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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, April/May 2006

Effective Sanitation Programs

There are Four Basic Steps to Overall Success

by Joe Brent

An effective sanitation program is essential to the overall success of any food handling operation. Good sanitation will be rewarded with improved morale, better productivity and a reduced chance of regulatory incidences or recalls. These are reasons why it is important that every food handling establishment develop an effective sanitation program.

The purpose of a sanitation program is to provide a clean and sanitary environment for the handling of food products. This program must provide cleaning and sanitizing of all food handling equipment and each area of the facility in a timely manner. It is essential that this program be designed to accomplish this objective and remain economically feasible while it meets or exceeds all of the regulatory requirements. The program must be written with all of these goals in mind. If any of these goals are not met, the program will be destined for failure.

The sanitation program must include four basic steps, and each of these steps will be addressed in this article.

The first step is to assign a plant sanitarian. The second and third steps are to establish written cleaning procedures and schedules. Last, but not least, step four is to document sanitation inspections.

Plant Sanitarian

Someone must be charged with the overall responsibility for the program. This may be one individual or a team. For this person to be effective, the authority must be delegated by upper management. The responsibility bestowed on this individual must include development of effective cleaning procedures and schedules, training and supervision of the sanitation employees and an effective self-inspection program to verify that all areas have been effectively cleaned and sanitized.

The person in charge of the sanitation program must be a member of the management or supervisory staff and they must have the support of the plant manager. The plant sanitarian must have the authority to take all of the necessary steps to ensure that all of the equipment and each area of the plant will be properly cleaned and sanitized.

Written Cleaning Procedures

A written cleaning procedure must provide a step-by-step method for properly cleaning and sanitizing each piece of equipment. The written procedure provides a reference to define the proper way to perform a cleaning task and can be used as a training tool for employees.

Some facilities use a format based upon scientific process. This process is an organized approach that includes a list of all materials and supplies that are needed to perform the task. This list of materials will include the tools to be used in the performance of the task, brooms, mops, cleaning brushes, hoses and plastic scouring pads. Wrenches, screw drivers and other tools could also be on this list if it is necessary to disassemble the equipment to provide thorough cleaning. The particulars of such a list will depend upon the job.

A list of cleaners and sanitizers that are needed to properly perform the task is also central to the cleaning procedure.

A list of clothing and protective gear will also be needed while performing the cleaning. It is very important that the employee be equipped to perform the cleaning task without the risk of personal harm. Rubber wet suits, rubber boots, gloves, face shields and goggles may be included in this list.

The second portion of the cleaning procedure is to provide a step-by-step method for how to perform the task. This will be a very detailed procedure that will address every step, including:

  • Pre-rinsing of the equipment;
  • Preparation of the cleaning chemicals;
  • Application of the cleaning chemical to obtain the desired result. The concentration and temperature of the cleaning chemical are very important elements to achieve the desired goal;
  • Rinsing of the equipment to remove the chemical and food residue;
  • Application of sanitizers. (The sanitizer concentration must be included in this step.)

The approach used in the development of cleaning procedures will reflect the conditions mandated by the product, production schedule or other special needs. In all cases, the format to be used must provide precise instructions that will ensure the proper cleaning and sanitizing of all equipment to remove debris and microorganisms that could cause a foodborne illness.

Written Cleaning Schedules

While the cleaning procedure tells us how to properly clean and sanitize the equipment, the cleaning schedules provide a documented program for the frequency that each task is to be completed and assigns each task to individuals on the cleaning crew. Cleaning schedules usually are set up in two stages:

A daily cleaning schedule: This schedule will assign specific tasks that are to be completed by a member of the cleaning crew every day.

A master sanitation schedule: The master sanitation schedule will assign the cleaning tasks that are not completed daily. These tasks may be assigned for completion weekly, monthly or quarterly etc.

Once again we must keep in mind that the cleaning scheduled must conform to the needs of the facility. The differences in products, equipment, size of the facility and available man power may dictate how the cleaning schedules are designed. The ability to achieve the objective of the overall sanitation program will be the deciding factor.

Self-inspection Programs

The effectiveness of the sanitation program will be measured by the findings of the self-inspection program. To accomplish this objective, a specific schedule of self-inspections must be developed.

Self-inspections will include pre-operational inspections, which are conducted before starting the processing line. These inspections will generally concentrate on the food contact surfaces, but you must be careful that you do not ignore the overall environment. This inspection is designed to ensure that each food contact surface is in fact clean and sanitary. The inspection will be composed of a visual inspection and may include taking swab samples to be tested for microbiological load or to be tested using a bioluminescence technique to test for organic material on the surface. All findings of the pre-op inspection must be corrected prior to starting the line.

Another type is a monthly self-inspection; a full inspection covering all areas of the plant also must be conducted periodically. This inspection will cover all areas of the operation and include all food contact surfaces and framework as well as the processing environment (floors, walls, ceilings, drains and overhead structure).

Processing areas, raw material warehouses, finished product warehouses, packaging material storage areas, shipping and receiving areas and the outside grounds must be included in this inspection. Also include all food contact surfaces and framework as well as the processing environment (floors, walls, ceilings, drains and overhead structure). The documentation of the findings of each inspection and the corrective action taken to resolve each discrepancy must be kept on file.

A periodic review of these reports by the plant sanitarian will assist in the evaluation of the overall effectiveness of the sanitation programs. This review will aid in the recognition of problem areas so that appropriate changes in the program can be made.

Joe Brent, of ASI Food Safety Consultants (St. Louis, Mo.) can be reached at 1-800-477-0778.

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