Tag Archives: sanitation

Chelle Hartzer, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Product Contaminators: Filthy Flies and Creeping Cockroaches

By Chelle Hartzer
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Chelle Hartzer, Orkin

Remember the childhood game “Red Rover?” The one where a line of kids lock arms to form an unbreakable connection, then other kids try to run through the arm barrier to break through? With enough time, these runners always eventually break through the tough barrier, and the first to do so is a winner!

Turns out, this childhood game is similar to a much less enjoyable occurrence: Pests invading your facility. You’ve taken the time to implement an integrated pest management (IPM) program to form a robust barrier around the outside of your facility. And yet, pests will inevitably find a way in if they’re allowed the same circumstances over time.

That’s because pests are clever, resilient and persistent. It isn’t a matter of “if” pests will try to find a way into your facility, it’s a matter of “when” they’ll find a way in. When they do find a way inside, these pests need to be removed quickly or they can create significant contamination problems for your product.

All pests carry some risk if they get into your facility. Some may simply pose contamination issues while others are able to spread disease-causing pathogens.

In fact, some of these disease-spreading pests can be quite small, making them more likely to find a way through your facility’s external barriers and contaminate product.

That’s bad news for your business’s bottom line. Imagine the cost of losing an entire shipment to contamination. Or even worse, imagine the impact on your business if a supply chain partner farther down the line received this contaminated product and didn’t notice, allowing it to make it all the way to the consumer! The resulting public outcry could devastate a brand.

So, you must be proactive in your efforts to prevent these contaminators. Two of the most common across the United States—flies and cockroaches—love to live and feed on waste and decaying organic matter, which is rife with disease-inducing pathogens. After flies and cockroaches touch or land on these substances, they pick up microscopic pathogens and then move on in search of other things they need to survive. Those three needs: Food, water and shelter.

Unfortunately, your facility has all three of these needs, meaning any food processing facility is a top target for inquisitive pests. Knowing these pests can cause diseases like typhoid fever, dysentery and cholera makes it even more important to proactively prevent them from coming into contact with your product.

Luckily (or unluckily!), there is a lot of overlap in the types of food sources attractive to both flies and cockroaches. To understand how to prevent these pests from thriving inside your facility, it helps to know what makes them tick.

Why do flies and cockroaches like food processing facilities?

To answer this question, it’s important to look at the biology of these pests. While there are some differences between fly and cockroach species, they’re all attracted to the same general food source: Organic matter.

Fruits, vegetables, meats, grains—you name it, these pests would love to eat it. The presence of these organic foods alone will be enough to draw in flies and cockroaches. But these pests, especially cockroaches, prefer to stay hidden in cracks and crevices when not searching for food.

Cockroaches and flies aren’t picky eaters, so nearly any food is a food source for them. That’s why they can both be found around waste areas, whether that’s the lingering garbage left in the break room trash can or the overflowing dumpster in the back. These locations offer organic materials aplenty, and both flies and cockroaches are going to feel quite comfortable calling these areas home. Some flies are even notoriously able to thrive off the organic material built up in drains!

Once they have found a home in or around the facility, flies and cockroaches alike are going to start reproducing. Both have incredibly high reproduction rates, so a few of these pests can turn into an infestation in no time.

Cockroaches (depending on the species, of course) lay dozens of oothecae over the course of their lifetime, and each of these oothecae—or egg cases—can produce a dozen or more immature cockroaches that can emerge in less than a month. They take a few months to develop but they are feeding that whole time! Flies, on the other hand, have even more daunting reproduction rates. One female housefly is capable of laying up to 150 eggs in a batch, and she’ll produce five or six of these batches over the course of a few days! Within a day after the eggs are laid, maggots will hatch and slowly begin to mature. Within one to two weeks after hatching, these maggots will turn into pupae and then mature into adult houseflies.

It becomes easy to see why flies and cockroaches would love a food processing facility. Simply put, there are plenty of food sources and hiding spots for reproduction to occur. Therefore, careful monitoring procedures and preventive strategies need to be in place and be robust enough.

How can facilities protect themselves from filthy pest pressure?

Roaches and flies are constant scavengers, so any open doors or windows are an invitation for pests to come in. Roaches are also known to squeeze their way through tiny gaps in the exterior of a facility. Loading docks and break rooms are high-risk areas, too, as they’re prime harborage areas with plenty of hiding places and potential food sources. Even clutter like cardboard boxes collecting in a corner can be a perfect home and food source for cockroaches!

When reviewing the food safety plan for potential improvements, look at the proactive sanitation and exclusion tactics and ask yourself if these are effectively preventing pest issues before they become a problem.

Here are a few examples of sanitation and exclusion tactics every facility should be doing to prevent filthy pests like flies and cockroaches:

  • Make sanitation a priority with your staff. Make a sanitation schedule with daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. Assign cleaning roles to your employees based on where they work around the facility, and make sure they know what to do if they spot a pest somewhere. A pest sighting log in a centralized location helps. Don’t forget to clean up break rooms and offices.
  • Use automatic doors and check door seals. End the “open-door policy” for pests. Any entry point is a risk, so reduce the amount of time and number of access points for pests however you can. Air curtains can also help push pests away from frequently used doors, as they push air out of the facility when doors are opened. As a result, any nearby flying pests are blown away from the facility.
  • Seal cracks and crevices. Walk around and inspect the outside (and inside!) of the facility at least quarterly. Using a waterproof caulk or other sealant, cover any gaps or openings you can find. Remember: Some pests only need a few centimeters to squeeze into a building.
  • Inspect incoming and outgoing shipments. Vehicles transporting goods can become infested with pests, too. Inspecting shipments not only reduces the chances of pests being brought in by staff unintentionally, but in partnership with supply chain partners it can help you detect the source of an infestation more effectively to get your operations back up and running quicker.
  • Store food securely. Make sure products are stored off of the floor and are sealed when possible. In kitchens and other areas where employees store food, use airtight containers and empty trash bins at least daily to avoid food waste becoming a target.
  • Don’t forget to look up. Many issues could start on the roof and roof vents, and air-handling units can serve as access points for many pests.

Pest prevention doesn’t have to be hard, but you do have to be organized and, most importantly, proactive. If you take the time to create a strong food safety plan focused on the proactive prevention of pests, you’re going to better protect your business’s bottom line and brand reputation. And, perhaps even better, having a strong plan in place will give you some peace of mind knowing your products are protected from invasive, filthy pest contaminators.

Chelle Hartzer, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Invisible Invaders: How Tiny Beetles Destroy Stored Products

Chelle Hartzer, Orkin

Most likely, you’re going to do everything in your power to set up a proactive prevention plan to block out this virus. You’d probably want a new policy for inspecting incoming shipments. You’d probably want to add monitoring devices and install automated devices to ensure the virus is blocked out. And, you’d probably start checking the stored products you already have safely tucked away.

But instead of an imaginary virus, know that beetles can actually do this! Beetles, specifically those that fall into the category of stored product pests, actively seek out and feed on the types of goods that food processing facilities work so hard to protect. While some of these beetles prefer certain types of foods over others (grains are a pest favorite, for example) they’d love to find a home in your facility.

While it may seem like an invisible, pervasive virus is a far cry from some beetles running around your facility, know that this comparison isn’t a stretch. The beetles we’ll look at in this article are all four millimeters long or smaller, so it’s not going to be the type of pest that you happen to notice and can quickly remove. These types of beetles are known for their ability to stealthily invade stored products and feed, reproduce and survive right there in the product. If your first thought is, “well, I’ve never seen one of those,” then you need to inspect your products. And soon.

In fact, one study from the University of Wisconsin and the USDA found that “stored product pests can damage, contaminate, or consume as much as 10% of the total food produced in the U.S. alone, while in developing countries that rate has been estimated at 50% or more.”

Stored product pests are prevalent. And beetles are some of the most common we find in the United States, with multiple different species plaguing food processing and storage facilities. Because the most common species vary from region to region, it often takes the insight of a trained pest management professional to correctly identify one of these pests.

That said, let’s dive in a little deeper on just a few of these beetles to better understand what attracts them and how they operate to get to your stored product.

Cigarette and Drugstore Beetles

Similar in appearance and in their habits, cigarette and drugstore beetles are two common beetles found in food processing facilities. Generally, about two to three millimeters in length, these light brown bugs are tough to spot and a pain to remove if not detected quickly.

Both beetles are known for their ability to chew into stored products and penetrate through some packaging. Once inside, they feed and spread to other nearby food sources over time. And when it comes time to reproduce, both species of beetle will lay eggs directly on or in food products. The larvae then go on to spend most of their young lives thriving while surrounded by a consistent food source until they reach adulthood. At that point, the infestation is going to spread to neighboring products and the population will start to increase at an accelerating rate.

Despite their naming, both beetles eat a variety of foods including cereal, coffee beans, spices, rice, dried fruits, animal-based products and pet food. If there are any small holes in packaging—even cardboard—it’s possible that cigarette or drugstore beetles are present.

Flour Beetles

Reddish-brown in color and about three to four millimeters in length, flour beetles are longer, narrower beetles than the cigarette and drugstore beetles. Flour beetles are so small, it usually takes a magnifying glass to tell the difference between the different species (red and confused).

Another one of the common pests found in stored products, flour beetles can live for nearly a year and deposit hundreds of eggs in that time span. Once they find a way to wriggle themselves into packaging, flour beetles contaminate goods with shed skin and frass (bug poop!). If allowed to feed and thrive for too long, they’ll go from product to product and infest an entire room full of goods. Everything they’ve infested will be unfit to eat and will have to be thrown out, which can prove costly.

The good news (if you can call it that) when it comes to flour beetles is that they’re a bit pickier than other stored product pests. They typically feed on the broken bits and dust from grain that collect in bags of grains, flour, cereal and pasta.

Sawtoothed Grain Beetle

These beetles thrive in the cracks and crevices in foods, wedging their flat bodies through miniscule gaps. Ranging about two to three millimeters in length, these long, thin beetles usually get into products when they’re being transported. Often, the pests are brought indoors unknowingly, where they begin to spread their influence. One tainted item can lead to a massive infestation down the road.

These grain beetles are also known to cause mold problems due to moisture buildup. Frankly, beetle-laden products often wind up having moisture buildup and mold, which can attract other pests to the scene if allowed to persist. In their adult form, sawtoothed grain beetles are known to travel quite a bit, so it’s possible you may spot them on the floor or in cracks and crevices near food storage areas.

The food preference for sawtoothed grain beetles is a little different from the previous two groups of invasive beetles, as they prefer to feed on food items like birdseed, cereal, chocolate, dried fruit, flour, pasta, pet food, nuts, tobacco and yeast.

Proactive IPM and Prevention Tips

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the signs that stored product beetles might be present at your facility, let’s discuss the many things you can do to proactively prevent them.

First and foremost, a variety of tactics should be incorporated as part of your Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Under FSMA regulations, this is something every facility should have at this point. It emphasizes a proactive approach to pest management, which is something you’ll need to implement immediately if you want to decrease the risk of a costly pest infestation.

So, let’s look at some specific things you and your pest management professional can implement.

Initially, closely inspect the facility and set up an ongoing plan to inspect incoming shipments for signs of stored product pests like live insects, webbing on products and damaged kernels. FSMA mandates that considerations for your supply chain are in place, so talk to your supply chain partners about inspecting all incoming and outgoing shipments to ensure pest issues can be identified promptly and traced back to the source.

You should also use monitoring devices to help you keep a pulse on pest populations around the facility, which is especially helpful for larger buildings and warehouses. Pheromone traps are especially helpful when monitoring for stored product pests and can help you detect any of the invasive beetle species mentioned previously. Other tools like fly lights and glue traps can help you track other pest trends over time. Once placed, monitoring devices will offer insight as to which areas in your facility are most at-risk for pest problems. Then, you can work on improving the exclusion and sanitation tactics in those areas to reduce the risk of invasive pests.

Also, use temperature as a tactic. These beetles (and other stored product pests) cannot live in extreme temperatures. The fact is that most stored product insects can’t develop below 15o C (60o F). While this isn’t an option for all facilities, even fans and lower humidity can help.

Finally, create a sanitation schedule. This should involve as many staff members as possible and include daily, weekly and monthly duties. Perhaps most importantly, clean up product spills immediately and watch for damp or wet spots that may encourage mold. While it’s impossible to clean up everything, the more you limit the amount and access to food, the lower the chances of insects detecting and pursuing those food sources.

So, be proactive in protecting your stored products from beetles! They’ll prove costly if allowed to destroy and contaminate product, so don’t wait to improve your food safety plan. This threat is worse than an imaginary virus, because it’s very, very real.

Angela Anandappa, Alliance for Advanced Sanitation

Advances in Hygienic Design

By Angela Anandappa, Ph.D.
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Angela Anandappa, Alliance for Advanced Sanitation

The industry is taking notice and being more proactive in hygienic design thinking. Hygienic design is not a very new concept; in fact, it’s been around for almost a century when the dairy industry realized standardization was helpful with different parts. When the 3-A Sanitary Standards Inc. (3-A SSI) was established in 1920, the ideals for hygiene revolved around dairy handling equipment. But today, these hygienic design principles have been adapted by other industries, and new expectations for cleanability and standards have been developed by both 3-A and the European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group (EHEDG).

Geometry Is at the Core of Cleanliness

One of the most important factors that have helped the food industry in improving hygienic design is the use of geometry. How does math play such as huge role in hygiene? Hygiene, in the context of hygienic design for the food industry, takes the form of advanced materials formed into specific geometric positions to prevent the adhesion of particles and bacteria. A fraction of a degree angle changed in a cutting edge can make the difference between a smooth cut on a vegetable that allows it to swiftly slide off, thereby allowing the same cutting edge to be reused many more times than a cutting edge with a slightly different angle. This offers a functional benefit in achieving the optimal product quality while also reducing contact with the product and extending the time where buildup needs to be cleaned. The minimum radius of a corner for equipment parts and flooring are well defined for optimal water drainage. Similarly, the slope of a surface, the distance to angle ratios for otherwise horizonal liquid handling tubing, or the height and vertical sloping angles of a drain suitable for a processing zone are all key criteria that define hygiene. The scientific basis for why a certain angle works better than another for a specific purpose is continually being investigated to further improve design.

Standards and Guidelines Converge for Global Harmony

The effort by 3-A and EHEDG to harmonize design standards and guidelines respectively, is bringing about a convergence of approaches that benefits equipment manufacturers. EHEDG with its network of research institutes is capable of providing strong scientific principles upon which standards could potentially be developed or further enhanced. By working together to harmonize standards and guidelines, equipment manufacturers have even more incentive to adopt hygienic design principle. The 3-A SSI offers the 3-A Symbol authorization which helps third parties readily recognize that the equipment conforms to a given 3-A Sanitary Standard for equipment. So an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is then not only encouraged to adopt hygienic standards, but also incentivized by the breadth of technical data available to them, making the excuse of costs associated with adhering to 3-A standard or EHEDG approval a thing of the past. Given that food safety depends on preventing contamination, new equipment or modifications that do not work to maintain hygiene are risks to the product.

In this new age, an equipment purchase that lacks the third-party nod of approval by a hygienic standards organization is a liability.

Equipment designed to be more easily wet cleaned by allowing for rapid disassembly while not always integrated into standards, is generally understood as a must for modern equipment. Moving equipment in and out of a single-use room for multiple processes is another benefit provided by equipment designed to accommodate quick changeovers. Accessibility is the key to cleaning success, as operators need to be able to fully access, clean and inspect the cleanliness of the equipment. Specifications for easements around equipment for cleanability are important.

Regulatory Requirements Should Inspire Equipment Design

FSMA brought sweeping changes to finally update the federal requirements for food safety that pointed to key areas that promote the use of sanitary conditions for producing, handling and transporting food. Prior to this, the meat industry had already been driving numerous best practices to cleaning equipment that have brought USDA inspected facilities a long way. The dairy industry’s focus on hygiene has been the gold standard for liquid handling, and the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) set expectations for makers and inspectors to be familiar with good hygienic design, requiring it when it was absent.

But regulations always seek to provide broad guidance that is better executed by non-profits, NGOs and companies that serve to encourage adherence to standards, or those playing a pivotal role in buying decisions. Closely examining the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations and its references to sanitary design points to a vision for improving the state of equipment, facilities and transportation conditions to meet a higher threshold for hygiene that needs to be integrated into engineering designs by the OEM.

Materials Make All the Difference

Stainless steel has been used for over a century and is the standard metal used widely due to its corrosion resistance, formability and ability to be polished and renewed. The Nickel institute reports that two thirds of global nickel production is used in manufacturing stainless steel, forming an alloy that is suitable for food contact equipment and in healthcare.

The hygienic character of the material is directly proportional to the cleanability, moisture resistance and corrosion resistance. Rounded corners, super smooth finishes, slopes and numerous other criteria have been defined for a variety of equipment, surfaces, flooring, etc., in combination with a plethora of materials that provide water resistance, antimicrobial activity, metal detectable or flexible disposable seals, novel elastomers that provide heat resistance for O rings and joints have brought design to a higher level of sophistication than ever before.

Similarly, metallurgy is another area in which innovative alloys have been developed for softer or harder parts of a variety of equipment. Not all stainless steel is the same and while a 304 grade stainless steel works for most food contact equipment, other grades of stainless steel find their best uses in certain other parts of a hygienic facility. And pulling it all together, the design criteria for metal joints, especially those that come into contact with food, are best put together by skilled technicians who understand micro resistance design that promotes food safety.

Education and Awareness

The revolutionary aspect of today’s hygienic design really has more to do with a concerted effort to focus the industry on prevention. Several noteworthy contributions to this effort lay in the hands of organizations like the American Institute of Baking (AIB), North American Meat Institute (NAMI), American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), and Commercial Food Sanitation (CF-SAN) that have individually or through partnerships with other key organizations, elevated the level of knowledge, accessibility of training and awareness that solid hygienic design for facilities and equipment are the foundations for prevention. And so, as we move forward, this really is an exciting time to be a student of good design and apply engineering talents to the food industry.

Third-Party Assessments

Hygiene can be defined as a set of activities or behaviors geared at preventing disease. Some of the earlier well documented instances of hygiene (or lack thereof) relating to food have their roots in cholera, dysentery associated with the industrial revolution and the need for human beings clustering into smaller and more populated regions, namely cities. But the notion of personal hygiene is inextricably joined to the production of food and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Assessing the hygienic condition of a food production environment is not the same as a food safety audit. To elaborate, a hygienic assessment requires comprehensive knowledge of sanitation systems, equipment design and evaluation criteria, which although included in general terms, are not well scoped in any of the GFSI schemes. In fact, facilities that have passed certain GFSI audits frequently fall seriously short on their ability to produce safe food.
A specialized hygienic assessment is a worthwhile option for big buyers, food service giants and large-scale processors to drive for predictable quality. These specialized audits conducted by organizations that have developed a focus for equipment design are being more frequently utilized as a preventive measure. When done right, they can also be powerful tools for driving positive food safety culture and developing long-term supplier relationships.

Chelle Hartzer, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Filthy Flies Can Put Your Operations at Risk

By Chelle Hartzer
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Chelle Hartzer, Orkin

When we think about dirty pests, cockroaches are usually the first to come to mind. But while the conditions they thrive in are disgusting, flies breed and feed in the filthiest areas. Their lifestyle means their bodies can be covered in dangerous, potentially disease-inducing pathogens, which can be spread anytime they land on a surface or their body comes into contact with something.

House flies are born as maggots, emerging into their larval stage from tiny eggs laid anywhere decaying organic matter can be found. After splashing about in the grime and decay and consuming just about anything they can find, the larvae leave their food source and crawl around seeking out cool, dry, protected places. A shell forms around the pupae, where they remain for a brief time before turning into adults. This entire process takes less than two weeks from egg to breeding adult. Once they’re adults, house flies take off in search of more decaying organic matter and moisture to lay their eggs in and continue the processes.

Essentially, a house fly spends its entire life cycle either crawling around in filth or flying around to find new sources of filth. Add in the fact that they reproduce rapidly, and it’s easy to see why they’re a food safety threat. But they’re not the only species of fly that plagues food processing facilities, as fruit flies and moth flies are two other incredibly common fly species that love to make food processing facilities a new home.

To prevent flies, the first step is to take a close look at your current integrated pest management (IPM) program and ensure your program focuses on taking a proactive approach to mitigating pest issues. But before discussing the specifics of how to protect a facility from these fly invaders, it is important to know how and why they get into a facility in the first place. Each species has slightly different locations where they’re likely to be found, which should be monitored closely to ensure they don’t become hot spots.

Let’s look at the three most common fly species most likely to plague a food processing facility:

House Flies

House flies are persistent and active. Each time they pause to rest on floors, walls or ceilings, remember they’re potentially dropping off disease-causing pathogens. House flies are known to transfer more than 100 pathogens resulting in ailments like typhoid, tuberculosis, cholera and dysentery. They’ll feed on any moist human food, animal food, garbage, carcasses and just about any other wet or damp organic material. Flies detect a food source and hone in on it, which is why they’ll be looking for a chance to invade your food processing facility.

Moth Flies

Although moth flies feed on organic matter and sewage, they’re found in moist areas coated with nutrient-laden organic material. They are sometimes called drain flies because (you guessed it) they are often found in drains. They love the buildup that sticks around the pipes, and once they start reproducing, they can be a nuisance to eliminate. Usually, you’ll never see drain fly eggs and larvae because they drop irregular masses of egg sacs that hatch into larvae, which then live in the gelatinous film inside drains. From there, they mature into pupae and then flying adults, which is when you’ll start to notice them. This is why regular drain cleaning, with a foaming cleaner, is important in controlling these fly issues.

Fruit Flies

Like drain flies, fruit flies are named aptly. They’re most attracted to rotting or decaying fruit and vegetables, but they also enjoy fermented items like beer, liquor and wine. Aside from the products themselves, fruit flies may also breed and develop in drains, garbage disposals, trash cans and even mop buckets. Fruit flies are also known for being a major risk to contaminate food with bacteria and other pathogens. If there is food waste present, fruit flies want to be there. Finding their source and eliminating it is especially important for successful control.

Now, the most important strategy for preventing flies—and most pests in general—is to implement a robust sanitation plan. Flies are looking for food and water to survive, so any source of organic matter or moisture is going to be likely to attract them. And once they’re inside, flies are likely to stay there. Most won’t travel more than a few hundred feet from the spot they were born in their entire lifetime. While small flies are more likely to be found breeding inside facilities, large flies are likely to be breeding outside and flying inside structures.

Consider these tips, as they can help you keep flies and other pest threats away:

  • Make sanitation a priority. Sanitation is one of the most important ways to help reduce pests. Flies love any damp organic matter they can find, so clean up messes as soon as they occur. And don’t forget to take out the trash on a regular basis. That means at least daily. Don’t miss cleaning the insides of trash bins, liners often leak and a buildup of material can be present underneath them.
  • Swap outdoor lighting. Use outdoor sodium-vapor lights, especially near entrances/exits to the inside of your facility. Lights can be placed away from the building to draw flies away and reduce populations at the same time. Ensure that inside lights don’t shine out at night and attract night flying insects and flies in.
  • Install automatic doors. Automatic doors give flying pests a smaller window of opportunity to get indoors by reducing the amount of time that doors remain open. For greater effectiveness, install two sets of automatic doors that only open once the other is closed to create a vestibule. Installing air curtains behind these doors can also help block pests from finding a way inside. Air curtains alone aren’t perfect, but they can help some.
  • Inspect loading and unloading areas. Shipment areas are a prime location for flying pests to wander in. Make sure all doors form a tight seal when shut and are not allowed to stay open for extended periods of time.
  • Seal cracks and crevices. Just about any gap, no matter how small, can be big enough for flies to find a way inside. Door sweeps and weather stripping can be installed to minimize these gaps. You can also use weather-resistant caulk to seal gaps on the exterior of your building, although this will likely take some time and a team effort at larger facilities.
  • Clean drains on a regular basis. Even if you don’t have a lot of “wet” processing, all drains, including break room, restroom, and locker room drains need to be cleaned. Small flies can develop in as little as seven days, so weekly cleaning is a must.

Implement these sanitation and exclusion efforts as part of your ongoing IPM program. With flies, sanitation cannot be stressed enough. They are living and breeding in conditions that need to be cleaned up, inside and outside. As with any pest issues, it is important to contact a pest management professional if it seems things are getting out of hand. If you’re seeing flies daily inside the building, that’s probably a good sign that your products may be at risk!

Courtney Bosch-Tanguy
Retail Food Safety Forum

Three Reasons your Restaurant Needs to Take Food Safety Seriously

By Courtney Bosch-Tanguy
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Courtney Bosch-Tanguy

Food that is not only fresh and delicious but is also safe to eat is a must for any restaurant. Foodborne illnesses are a real threat to consumers and can permanently mar the reputation of the chain or restaurant who spreads them. If you’re at risk for serving up a chicken breast with a side of Salmonella or a burger crawling with E. coli, it is just a matter of time before someone gets sick. According to the CDC, about one in six Americans will get sick from a foodborne illness each year; more than 125,000 people per year become ill enough to be hospitalized.

Beyond the moral obligation to serve up quality food and to make sure your customers don’t get sick, attention to food safety can also prevent a public relations nightmare for your brand. The very mention of foodborne illness triggers a connection with Chipotle, even though many of the brand’s news-making outbreaks were over three years ago. Keeping customers, your business, and your reputation safe are just three reasons to incorporate food safety best practices into your daily routine.

Promote Customer Safety

You’re in business to serve your community or a specific population, so it is in your and their best interests to ensure the food you are serving up is not only tasty, but safe as well. Proper attention to everything from handwashing, to choosing the right cutting surfaces, to serving and storing food at the proper temperature, and properly labeling prepared foods and ingredients ensures you’re not harming the very customers you are trying to serve.

When you can be confident that your sanitation, storage and labeling process are the best they can be, you can serve every customer with pride, knowing you’ve provided them with the best possible meal or item. Your customers will know they can patronize your establishment with confidence that you take their safety seriously and are consistently dedicated to quality.

Protect Your Reputation

Chipotle, Taco Bell, and other brands found out the hard way: News spreads fast. In this era of smart phones and instant communication, that hair attached to your pasta is horrifying for more than just the patron who ordered it. With social media at the ready, one mistake could be broadcast to an audience of thousands in just seconds.

In 2015, Chipotle made headlines, for all the wrong reasons. The brand had outbreaks in multiple locations, spanning 11 states. Even after a public and thorough store sanitation and cleansing, consumers and media still question the level of food safety in the brand’s locations and how these outbreaks were handled by the company. Chipotle had a more recent incident this summer. The chain committed to retraining all of its restaurant workers nationwide on food safety after nearly 650 customers became ill from eating at one of its Ohio restaurants. Tests showed sickened customers had Clostridium perfringens, which is a foodborne disease that occurs when food is left at an unsafe temperature.

Taco Bell has been under investigation for foodborne illness multiple times in the past few decades, dating back to 1995. From Salmonella to E.coli, the brand continues to struggle with food safety, making it a frequent target of both the news media and comedians cracking jokes at the brand’s expense.

Protect Your Business

Chipotle suffered in more ways than one during that series of publicized outbreaks. The company’s stocks and profits plummeted, even after the outbreak appeared to be over. Jack in the Box never fully recovered after a tragic case of E. coli outbreak that resulted in the deaths of four children almost two decades ago.

Consumers have long memories, and there is no such thing as an isolated incident anymore. Focusing on food safety in this digital, social-media-powered era is more important than ever before. Simple steps, from properly training your employees about food safety, to implementing the right tools and technology to manage a food safety program, to properly labeling and testing food before you serve it, can help your brand maintain its sterling reputation and keep your customers safe.

Every step you take towards implementing proper food safety protocol is a step in the right direction for your customers, your business, and your reputation.

Sanitizing Food Manufacturing Equipment a Big Responsibility

By Kathy Avdis
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How much work you have to do to clean up after you prepare a meal at home depends on how many people you served. The more people you served, the more dishes you have to wash, generally speaking. You may only need to load a couple of dishes into your dishwasher, or you may need to roll up your sleeves and spend some time scrubbing pots and pans at your sink. Now, consider how much work it takes to clean up for the average food manufacturing or packaging facility, which produces enough food to serve hundreds, if not thousands, of people every day. Cleaning up at the end of the day for these manufacturers and packagers is more involved than running a dishwasher or getting out the sponges and brushes.

Sanitizing food manufacturing equipment is a much bigger responsibility than washing up after preparing a meal at home, as well. That’s because manufacturers and packagers have an enormous responsibility to keep their equipment clean. The potential for foodborne illnesses is something that all manufacturers and packagers need to guard against at all times. Meaning, they must follow strict food safety protocols that include cleaning and sanitizing all equipment every night. This is essential not only because it keeps them compliant with food safety regulations, but also because consumers put their faith and trust in them. An outbreak of foodborne illnesses that originates at one of these manufacturers or packagers means that trust is violated, resulting in severe consequences beyond the legal repercussions they may suffer. For these companies, keeping their equipment clean is more than a matter of good hygiene — it’s also good business.

Food manufacturers and packagers must follow a detailed, complicated series of steps to ensure that every component and element of their equipment will be safe to use in the next day’s production cycle. However, because of the complexity of the process, it can be difficult for employees to adhere to the process every time. Sometimes, certain steps may be forgotten or overlooked, which is why it’s necessary to keep a reminder of the proper protocols around at all times.

The following checklist details all of the necessary steps food manufacturers and packagers should follow to stay in compliance with food safety requirements. The responsibility they have is immense, so there’s no margin for error.

The following infographic is courtesy of Meyer Industrial.

X-ray systems

Production and Inspection: What to Do When Contamination Occurs

By Chris Keith
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X-ray systems

As much as food manufacturers take precautions to avoid all types of contaminants, there can still come a moment when you realize that your best efforts have failed. Maybe you find a broken blade or a missing wire during a sanitation break, but the product has already gone through your inline inspection machines—and nothing was detected.

This is the freak-out moment that no plant manager or quality assurance manager wants to have. Knowing that there’s possible contamination of your food product (and not knowing where that contaminant might be) creates a hailstorm of possibilities that your plant works hard to avoid. And you’re probably wondering how this could have happened in the first place.

X-ray systems
In addition to metal, X-ray systems can find glass, plastic, stone, bone, rubber/gasket material, product clumps, container defects, wood and missing components at 0.8 mm or smaller.

Understanding How Contaminants Get Past Detection

To prevent physical contamination from occurring, it’s important to understand the reasons why it happens. In-house inspection systems often fail to detect contaminants for the following reasons:

  • The equipment isn’t calibrated to detect contaminants to a small enough degree, or the contaminants are materials that aren’t easily detected by the in-house machinery (glass, rubber, plastic, etc.)
  • The machines aren’t constantly monitored
  • The speed of the production line doesn’t allow for detecting small particles

Metal detectors are the most commonly used inline inspection devices in food manufacturing, and they depend on an interference in the signal to indicate there is metal contamination in the product.
Despite the fact that technology has progressed to deliver fewer false positives, the machines can still be deceived by moisture, high salt contents and dense products that could provide interference in the signal. When that continues to occur, it’s common for manufacturers to recalibrate the machine to get fewer false positives—but that also decreases its effectiveness.

Another limitation of the metal detector is that, as the name indicates, it can only find metal. That means contaminants like plastic, glass, rubber and bone won’t be found through a metal detector, but will hopefully be discovered through some other means before the product is shipped out.

Oftentimes, contamination or suspected physical contamination is discovered when a product, such as cheese or yogurt, goes through a filtration system, or when a piece of machinery is inspected during a sanitation break.
If the machinery is found to be missing a part, such as a bolt or a rubber gasket, the manufacturer then has to backtrack to the machinery’s last inspection and determine how much, if any, of the product manufactured during that time has been contaminated.

X-ray inspection
X-ray inspection can find what other forms of inspection cannot, because it’s based on the density of the product, as well as the density of the physical contaminant. In this image, you can see foreign material detected in canned goods.

What To Do When Contamination Occurs

Once a food manufacturer discovers that it may have a physical contamination problem, it must make a decision on how to handle the situation. Options come down to four basic choices, each of which comes with its own risks and benefits.

Option 1: Dispose of the full production run

The one advantage of disposing of a full production run is that it entirely eliminates the possibility of the contaminated product reaching consumers.

However, this is an expensive solution, as the manufacturer has to pay for the cost of disposal in a certified landfill and absorbs the cost of packaging, labor and ingredients. It also presents the risk of lost revenue by having a product temporarily out of stock.

Option 2: Shut down your production lines for re-inspection/re-work

Running the product through inline inspections a second time may result in finding the physical contaminant, but there’s also a risk that the contaminant won’t be found—and now the company has lost money through overtime pay and lost productivity.

If the inspection equipment was not sensitive enough to find the contaminant the first time around, it may not find it the second time, which puts the manufacturer back at square one. The advantage to this method is that the manufacturer maintains complete accountability and control over the process, although it may not yield the desired results.

Option 3: Risk it and ship the product to retailers

There’s always a chance that a missing bolt didn’t make its way into the product. Sometimes, if a metal detector goes off and the manufacturer can’t find any contaminants upon closer examination, they will choose to ship the product and take their chances.

The advantage for them is that, on the front end, this is the least expensive option—or it could be the costliest choice of all if a consumer finds a physical contaminant in their food. In fact, the average cost of a food recall is estimated at $10 million; lawsuits may push that cost even higher and result in a business being closed for good.

Option 4: Use third-party X-ray inspection

X-ray inspection is the most effective way to find physical contaminants. In addition to metal, X-ray systems can find glass, plastic, stone, bone, rubber/gasket material, product clumps, container defects, wood and missing components at 0.8 mm or smaller.

When a food manufacturer has a contamination issue, it can have the bracketed product inspected by a third-party X-ray inspection company and only dispose the affected food, allowing the rest of the product to be distributed. This option allows the manufacturer to maintain inventory and keep food deliveries on schedule while still eliminating the problem of contamination.

X-ray inspection can find what other forms of inspection cannot, because it’s based on the density of the product, as well as the density of the physical contaminant. When X-ray beams are directed through a food product, the rays lose some of their energy, but will lose even more energy in areas that have a physical contaminant. So when those images are interpreted on a monitor, the areas that have a physical contaminant in them will show up as a darker shade of gray.
This allows the workers monitoring machines to immediately identify any foreign particles that are in the food, regardless of the type of material.

Detection is Key to Avoiding Contamination Issues

Handling contamination properly is vital to every food manufacturing company. It affects the bottom line and the future of the company, and just one case of a physical contaminant reaching the consumer is enough to sideline food companies of any size. As X-ray technology continues to evolve, it remains an effective and efficient form of food inspection.

Educating plant managers and quality managers on what to do if inline inspection machines fail to detect contaminants should include information on how X-ray technology can be a food company’s first line of defense. While physical contaminants can’t always be avoided, they can be detected—and the future of your company may depend on it.

Glen Ramsey, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Implementing Pest Management Changes for FSMA

By Glen Ramsey
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Glen Ramsey, Orkin

Preparation is the key to success for any ongoing endeavor. In an industry where your enemies are fighting for survival at the expense of your business, you must be ready for anything. Your opponents are crafty, adaptable and more prevalent than you think.

No, I’m not describing your competitors. I’m talking about pests—a major threat to the integrity of food products and a threat to any facility’s bottom line. Whether it’s stored product pests contaminating inventory or rodents spreading pathogens as they skitter across equipment, pests are a risk that should be minimized.

With FSMA in full effect, preparation is more important than ever. FSMA mandates a proactive approach to food safety, and by extension, pest management. It’s important that the pest management program is exhaustive and integrates seamlessly into the overarching food safety plan.

Most, if not all, food processing facilities currently use an integrated pest management (IPM) program to help minimize the chance of pest problems, but FSMA puts more emphasis on being proactive to keep pests far from products at all times. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that a pest sighting in a facility is the end of the world, but it means that it should be resolved quickly, investigated and documented to help prevent such an occurrence from happening again.

Specifically, FSMA has numerous stipulations that trickle down to pest management.

  1. Hazard analysis. First, a comprehensive inspection should be done to identify the high-risk areas in your facility where pests may take residence. Entry points, potential food and water sources and harborage areas should all be noted.
  2. Preventive controls. Include regular facility maintenance reviews and a strict sanitation regimen in your food safety plan to help minimize the use of chemical pest management treatments.
  3. Monitoring. Use devices and employees to keep tabs on pest activity and conducive conditions to ensure preventive controls are working and executed across the facility.
  4. Corrective actions. Implement and enforce pest management solutions such as exclusion strategies (e.g., weather-stripping, door sweeps, vinyl strip doors), traps (e.g. pheromone traps, insect light traps, bait boxes), air curtains and repellants to help manage pest activity.
  5. Verification. Schedule regular service visits with your pest management professional to verify corrective actions are working to reduce pest problems over time. These visits should include an annual facility assessment and pest trend analysis, both of which help determine potential areas of improvement over time.
    6. Record keeping and documentation. Document every action taken to prevent pests. That includes corrective actions and their results to prove that your written IPM and food safety plan has been implemented and is effective in helping to manage pests at the facility.

With these key components accounted for, it will be easier to be prepared for pests. But, even still, the real-world implementation of these tactics might not be abundantly clear. That being the case, let’s take a look at what food processing facility managers can start doing today to help protect their facilities and demonstrate a proactive approach to food safety.

So, what’s the best way to be more proactive in preventing pests?

Well, that question has a plethora of possible answers, but four of the most important are sanitation, exclusion, staff training and monitoring.

Sanitation

Perhaps the most important of all, sanitation helps to eliminate two key attractants—food and water—that draw pests inside a facility. Any spot where food particles or moisture is collecting, pests will be looking to find.

But sanitation shouldn’t seem daunting. Here are some actions you can start doing today to step up your sanitation program:

  • Wipe down equipment regularly to break down the buildup of organic materials.
  • Wipe off countertops and sweep floors in common areas where food is present, then sanitize with an organic cleaner afterwards to eliminate any remaining odors.
  • Take out the garbage at least daily, and keep dumpsters at least 50 feet away from the building to avoid giving pests a harborage location nearby with an easy path to get indoors. Make sure to cleanse garbage bins and dumpsters regularly, or they’ll become attractive to pests, too!

Exclusion

A big part of preventing pests from getting inside a facility is simply blocking them out using exclusion.

During an inspection, a pest management provider will walk around the interior and exterior of the facility and look for any potential entry points for pests. They should recommend you seal any cracks and crevices they notice, as many pests can fit through extremely tiny gaps. For example, mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime. Gaps should be sealed with a water-resistant sealant to keep pests and moisture out.

In addition, make sure to keep windows and doors closed as much as possible or use screens to block pests. Automatic doors can help in this way, especially when paired with an air curtain to blow flying pests away from entrances. Pests can often come in through the biggest gap of all: The front door!

Staff Training

It’s always better to have a team behind you. Training employees on the basics of an IPM program and what they can do to help will take some of the weight off your shoulders.

Many pest management providers offer free staff training sessions, which can help employees understand what to look for around their work areas and what to do in the case of a pest sighting. Consider creating your own pest sighting protocol to make it clear what employees should do if and when a pest is spotted. They’ll need to record when, where, how many and what kind of pest(s) were seen at the time to give your pest management provider the best chance to create a customized solution to resolve the issue. If you can catch one of the pests in a container for future identification, that’s even better.

Monitoring

While employees can help by keeping an eye out for pests, it’s important to have ongoing monitoring techniques to measure pest activity around the facility.

Monitoring devices are a great way to do this, and your pest management professional can help you place them strategically around the hot spots in your facility. Fly lights, bait stations, pheromone traps and more can capture pests and serve a dual purpose. First, they’ll reduce pest populations around the facility, and, second, they’ll allow you and your pest management provider to see how many pests are present in certain areas.

Over time, this will give you a feel for which pest issues have been resolved and which continue to be a problem. That can determine the corrective actions taken and the long-term food safety plan, which will demonstrate a commitment to constant improvement. That’s a great thing to have on your side, especially when an auditor happens to stop by.

Documentation

I know, I know—this wasn’t one of the four “answers” listed, but it’s still incredibly important! Documentation helps ensure you get credit for being so prepared.

It’s recommended that facility managers keep a few documents on hand to keep things simple. The food safety plan, annual assessments, sighting reports, a list of service changes over time, a list of monitoring devices and proof of your pest management professional’s certification are all important documents to keep updated and ready to go. That way, you can rest easy knowing you’re prepared at a moment’s notice.

It is never too early to start preparing. Pests aren’t going to stop searching for a food source anytime soon, so don’t stop your proactive efforts to keep them at bay. Your financial department will thank you.

Three Ways Sanitation Automation Helps Food Processors Reduce Costs

By Bob Ogren
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Sanitation in a food processing plant is a large-scale effort that many organizations see as an added cost of doing business. Yet, it’s essential and can have costly consequences if done improperly.

Because time is money and facilities want to avoid any necessary downtime, the window for completing proper sanitation procedures is small. Many food processors simply put more people on the job while requiring them to work third shift, hoping to get things done faster.

Automating certain sanitation procedures in your plant can provide real benefits, many of which will help reduce the costs associated with food safety and keeping your facility clean. Here’s a look at the three main ways food plants can save by implementing automated sanitation solutions.

1. Resource Management

When you invest in sanitation automation, one of the biggest advantages is the increased understanding of how resources are being used. This knowledge and improved visibility gives you control of how resources such as water and chemicals are used during sanitation.

Butcher cleaning the floor at meat factory. Image courtesy of Birko.

Perhaps the most significant area in which facilities experience savings is through reduction of water usage. Automated solutions improve the efficiency of rinse cycles while ensuring appropriate water pressure is being used. Every plant has unique water needs, but you should expect water savings between 30% and 50%, depending on the solutions that are applied.

Sanitation automation will also lead to a reduction in energy costs. Using less water means less energy is required to heat that water. Advancements in sanitation technology have made certain solutions more energy efficient. Features such as multi-stage pumps for full alternation, motors that allow pumps to ramp up and down as needed, and flow switches that send pumps into “hibernate” mode help reduce electricity usage.

Waste water from food processing also needs to be treated before it goes down the drain. Less water treatment means fewer chemicals are needed.

Food processors that introduce automated sanitation solutions will use cleaning chemicals more efficiently. Automation ensures chemicals are dispensed precisely where they are needed at the correct concentration, without any over spray. Again, while every situation is unique, most facilities can expect a 20–30% reduction in chemistry costs.

In the end, you will have a very clear picture of the amount of water and chemistry needed to complete sanitation, and you’ll know the amount of time it should take. That means you can plan for more uptime.

Overall, not only can automation help food processors make efficient use of resources, it also makes them more sustainable.

2. Labor Costs

Labor is yet another resource that can be more effectively managed when there’s an investment in sanitation automation. The labor market is tight, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to hire the people needed to carry out sanitation work.

Sanitation often involves menial and tedious tasks that also require attention to detail. It usually entails working overnight when production stops, and certain responsibilities can be dangerous. At the same time, minimum wage is rising, and many organizations are looking to reduce labor costs.

Introducing sanitation automation can certainly cut labor expenses and remove the need to hire more people, but more importantly, it can make the workers you do have more productive. Automation should be used to eliminate menial tasks from sanitation workers. For example, instead of a person standing in front of a conveyor belt and spraying it down with a hose for hours on end, the job could be easily automated.

We worked with a brewer who was having two employees take as long as three hours to clean a filler. By automating that task, they turned it into a 45-minute job and allowed those employees to refocus their efforts. Plus, the before and after pictures of the equipment show a visible difference in cleanliness.

You can trust an automation solution to do a consistent job, and it will never call in sick.
Still, you’ll always need to have “boots on the ground” and human eyes evaluating sanitation. Automating certain sanitation practices will free up employees to work on more important duties that add value and keep them engaged in their work.

3. Mitigating Safety Risks

The most important thing sanitation automation provides is more peace of mind. No one wants to lose sleep worrying about a failed inspection or the potential for a worker injury. Automation reduces the risk of product contamination and lessens potentially dangerous situations for employees.

For instance, spiral freezers are particularly precarious areas to clean. Automating its cleaning process eliminates the need for a worker to maneuver through an unsafe space, reducing the likelihood of a workplace injury.

Human labor can also lead to human error. But, when sanitation tasks are automated, they become more consistent and easily repeatable. This is especially important for cleaning hard-to-reach problem spots that become harborage areas for bacteria. There may be a tendency among human workers to skip areas they can’t reach, or fail to clean them properly, but a machine cleans everything the same every time.

The monetary risk of contamination inside your facility is significant. For example, if Listeria were to take up residence in a plant, it could cost your business millions of dollars.

According to a study from the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association, the average food product recall will have direct costs of $10 million while indirect costs could reach into the hundreds of millions. That’s because you also need to consider the ongoing cost of a damaged brand reputation, not to mention lost productivity from business interruptions and lost profits from disposing of potentially contaminated product.

Sanitation Automation: The Future is Now

There are many reasons to start implementing automation into your food and beverage plant’s sanitation practices. Food processors in Europe have been quicker to adopt these solutions because many of the same issues U.S. manufacturers face, such as wages and resource scarcity, can be even more pronounced overseas.

As the labor market in the United States presents challenges for hiring managers, and drought conditions in some regions make water a scarce commodity, automation presents an opportunity to bring your facility into the future. Add to those concerns the increased regulations from FSMA, and there is even more reason to invest in dependable sanitation solutions.

Food processors need to find trusted advisors who can evaluate operations inside the plant and look for ways to implement automation in ways that make the largest impact.

While there is certainly an upfront cost in automating sanitation, the potential savings and added visibility these solutions provide won’t take long to pay for themselves. In most cases, facilities that invest in sanitation automation will see a return within a year to 18 months. If done properly, you can achieve impressive cost-saving results through automation.

Eggs

Rose Acres Recalls Eggs, FDA Investigating Salmonella Link

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Eggs

Rose Acre Farms has voluntarily recalled eggs from its farm in Hyde County, North Carolina following an investigation by FDA, CDC and other agencies involving Salmonella illnesses. FDA testing determined that eggs produced from this farm are connected to 22 cases of Salmonella Braenderup infections; the CDC is confirming illness information with state health departments.

The exact amount of eggs recalled totals 206,749,248.

The eggs are sold under several brand names, including Coburn Farms, Country Daybreak, Food Lion, Glenview, Great Value, Nelms, and Sunshine Farms, as well as restaurants.

FDA is advising restaurants and retailers that they should not sell or use any recalled shell eggs. In addition, they should take measures to avoid cross-contamination of the food processing environment and equipment by washing and sanitizing display cases and refrigerators regularly, washing and sanitizing cutting boards, surfaces and utensils, and washing hands with hot water and soap after any cleaning or sanitation process. Consumers are advised not to eat the recalled eggs.

A full list of the recalled eggs are available on FDA’s website.