Updating hygiene programs for food manufacturing plants
June 15, 2022
The food industry relies on a thorough and robust hygiene program. Whether it’s handling a small, startup food enterprise or housing a well-oiled food manufacturing plant, a food business’ onset hygiene program ensures consumers’ health and product quality. It reduces the risk of potential pathogens and prevents other spoilage microorganisms inside a manufacturing environment.
All players in the food industry already have an existing hygiene program. However with the current global pandemic and other underlying threats in food safety, businesses need to update their programs to address current existing health challenges.
In this piece of the Philippine News Agency last November 2021 called “PH to focus on food safety amid pandemic,” The Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Secretary Fortunato de la Peña reminded everyone that “being able to produce food is not the only thing important in these challenging times.” De la Peña points out, "We also have to make sure that the food we have is safe and healthy.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) in their interim guidance on “COVID-19 and Food Safety: Guidance for Food Businesses” prompts the value of hygiene measures in food manufacturing during the coronavirus pandemic, “It is imperative for the food industry to reinforce personal hygiene measures and provide refresher training on food hygiene principles to eliminate or reduce the risk of food surfaces and food packaging materials becoming contaminated with the virus from food workers.”
Although the coronavirus isn’t strictly a foodborne virus, maintaining a disease-free work environment for employees in the food business is imperative. WHO stresses the necessity of a high-security hygiene program for food businesses in their interim guidance, “Food businesses need to introduce a high level of security and staff management to maintain a disease-free working environment.”
Updating existing hygiene monitoring programs is vital in practicing food safety. When analyzing room for improvements in existing programs, meticulous analysis of current hygiene protocols is a good first step. While executing a comprehensive audit, we can put order in our thought process and consider addressing these three points brought by 3M’s “Cornell Environmental Monitoring Handbook for the Food and Beverage Industries.”
Evaluate test methods for cleaning and sanitation
According to 3M, an airtight hygiene program should include these three tests: visual inspection, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing, and microbiological testing.
Visual inspection is necessary when providing feedback on cleaning effectiveness. However, it’s not enough since microscopic contaminants can’t be seen by the human eye. This is where ATP and microbiological testing comes into play.
ATP can be found in all living cells. This tiny molecule stores and gives energy to cells, so they can function. In ATP testing, test kits rapidly detect the presence of ATP on surfaces and samples. This specific type of testing gives real-time results if there are any food residue, microorganisms, or soil on workspace surfaces.
This can indicate if food manufacturing can be greenlit after cleaning or if workspace surfaces need to be re-cleaned or re-tested before manufacturing starts. In order to get a more thorough understanding, microbiological testing detects if specific organisms are present. It can also identify which part of your sanitation program needs improvement. To get accurate results for identifying areas of improvement under microbiological testing, testing requires at least two or three days of incubation.
Analyze test points through risk analysis
A risk analysis is a good way to determine a hygiene program’s effectiveness. It is also vital to assess how likely these risks tend to happen. There are four factors to consider as per 3M’s recommendation: proximity to food, potential for cross-contamination, accessibility for cleaning and testing, and equipment age, substrate, and condition.
Giving emphasis to proximity to food, 3M’s Handbook points out the food industry’s general four zones to test point of proximity will help food industry practitioners determine the contamination probability of a certain area. The four zones are the following:
- Zone 1: food contact surfaces, posing a higher risk for contamination
- Zone 2: non-food contact surfaces in close proximity to food
- Zone 3: more remote non-food contact surfaces
- Zone 4: non-food contact surfaces outside the food processing areas, posing a lower risk
Evaluating with a risk analysis matrix will also help with efficiency. By using the four test points to food, we can determine contamination probability versus the severity of sanitizing workplace surfaces and equipment. Developing this risk analysis matrix would help optimize current hygiene programs and determine what exactly passes and fails the workspace hygiene standards.
Utilizing data to develop a testing framework
Consider tracking and collecting test results data to optimize current hygiene protocols. If applicable, shifting to an automated hygiene monitoring system can help collect, store, and analyze new data. It will detect failures and other concerns that need to be addressed.
Facilitating precise and accurate data collection could identify problem areas and improvements for hygiene programs. To deliver food safety and a healthy work environment, a thorough, data-based program is crucial.
In Machinery Manufacturing company Sesotec’s 2020 writeup on food safety, they share that “21 percent of consumers say they would never again purchase anything from a manufacturer who had to recall one of their food products.” Updating the current hygiene program in food plants is a major corporate responsibility. It doesn’t only keep the factory line safe, but it also future proofs manufacturer-consumer relations. Revisiting hygiene programs in place also avoids possible disruption causes head on, such as product recall, microbiological issues, and the like.
Hygiene programs protect consumer’s trust and a company’s reputation. If future proofing your food business is a priority, then revisiting sanitation protocols should always be on the top of your list.
- Arayata, M. C. (2021, November 2). PH to focus on food safety amid pandemic. Philippine News Agency. Retrieved from https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1158557
- World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation. (2020). Covid-19 and Food Safety: Guidance for Food Businesses: Interim Guidance. https://doi.org/10.4060/ca8660en
- 3M. (2019). 3M Cornell Environmental Monitoring Handbook for the Food and Beverage Industries. https://engage.3m.com/food-and-beverage-environmental-monitoring-handbook
- Sesotec. (2020). What is Food Safety? - The Importance of Food Safety in Manufacturing. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://www.sesotec.com/apac/en/resources/blog/what-is-food-safety