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When it comes to training as a team, active participation is the ultimate asset.
by Michael C. Bushaw
Training the employees in any type of food-handling operation is not an easy task. There are so many different areas of concern: GMP (good manufacturing practices), HACCP programs (hazard analysis critical control points), product safety programs (glass control, allergen and organic food storage, quarantine procedures, etc.), and other requirements.
The job of getting the sanitation team trained to work effectively in a food processing plant or distribution center can be daunting. Sanitation employees are a lot more than custodians or janitors, as sanitation is vital to the production of uniformly high quality products. Sufficient training for the sanitation team can be accomplished after standard operating procedures are developed. Effective training involves teaching the employees why such measures that are necessary. A trained crew will be motivated to accomplish these tasks.
The quality control, processing, warehouse, maintenance, and other personnel in the plant should also be involved in the sanitation processes. This puts the whole matter of sanitation in perspective - as a matter of spoilage prevention, quality assurance, and prevention of possible foodborne illness outbreaks. A total sanitation program includes environmental sanitation as no area or aspect of the plant can be overlooked. This also includes personal hygiene practices, which can be one of the most common means of transmission of bacterial contamination from one person to another via food.
Why Sanitation is Necessary?
There are several aspects involved in training of the sanitation employees. First, the employee must understand why a food plant must be cleaned and sanitized:
- To remove old soil that will contaminate the next food process.
- To remove and prevent bacterial buildup.
- To meet governmental standards.
- To prevent insect and rodent harborages.
- To improve the shelf life of the food.
- To reduce the chance of off flavors.
- To prevent the staining and filming of the equipment.
- To increase the thermal efficiency of the equipment.
- To lengthen the life of the equipment.
- To improve employee morale.
- To increase the pride in the operations of the plant.
- To remove odor-causing bacteria.
- To prevent slips on floors (safety factor).
There is no single factor as important to the processing of food products as a clean and sanitary plant.
After this instruction is understood by the employees, the written program must be reviewed.
It is necessary to have complete written instructions. In a food-handling operation, there are many caustic chemicals, and misuse can cause serious harm to the employees.
Using the wrong chemical can also leave a residue on the food-contact surfaces that will adulterate the product. This could result in the loss of products or worse, poisoning the customers.
Several different elements must be present in the written cleaning program. Simple step-by-step instructions should be developed for cleaning every food-contact surface, non-food-contact surfaces, floors, walls, overhead pipes, etc. The program should include all of the different areas of the facility, including all storage areas, restrooms, break areas, and ancillary rooms (boiler, compressor, electrical, etc.)
The written program must include the name and concentration of the chemicals to be used. It is not sufficient to state that “a degreaser is used.” Instead, the actual name of the chemical must be listed (i.e. ABC brand Cleanser 1). This will eliminate any possible confusion about the chemical usage. Remember to also include the proper procedure for the use of sanitizers and rinsing.
Include a list of the actual equipment to be used. This is especially important in plants producing a cooked product, as different cleaning equipment should be color-coded to prevent cross-contamination. If this is the case, an explanation of the color code system should be posted on the walls of the facility in several locations as a reminder. Also, give instructions as to how to clean and properly store said equipment. All equipment must be cleaned and put away after each use. All vacuum cleaners must be emptied, as insect and spider eggs can hatch within.
In plants in the U.S. that are manufacturing meat, poultry, seafood or juice products, the written program for cleaning the facility is required by law. This is part of the SSOPs (Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures), and the requirements may be found in the following CFRs (Codes of Federal Regulations). Meat and poultry, 9 CFR 416; seafood, 21 CFR123, and juice, 21 CFR120. The five SSOP requirements in these facilities are as follows:
- The plan must be written, with all pre-operation and post-operation requirements included.
- The plan must be signed, indicating acceptance, by the most responsible individual in the operation. This person might be the plant manager, HACCP coordinator, or sanitation supervisor.
- The plan must clearly identify any pre-operation versus during operation cleaning.
- The responsible individuals must be named in the plan– this could be by title– and will go along with existing written job descriptions.
- Daily records must be on file. These must be verified by supervisory personnel.
A master sanitation schedule should be developed for all tasks. Use a separate checklist for all tasks to be done daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc. The checklist could be in the form of separate worksheets for each frequency of task, a “vacation planner schedule” type of calendar posted on the wall, computerized work orders, etc. These checklists should be initialed as each task is done. By using initials instead of checkmarks, the sanitation employee gains more responsibility over the task.
Verification of the cleaning tasks is necessary. This is accomplished by supervisory personnel. The supervisor will review and sign the sanitation schedules to ensure that all tasks have been completed.
Material safety data sheets must be available for each cleaner and sanitizer used in the plant. These should be located in an employee right-to-know center. The MSDS explains the nature of the chemical, and indicates what emergency procedures must be followed in case of accidental exposure. These must be organized in an orderly fashion, usually alphabetical, so that they are readily accessible. Other MSDS that will be on file will include those for the pesticides used in the facility, and those chemicals used in the maintenance and transport shops (if applicable).
The employee must also understand why a cleaner or sanitizer is used. There are some basic terms that are useful: clean, sanitary, and sterile. Clean simply means that the surface is free of visible dirt. Sanitary means that the surface is free of pathogenic organisms. Sterile means that the surface is free of all living organisms.
To have the most effective sanitation training, it is necessary to be able to explain the process to the current or new sanitation employees.
To achieve total sanitation (the destruction of bacteria and other microorganisms), every cleaning operation should include four basic steps. Whether it is manual, COP (clean-out-of-place) or CIP (clean-in-place) cleaning, the same four steps must be followed:
Pre-rinse: Rinse with either fresh water or a previously-used wash solution. This will remove any gross soils that are loose. The use of warm water– not hot water– is best for this step. This should be done as soon as possible after processing to prevent the soil from drying on the surface.
Detergent and solution application (wash): The cleaner must have contact with the soil in order to remove it. Application can be achieved in various ways. Examples are: brushing, foaming, flushing or spraying through a spray device. The concentration of this solution should be tested using a test kit. Different cleaners are used to obtain different results. Surfactants are used to remove soil and light residue from surfaces. Degreasers are used to remove grease and oils. Acid cleaners remove protein and scale residues. Abrasive cleaners remove burnt-on or heavy residue. The chemical supplier will help to identify the intended use of each cleaner.
Post rinse: Once the soil has been removed from the surface and is suspended in solution, it must be rinsed away. Rinsing with cold fresh water is the best way to remove the soiled solution. Some cleaners and equipment are easier than others to rinse the solution away. The difficult ones require an extra step after the post rinse is complete. In this extra step, an acid can be added to a fresh water rinse. This acid rinse is used to ensure the complete removal of the soil load, the cleaning compound and any water hardness residue.
Sanitizing: The treatment of a cleaned surface to destroy disease-causing organisms. In most plants, once the surface has been cleaned, sanitary conditions are all that is needed. This means that the level of contamination is brought to a safe level. This involves the use of a chemical or hot water to cause a 5-log reduction in the number of micro-organisms present. In other words, 1 million micro-organisms are reduced to just 10. Sanitizing serves two basic purposes: first, to kill most bacteria present, and second, to provide a residual killing effect that makes additional bacteria growth difficult. It is not enough just to sanitize; one has to make sure that the soil is completely removed before sanitizing. Otherwise, the bacteria will continue to grow after the effect of the sanitizer has worn off. Chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonium sanitizers are the most frequently used sanitizers. If these are used, then different strengths must be used depending on whether there is a rinse following the application of the chemical. If hot water is used, then it must be at a high enough temperature to bring the surface to 160° F. This involves spraying it on at 180 to 195° F or soaking the parts at 170° F in a clean-out-of-place (COP) tank for at least 30 seconds. The lower temperature is allowed in the COP tank due to the extended dwell time of the hot water.
Once the employee has reviewed the written program, he or she must sign saying that they have done so. This gives a greater sense of responsibility to the employee. A copy of this affirmation should remain in the employee’s file with the human resource department, while another copy is placed into the training folder maintained by the sanitation supervisor.
Each employee should also undergo an annual refresher training. It is in this manner that all of the practices and rules with cleaning and sanitizing are kept fresh in the mind of the members of the sanitation crew.
Training the employees in any type of food-handling operation is not an easy task. Sufficient training can be accomplished after standard operating procedures are developed. Effective training involves teaching the employees why such measures are necessary. It involves an explanation as to why certain chemicals and sanitizers are used. This provides for a motivated crew willing to accomplish the tasks required.
Michael C. Bushaw is the vice-president and executive director of ASI Food Safety Consultants (St. Louis, MO). He is a certified instructor with the International HACCP Alliance. He is also certified auditor in the FPA-SAFE program and is an instructor and exam proctor with the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation (ServSafe). Reach him at 1-800-477-0778.