Managers in food processing facilities are under more pressure than ever to get their product out the door quickly, but they cannot sacrifice safety. A new technology developed by 3M can help them quickly identify potential contamination in their facility, which can help them determine whether to stop production. The Clean-Trace Hygiene Monitoring and Management System is a handheld luminometer that was developed with the help of food manufacturing professionals in positions from plant floor operators to company executives.
“We involved customers throughout the development and design of the entire system to automate and streamline what is in many cases a tedious, manual process of selecting test points, assigning them daily, conducting tests, documenting results, managing sample plans, and developing quality improvement measures,” said Tom Dewey, 3M Food Safety global marketing manager in a press release.
The company made improvements to the device’s industrial design to make it more durable and user friendly. Other features include reengineered optical technology with photomultiplier detectors; upgraded software with a streamlined dashboard; and the capability to transfer data between the luminometer and the software via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections.
When you choose a new vendor to partner with you, the decision is always important. Every vendor plays a role in your business and bottom line.
Some vendors, like pest control providers, can protect your brand and even help boost your reputation in the industry. When you factor in everything your pest control program can affect, it’s clear that picking the right pest management provider is one of the most important vendor decisions you’ll have to make.
Consider how pest management can impact your audit scores, especially when you’re expected to be audit-ready at any time. The success of your third-party audit hinges on documentation, and the pest management portion can make all the difference in your score, accounting for up to 20%. FSMA requires food processing facilities to execute proactive pest control programs and documentation efforts that not only follow and but also implement a risk-based prevention program to protect their product and consumer base. Just one low score can cause your customers to lose trust in your business—and if they pull their support, you could see a major impact on your balance sheet.
The safety of your products and even the health of your employees are also at stake. Cockroaches and ants can pick up and transfer harmful bacteria. Flies can spread disease-causing organisms when they land—and they land frequently, it can lead to them leaving their traces in an abundance of places.
Then there are rodents, which can also cause serious health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rats and mice are known to spread bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli, as well as more than 35 diseases worldwide, such as Hantavirus.
A Blueprint for Success
From its impact on audit scores to its role in abating health concerns to brand protection, pest control should be a priority for any food processing facility. There are several best practices to follow, most of them falling under the umbrella of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is the preferred proactive pest management practice in the food processing business, and it can help meet and exceed the requirements of industry auditors.
IPM programs are ongoing, comprehensive and well-documented, focusing on risk-based preventive strategies like sanitation and facility maintenance to help prevent pest activity. They’re also customizable based on your property and the pests you face.
It’s essential to find the right, licensed and experienced pest management professional who will partner with you and your staff to implement a customized IPM program for your facility and help keep pest problems away. When starting your search for a pest management partner, be sure to ask about IPM. One-size-fits-all pest management solutions are simply not effective, so look for a provider who can tailor an IPM program specifically to your needs.
When searching for a pest management partner, look for one that stands out with the following guidelines.
Talk to your peers. If you’re looking for pest management recommendations, start by talking to your industry colleagues about the successes—or challenges—they’ve had with their vendors. If you’re a member of a larger network or GPO, you may have a preferred provider in which to start your search.
Start with an inspection. Once you have a list of options to check out, it’s time to put them to the test. As IPM programs are customizable, insist that your prospects inspect your facility to determine the challenges you face and the services you need.
Get the details in writing. Remember, FSMA requires written risk-based preventive food safety plans that detail likely hazards, corrective actions and results. With this in mind, your pest management professional should thoroughly document any service visits and corrective actions.
Documenting your pest management plan does more than fulfill the FSMA requirement. The best pest management providers will document their every move, using the information to determine pest trends, which can aid in decisions about how to best manage pest activity going forward. These records should be kept on-site for any surprise audits.
Ask for audit help. In addition to documentation, your pest management professional should work with you to ensure all documents are in proper order and audit-ready at any time. Look for a provider that can help you prepare for the third-party auditor and food safety standards with which your facility is required to comply, and even provide on-site support the day of your audit.
Think about your entire staff. One of the most overlooked variables when choosing a pest management provider isn’t how the company works in your facility, it’s how it works with your staff. For your new pest management program to be effective, your staff has to buy in—and your new provider can help.
Your employees play an important role in reporting pest sightings and keeping your facility clean. With this in mind, make sure to ask about resources that your pest management professional can offer your staff. Many offer staff training and educational resources like tip sheets and checklists, and often at no extra cost.
Add accountability, establish thresholds. You may pick an outstanding pest management partner, but ideal results won’t happen overnight. Depending on your facility, creating a pest-free environment can be difficult, even with the best of help.
Progress is achievable and quantifiable when you have pest thresholds. Thresholds dictate how much and what kind of pest activity is acceptable before corrective actions need to be taken, and they are best set by working with your pest control professional because several factors can come into play.
Older facilities or buildings in environments more conducive to pest activity, such as areas near water, locales in warm environments or heavily wooded spaces, may face more pest pressures than newer establishments. Your pest management professional may want to counter these challenges with exclusion recommendations that can include extensive building maintenance and repairs.
If you’re in a newer building and don’t currently battle any present pest issues, it may be perfectly reasonable to move forward with a “one pest is one too many” threshold. To make sure your program stays this effective, your provider may need to adjust tactics of your IPM program over time.
Even with a sound IPM plan, however, if you are currently battling pests like cockroaches, flies or ants, reaching your threshold goals will take time. Work with your pest management provider to create a timeline for steady and reasonable improvement.
Once you choose a pest management partner, keep the lines of communication open and establish roles for everyone involved. Set benchmarks for your pest management program and specific times throughout the year to evaluate the program’s success and areas of improvement with your provider.
Keep all of this in mind, and you can help build a solid, long-lasting partnership. As a result, pest sightings can fall as your audit scores rise.
With the heat of summer quickly upon us, food processors should take measures to keep their facilities free of pests that can both harm workers and lead to contamination.
Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, a time when we can look forward to more relaxing days sitting by the pool, just enjoying life. But the season also welcomes the unwelcome: more bugs and other little critters. It is during this time of year that food processers should be extra vigilant about inspecting their facilities to ensure that pests do not become a problem.
While small in size, mosquitoes can be big in nuisance. Ron Harrison, Ph.D., director of technical services at Orkin, LLC, offers a few steps that companies should take to prepare for the season to both protect workers from potentially serious disease transmission such as West Nile Virus or chikungunya virus, and keep mosquitoes from contaminating a food processing facility.
1. Inspection. Conduct a thorough survey of the perimeter or outside of your building. Have your pest control professional or entomologist look for the presence of natural breeding sites and how they can be eliminated. For example, if there is standing water, how can it be drained? Can it be moved as opposed to remain standing? Growth regulators can also be used to inhibit the developing larvae.
2. Secure your building. Make sure all screens are in place and that your heating and air system is in proper working order. Check the pressure of your building. If you have positive air pressure with a door open, it pushes air out; if you have negative air pressure, it sucks air in, so a mosquito or any type of bug could be sitting on the outside and get sucked inside.
3. Use residual products. Mosquitos can be blown in from long distances. Using good residual products on vegetation and shrubs on the outside of your building can help reduce the population. In addition, make sure any dense landscaping is pruned to reduce the harboring sites where mosquitoes might live.
Harrison adds that the prevalence of mosquitos tends to be worse based on the location of a facility. This is where making sure your building is tightly sealed, from the cracks to the positive air pressure in entranceways, is important. “The biggest reason we struggle is that the building or processing plant is built in a swampy area, which is a haven for bugs,” he says. Other factors, including the color of the building (light-colored buildings) and the presence of excessive lighting, can attract more insects.
Now is the time for food processing facility managers to take action and inspect their facility. “Mosquitos are just now starting. In another two or three weeks, it’s going to get serious,” says Harrison. “Preventative activity means that later on in the season when they are bad, your processing plant won’t have problems because you took proactive steps.”
As the food industry is moving toward a more preventive food safety strategy, environmental monitoring is playing an increasingly critical role in testing. Hazard analysis is shifting the focus from finished product testing to proactively testing the environment and the processing as critical control points to continuously monitor and reduce risk. Today many facilities are adding or strengthening their environmental monitoring programs to enhance their food safety risk reduction efforts.
What do you need to get started with an EMS program?
“You need to first identify the right team; think about what kind of food you are processing (raw products or ready-to-eat products) and if it has had any food safety outbreak associated with it; determine critical or hygiene zones in your facility; determine sample locations; finalize which indicator tests will be done, and in which zones; determine which pathogens you will test for; choose the right test methods; set a baseline, and link that with your sampling plan, and establish testing frequency once you have finalized the number of samples and zones,” explains Draughon.
To establish critical hygiene zones, she advises to:
Survey entire facility and have a map of that facility;
Study that map and identify traffic patterns to divide the facility into critical hygiene zones, GMP zones, and non-processing zones;
Put in place barriers between these zones and dedicate equipment to the critical hygiene zone, and restrict access between zones; and
Establish strict cleaning, sanitation and monitoring plans for these diff zones.
Sampling of zones should be based on risk of contamination and/ or transmission of pathogens to food from environment, says Draughon. The sampling should also take into account potential sources of product contamination by whatever means during food processing (see image 1 for examples of 4 zone and 3-zone hygiene systems).
Selecting the right assays for your EMS program
There are many options, and it can be confusing to select the right assay for your needs. Draughon advises that companies need to look their monitoring needs and consider both indicator bacteria and pathogenic bacteria to select the right assay.
For monitoring with indicator bacteria, most companies look at ATP for environmental sanitation, often before start-up to make sure facility is clean before processing begins. Protein assays are also used to pick up any allergen on equipment.
APC or total viable count is a simple assay offering many choices, which tests for the number of live bacteria on your equipment or in your environment that can grow under air or oxygen at room temperature.
Yeast/ mold count assays are good for two purposes: 1. Mold frequently is the cause of spoilage in food, so it’s useful to understand if there are any present to determine shelf life, and 2. It also helps us understand the number of particulates in the air.
We can also select specific microbial groups as indicators, such as total Enterobacteriacae, fecal coliform or E.coli or Listeria species.
Sample collection and prep
When we collect a sample, we have to clearly document the sample including information such as when it was taken, from where, by whom, what happened to that sample etc. Use clean SOPs to reduce error. Use the assays previously selected and do it as quickly as feasible. If you are working with an outside company, decide how they are going to handle the sample. Finally, always keep in mind plant safety and leave nothing behind after sampling, and avoid cross-contamination.
For characterizing pathogens, you may want to genetically fingerprint any pathogenic isolates from your facilities. This will allow you to see if you have a constant harborage of a particular pathogen or if it changes. Draughon recommends using a contract lab for characterizing pathogens, as they would be better suited, and have better resources to do this. Destroy the isolates after characterization – you don’t want any chance of the pathogen spreading into the product or the environment.
Written SOPs for EMS programs
It’s critical to have clear written SOPs for EMS programs which include the following:
Frequency of sampling;
When, where , how and duration of sampling;
Procedure for recording data and coding;
Sample number, size or volume;
Specific sampling and analysis validated protocols;
Monitoring of incubators and use of equipment;
Handling and shipping of samples; and
Alert and action levels and appropriate response to deviations from alert or action levels.
It’s also important that we train and validate the personnel performing EMS. Each individual doing this needs to demonstrate proficiency of doing this. They need to understand proper recording of EMS program data, alert and action levels, and zero tolerance levels. The personnel should be comfortable and qualified for sampling protocol, and using all the equipment.
In summary, sampling plans should be adaptable, which highest risk sites being tested initially. Establish a baseline and modify sampling plan as needed. Establish your sampling and testing criteria and sample as needed with each zone to fully assess the environmental program.
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