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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, December/January 2007

What is Sanitation Technology?

by Henry Carsberg, PS

This will be the first in a series of articles on sanitation technology, with the goal of providing some helpful information that you can incorporate into your sanitation program, bringing it to a new level. I have found that providing training beyond the obvious on-the-job training will clearly show the sanitation staff that there is purpose and importance in working to keep the plant clean and sanitary. An investment in formal training is an investment in your people.

When you invest in your people you accomplish two things: One, you reduce turnover because you have shown there is value in the job and in the people doing the job, two, you have a cleaner and safer food product, which results in more and more satisfied customers, higher scoring audits and the reduced chances of a recall. It’s an investment with payoffs in multiple areas.

I can’t cover all the details of the full eight-hour, in-plant workshop I give to clients who hire me to train their people, but all of the material we will cover can be found in my Food Plant Sanitation Handbook (e-mail me if you’re interested).

Let’s start by defining what are considered the basic ingredients of a food safety program:

  • Cleaning chemistry
  • Sanitizing chemistry
  • Sanitation equipment
  • Microbiology (pertaining to foodborne pathogens)
  • Rapid testing for micros
  • ATP testing
  • Labor usage, i.e. zone cleaning, manpower loading, etc.
  • Procedures
  • Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs)
  • Food technology (what is being cleaned)
  • Contact surfaces (food and non-food)

Contact Surfaces

The types of surfaces found in the food plant environment include:

  • Stainless steel
  • Rubber
  • Interlocking belts
  • Plastic
  • Fiberglass
  • Concrete
  • Mesh belts
  • Soft metals
  • HMU
  • Wood (in rare and specific parts of a plant)

Food Technology

In 1965, Jenning described soil as matter out of place. Food soil, or organic challenge, is food product or residue that does not belong on the food contact surface.

Types of food technology we will be removing include:

  • Fats, oils and greases
  • Proteins
  • Carbohydrates
  • Sugars
  • Carbon baked-on soil
  • Biofilms

Biofilms are probably the most dangerous of soil loads because they are so difficult to detect and are the perfect harborage (shelter and food) for bacteria. Wherever there is a synthetic material in contact with a bio product, biofilms will occur. To remove this type of soil requires a hydrodynamic shear, use of the correct cleaning chemical and hand detailing with scrub pads.

Cleaning Chemistry

There are only three basic chemical products that will be used. They are:

  • Water
  • Cleaner
  • Sanitizer

The role of water in cleaning and sanitizing is very important. It is the main ingredient in any cleaning program and should be tested quarterly to insure the water is potable. Water in itself is a solvent and all cleaning and sanitizing chemistry utilize it for dilution. The temperature and pressure of the water are also important. Too high a temperature (over 130ºF can cause the organic challenge to become cooked onto the surface. When this happens a brown rainbow will appear on the surface. This is actually protein that has been cooked onto the surface. Water should only be hot enough to soften the organic challenge present. Also, water is expensive both as it comes into the plant and as it is disposed into water treatment facilities. In some areas and some seasons it is also only available in limited quantities.

Cleaning Procedures

There are various methods of agitation used to remove organic soils. They include:

  • Hand detailing with scrub pads
  • Chemical agitation (foaming, peptizing)
  • Pressure
  • Steam

I do not recommend high pressure as this has been found to distribute food soil and bacteria to remote parts of a food plant because the bacteria travels on the aerosol mist the high pressure creates. I have seen food soil embedded in ceiling tile as a result of improper use of water pressure. High pressure can also damage electrical and mechanical equipment. Steam is expensive to use and it can cook organics onto the surface.

Chemical agitation works well in almost every situation. By adding a foaming agent to the cleaning chemistry, the product is able to dwell on the vertical and radial surfaces for a longer period of time where it “digests” the soil load.

Nothing can replace hand-detailing and scrubbing to get optimal success in cleaning. It also provides the opportunity to get in close and visually inspect for soil load.

Rinsing is most important and can even be considered as critical. Sanitizing chemicals are very susceptible to pH. If a high pH cleaning product is used, then the acid, iodine, or quaternary ammonia sanitizer will be adversely affected. Rinse thoroughly to remove any trace of residue then apply a no rinse sanitizer to protect those thoroughly cleaned surfaces and you will be headed in the direction assured to optimize your sanitation program.

In the next issue, we will look at cleaning sequences, time and scheduling, and sanitation equipment.

Feel free to e-mail me with questions or comments at my new address: abovethebest@wavecable.com.

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