedures.

The program begins with an understanding of potential pests, their feeding habits, where and how they live and various methods of controlling and eliminating them. The most common pests in food-processing facilities are cockroaches, insects – including flies, ants and beetles – rodents and birds.

The most common pests found in food-processing facilities are roaches, which have been shown to transmit diseases including bacteria – some in the insect’s gut and others on its exterior surface.

A good way to detect cockroaches is to enter a darkened production or storage area, turn on the lights and look for scurrying roaches. They can also be found by inspecting inside electrical junction boxes, receptacles and control panels or by looking behind objects and in floor drains.

The first step to prevent roaches is eliminating places where they may live, including cardboard boxes. It’s important to seal and fill cracks and crevices throughout the plant in production and nonproduction areas. Seal openings around conduits and pipes where they pass through walls and ceilings. Chemical control of cockroaches requires E.P.A.-approved insecticides that are generally formulated as sprays, aerosols and dusts.

The most common flying insects are the housefly and fruit fly. A single housefly has been estimated to carry up to 3.6 million bacteria. The movement of flies from unwholesome food sources to fresh-food products, production equipment and other surfaces provide endless opportunities for them to transmit disease-causing bacteria.

The most effective method of fly prevention is removing and eliminating breeding sites. This primarily means the availability of garbage. It must be located away from doors and removed frequently.

Electrocution traps with blue fluorescent lights are effective in helping to reduce flying insects. Sticky traps, baited jug traps or sticky ribbons are another alternative, and insecticidal sprays or fogs can also be used to suppress flies.

Pests are unavoidable in food-processing facilities, but proper monitoring, sanitation and control techniques can help stop pests from causing contamination and possibly spreading disease. Consulting an industrial pest control company to assess, monitor and control pests, rodents and birds around processing plants is recommended.