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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, August/September 2005

Food Safety/Sanitation Score Keeping

We really care about scores in sports; why not keep score of our sanitation programs?

by Henry Carsberg

“And now a word from FSSN radio: The ball scores. The Sox and Yankees, Mariners and Arizona, Detroit and Boston , and the latest, Baltimore and Montreal .” Does that make any sense? Who won what?

What we really care about is the SCORE, not just who won. We want to know the ERA, homeruns, base hits, strike outs, etc.

If we really care about the scores in sports, then why not keep score of our sanitation program? Get the “skinny” on the performance of your crew and how they are doing.

Now, ATP testing is great. It gives the sanitation manager instant feedback as to how the cleaning regime is doing. But what it can’t tell you is the cause of a high reading or the actual bacteria count of a dirty surface. At least with the knowledge of ATP we can re-clean and re-sanitize, and then do a retest. But with rapid testing, we can find out just what kind of bacteria is causing the infection.

Certain foods are just prone to specific bacteria, molds, yeasts, etc. With seafood, it is Listeria; with meat, e-coli; and with milk, bacillus. Not to say that these are the only bacteria present, but it is likely that these bacteria are prevalent.

Coliform and ATP Scoring

By doing rapid testing for coliforms and generalized bacteria at the same time, we do an ATP reading. We can then begin a rapid test system to correlate high ATP readings with any bacteria present at that point. If high coliform readings are present, then a specific test can be accomplished to determine just what specific bacteria are prevalent at that site.

A SHAWP (Sanitation Hazard Analysis Work Points) will also perform well with the HACCP system to determine critical points, not only of a food safety nature, but also the hidden areas of the equipment. With this information, you can begin to chart just where the bacteria are most prevalent. This will also help determine what piece and what part of the equipment are the causes of this infestation. This can save a lot of “Sherlock Holmes” work.

All testing must be accomplished from where the food safety/sanitation staff begins their work, to where the work area ends so they can keep score of how their performance is in each zone.

Using ATP readings will raise a red flag and allow the food safety/sanitation staff to make corrections, but rapid micro testing will evaluate if bacteria is present, and if so, should a specific test be performed.

Rapid, Easy and Simple

Is rapid testing and ATP testing really that difficult? I can already hear people saying that “this is more work, and we don’t have anyone who is skilled in doing this testing, it costs too much, we don’t have time…,” Yet everyone wants a clean plant and expects it to be in perfect shape. I assure you, rapid testing is now very easy and simple, and with the proper training, anyone can do it. What needs to be taught is what bacteria we are looking for and what part of each piece of the equipment is bacteria likely to be most prevalent.

Does it take a little more effort? Sure it does, but the benefits far out weigh the learning involved. There are highly skilled people such as Dr. Purnendu C. Vasavada, professor of food science at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls , who has dedicated himself to providing this knowledge of rapid testing to the food processing industry so that now it is possible for everyone to use rapid testing easily.

Performance is directly related to knowledge and training. The investment is small when compared to the benefits, and thanks to Dr. Vasavada and others like him, you can now support your food safety/sanitation crew with rapid testing. And, if you provide the training and knowledge your staff needs in food safety and sanitation, you will be on your way to having a program that is “ABOVE THE BEST.”

Henry Carsberg is a sanitation consultant with more than 30 years of experience. He welcomes feedback on his column and can be reached at 360-293-8719 or abovethebest@comcast.net.

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