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Outsourcing Sanitation a Smart Alternative
Outsourcing can yield cost savings, improved quality
by By Missy G. Dawson
After a string of high-profile nationwide foodborne illness outbreaks in 2009, food safety reform is a high priority for legislators and consumers alike. Big changes are on the horizon to overhaul the federal agencies that ensure that consumers are protected against the bacteria and disease that contaminate food and threaten overall security.
Each year, according to an April 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office, food sickens 76 million people in this country, sending 325,000 people to the hospital and killing 5,000. Issues are truly life and death.
As tighter Food and Drug Administration and United States Department of Agriculture regulations are proposed and public scrutiny grows each day, food processors must consider their sanitation programs now more than ever. Outsourcing contract sanitation is not a new option, but examining some fresh perspectives on the benefits outsourcing offers will help you create the smartest strategies for your plant’s cleanliness.
Ron Globerman, president of Ronell Managed Services LLC, said that some companies seem to fear losing control over their sanitation process if a contract cleaner is hired. He has developed an innovative program to address this concern.
If you have ever considered contract cleaning, the reasons likely range from lower bottom-line costs to improved control and efficiency for your sanitation program and assured daily on-time production start-ups.
The power of focusing on your operation’s core competencies is essential for any business to stay competitive. Globerman, a 39-year veteran of the contract cleaning business, said that leading food manufacturers see their sanitation staff as partners in efficiency and success. “Sanitation is an investment in the future of the company, with significant cost saving possibilities as one likely outcome.”
Innovative Outsourcing Program
“One option we offer is to allow our clients’ sanitation employees to continue on their payroll but work under Ronell Managed Services supervision,” Globerman said. “The advantage is that our clients’ longtime employees stay as their employees and stay on their payroll, but we provide the optimal management, chemical, and supply structure with a formula that provides a guaranteed cost savings to our clients.
“It is a total solution for processors who know they need a change in management and who know they need to have improvement in quality of service and reduced cost, but want to retain the sanitation employees as theirs,” he said. “I’m just surprised it’s taken this long to adapt this framework to our industry.”
In other cases, providing the labor might be the right solution for a client’s needs. Seth Leavitt, president of Abeles & Heymann Products Inc., started outsourcing his sanitation services a year ago after realizing that his cleaning crews were not doing an adequate job. “We knew we needed to bring in an outside company whose sole task is cleaning and who did not have to worry about production,” he said. “I believe it is a necessary service for the industry.”
One of the most beneficial aspects of outsourcing is that the contractor schedules overnight crews, Leavitt said. Because the sanitation professionals are still on site when his managers arrive in the morning, they can immediately address any issues that may have occurred during the night or upon morning inspection.
Flexibility is crucial for a successful relationship with a contract cleaning firm. “Overall, the benefits outweigh any drawbacks; the plant is immaculate,” he said.
As the pressures increase on the entire marketplace, “today’s focus is on establishing effective sanitation programs in order to maintain a wholesome processing environment,” said Jim Daley, general manager of Clenesco Products and director of technical services for Ronell Managed Services. “Developing these programs in accordance with individual needs of the process and facility is the key, and providing clean and sanitized product contact surfaces are only part of the solution.”
Daly adds, “The food processor must ask the question: ‘Am I equipped with the latest cleaning and sanitizing technology and expertise to effectively manage and control the threat of foodborne pathogen contamination?’”
As facilities manage their processes, good manufacturing practices (GMP), and various intervention programs, they must also manage and optimize cleaning and sanitizing performance levels during the sanitation operation.
GMPs are programs that comprise the basic, universal steps and procedures that control operating conditions within establishments and ensure favorable conditions for safe food production. They are the control factors that relate to the entire operation and are not process specific. GMPs include such programs as pest control, recall procedures, construction/maintenance, and sanitation.
Management Critical to Success
“Although sanitation product technology and specific pathogen reduction programs are readily acquired, it is the qualified management of these programs and practices that are absolutely essential to attain that comfort level and control in your sanitation operation,” Daley said. “This is what outsourcing provides.”
Management is crucial to the success of these programs, Daley said. “The technology and procedures in place are only as good as the individuals who really drive the program.”
Dave Boyer, New Oxford Foods’ complex manager, agrees. With 520 employees processing nine million turkeys each year, New Oxford Foods, located in New Oxford, Pa., has outsourced its sanitation services since 1996.
Another key to a successful outsourcing relationship involves clear communication and a good relationship with the internal management team, Boyer said. “If we have issues, we get them on the table and get them fixed.”
Times are changing. Third-party plant audits are increasing, and companies face mounting pressure to document every aspect of their procedures and processes to prove that they can meet all of the required standards, Boyer said.
Boyer added that he appreciates the fact that their contract sanitation partners are more adept at using the most up-to-date cleaning processes and newest chemicals on the market.
—Jim Daley, Ronell Managed Services
Although sanitation product technology and specific pathogen reduction programs are readily acquired, it is the qualified management of these programs and practices that are absolutely essential to attain that comfort level and control in your sanitation operation. This is what outsourcing provides.
“They see a lot that we don’t see because they work with so many different plants and environments; that is an expertise and value that can’t be quantified,” Boyer said. “We’re a poultry company, not a sanitation company. And economically, outsourcing remains a good decision as well.”
Jeremy Russell, director of communications and government relations for the National Meat Association, a nonprofit trade association, said that in his 12 years in his position, he has “seen a lot of changes in the industry, but good sanitation remains the foundation to a clean plant and clean product.” It is up to an individual company to determine if outsourcing sanitation would be appropriate, he said.
Invest in Sanitary Designs
To get the best results from sanitation crews, Russell encourages processors to invest in equipment with the best sanitary design. “Investing in replacing old equipment can make a big difference to cleanliness and the ease with which it is cleaned.”
The American Meat Institute developed 10 principles of sanitary design that Russell believes are essential to reducing foodborne bacteria and contamination. A few key factors include:
• No “niches”—equipment should be free of cracks, recesses, pits, corrosion, and so on;
• Hygienically designed maintenance enclosures—push buttons and touch screens, for example—should be designed to ensure that no food, water, or other liquid penetrates or accumulates in and around the enclosures; and
• Equipment parts must be readily accessible for inspection, maintenance, cleaning, and sanitation without the use of tools.
Globerman agrees that these infrastructure investments will pay off for companies looking to mitigate the risks posed by older technology. Ultimately, though, it is about the personnel who manage and perform the sanitation process.
“We have gotten so much wiser and more efficient in how we are able to combat foodborne illness,” he said. “We have found outsourcing sanitation to be the most viable option to consider to ensure cost savings, quality results, access to qualified and trained personnel, and maximizing the capacity of the food processors to remain focused on their primary objectives.” ■
Dawson is a freelance writer and former science reporter. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 264-3081.