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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, June/July 2005

The Rungs on the Food Safety/Sanitation Ladder

To be successful, each rung must be tackled.

by Henry Carsberg

Climbing the ladder to become above the best in food safety/sanitation requires tackling each rung of the ladder, one at time. There is no elevator to the top. To be successful, each rung must be conquered.

  1. Organic Challenge: What are you trying to remove: Fats, oils, grease, starch, carbonaceous build up, etc.? Organics must be evaluated to determine which cleaning product will be most effective. High pH products will not work on mineral deposits and so on.
  2. Cleaning Chemistry: The organic challenge will determine what pH cleaning product to use. How much hand detailing will be involved (labor), environmental considerations, water supply and many other factors must be considered. And, forget the price of the chemical; instead analyze the "use cost."
  3. Food Contact Surfaces: What are you cleaning: Concrete, plastic, stainless, soft metal or rubber? You do not want to use a chemical that can harm the process equipment or any of its parts.
  4. Sanitation Equipment: Just as a mechanic needs tools, so does the sanitation crew. Are dilution systems in place? Do we need a foam tank or a multiple dispensing system that will foam, rinse and sanitize? How about a central foam/sanitizer system, where the chemicals are secure and pre-diluted? Your staff is only as efficient as the tools they have to work with.
  5. Microbiology: Your staff may not need to be trained in the science of microbiology, but they do need to know that the whole purpose of this system is to eliminate foodborne pathogens, molds, yeasts, etc. Mostly, food products have bacteria that are associated with that food product. If we provide reasons why we need a professional sanitation program and make it personal to the employees they are better able to recognize the importance of what they are being asked to do. One of the main reasons is to prevent food borne pathogens from infecting our product. What you don't see can kill someone and just because you don't see bacteria with the naked eye, it does not mean bacteria are not present. Also, cooking or frying the product does not count. Keep in mind; once your product reaches the consumer, anything can happen. One recall, illness, death or call from an attorney will prove that.
  6. SSOP: Do not think you can take the easy way out by using a canned program. It is important to develop your own SSOP from your HACCP and your SHAWP programs. Remember that your plant is unique, and your SSOPs must reflect that. If you really analyze your plant, your SSOPs can become your work plan, and from this plan you can develop your manpower loading, zone cleaning plan, and in general, how you will clean the plant most effectively.
  7. Labor Distribution: How well is your staff working the plan? How many people does it take to clean a piece of equipment, to move equipment, to inspect the SHAWPs, reassemble, etc? Is a schedule in place? What are the timeframes needed to clean a piece of equipment? Do you have so many staff in one place that they trip over each other, and in another area they just can't get the work accomplished on time? Think about it, 80 to 90 cents of every sanitation dollar is spent on labor.
  8. ATP Testing: Okay, so the plant is clean, but how clean is it? What's the score? Do we need to re-clean and sanitize in certain areas? With an ATP unit, such as the BioControl unit, you will be able to obtain a reading of your food contact surfaces within seconds. It is true that the reading will not distinguish between micros and organics, but it will tell you that the surface is not clean and that it must be redone. This is most critical in RTE products. ATP is the scorecard for the sanitation staff and this testing should be done by the sanitation manager.
  9. Training: Invest in training on an on-going and regularly-scheduled basis, and turnover will be reduced. The thought that your firm is investing in its employees for quality training instills loyalty and efficiency in your staff. A plant that is cleaner has higher quality and safer food, more efficient processing equipment and a better workplace. This in turn creates higher productivity and increased profits.

If you l take the time and the effort to climb the food safety and sanitation ladder, one rung at a time, and use your HACCP, SHAWP and your entire sanitation program as a sales tool to show your customers that you have the competitive edge, you will have a program that is truly "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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