The health and well being of millions depends on manufacturers’ and packagers’ ability to maintain a safe and sterile environment during production. This is why professionals in this sector are held to much stricter standards than other industries. With such high expectations from consumers and regulatory bodies, a growing number of food companies are opting the use cleanrooms.
Cleanrooms are sealed off from the rest of a laboratory or production facility. Through stringent ventilation and filtering systems, they protect against contaminants that might be found in an unrestricted environment. Mold, mildew, dust and bacteria are sifted from the air before they can enter the space.
Personnel who work in a cleanroom are required to adhere to rigorous precautions, including clean suits and masks. These rooms also closely monitor temperature and humidity to ensure the optimal climate.
Cleanrooms can be found in numerous applications throughout the food industry. Specifically, they are used in meat and dairy facilities, as well as in the processing of foods that need to be gluten and lactose free. By creating the cleanest possible environment for production, companies can offer their customers peace of mind. Not only can they keep their products free from contamination, but they can extend shelf life and increase efficiency.
If you want to learn more about cleanrooms and their classifications, take a look at the accompanying infographic. It details the essential requirements and standards for facilities in the food industry and beyond.
Food safety remains a top-of-mind concern for food manufacturers, especially considering some of the top recalls in 2019 were caused by bacteria contamination—including Listeria and E. coli. Every aspect of the plant operation, from maintenance to executives, to junior staff and quality control, holds both responsibility and concern in producing safe food. Unfortunately, there’s a lot at stake when plant operations’ sanitation programs run into issues, which can cause health threats.
While the rapid explosion of new innovations complements our daily lives in efficiency and convenience, plant operations may find difficulty in keeping up-to-speed with new technology such as robotics, drones and automated applications. When facilities’ equipment becomes more and more outdated, it poses food safety challenges around cleaning, maintenance and upgrades.
Luckily, in some cases, innovation is becoming much easier to deploy. Opportunities abound for food processing plants to integrate new technologies into their operations to deliver significant returns on investment while simultaneously enhancing sanitation, safety and production efficiency on the plant floor.
The Dangers with Today’s Practices
There are many pitfalls with older, more traditional cleaning techniques. In a place where cleanliness is critical to food safety and public health around the world, the industry understands sanitation means more than just scrubbing, mopping and wiping. While these are important daily practices to be done around the processing plant, there are still concerns on whether this kind of intermittent cleaning is truly enough to keep surfaces completely sanitized—knowing that continuous cleaning around the clock seems impractical in any facilities.
Unfortunately, there are many areas, some very hard to reach, for bacteria and other pathogens to live and spread around a processing plant. Zone 1, which holds the conveyor belt and other common high-touch points, consistently comes into contact with food, chemicals and humans. However, for processors to reduce the likelihood of contaminated food, they must consider areas outside of Zone 1 as well—including employee break rooms, hallways and bathrooms—to implement automated sanitation technologies. Additionally, the most common food contaminants, such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli, are usually invisible to the naked eye. Therefore, plants need to employ automated technology to continuously kill microscopic bacteria, mold and fungi to prevent regrowth and ensure clean food and equipment.
Looking to New Tech to Fight Germs
When looking to upgrade a plant operation facility, automated technology should be top-of-mind. Automated food production technologies solve two main problems: Food safety and sanitation efficiency. Wash-down robotic systems work to prevent food contamination, while other automated robots complete tasks on the production floor such as packaging, transporting and lifting. With the CDC estimating that roughly one in six Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses, the need for improved sanitation design is integral.
In today’s age, there are several ways to achieve heightened cleanliness by incorporating automation and robotics into production lines. Slicers, dicers and cutters are manufactured with hygienic design in mind. Smart cleaning equipment can automatically store various cleaning steps. Data tracking applications can monitor sanitation steps and ensure all boxes are checked throughout the cleaning program.
Incorporating antimicrobial LED lighting ensures sanitation is truly integrated into the facility’s design—working continually 24/7 to kill and prevent bacteria, and its growth while also serving a dual purpose of both antimicrobial protection and a proper source of illumination. As is the case with this type of technology, once these lights are installed, it becomes an easy, hands-free way of reducing labor, chemicals and, in many cases, work stoppages.
According to Meticulous Research, the global food automation market is expected to be worth $14.3 billion by 2025. With automation set to explode, it’s important for leaders in the food and beverage industry to take advantage of safety tech innovations to advance sanitation around the processing plant. Facility upgrades to improve, enhance and automate sanitation could impact food manufacturers in the long-term by decreasing costs, preventing recalls, improving brand value, gaining consumer trust, minimizing risk and impacting the bottom line.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rest of the world has embraced one of the well-known mantras of the food safety profession: Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. It is equally urgent that we expand that call to arms (or hands) a bit to include: Sanitize your cell phone, sanitize your cell phone, sanitize your cell phone.
A typical cell phone has approximately 25,000 germs per square inch compared to a toilet seat, which has approximately 1200 germs per square inch, a pet bowl with approximately 2100 germs per square inch, a doorknob with 8600 germs per square inch and a check-out screen with approximately 4500 germs per square inch.
Back in the day, when restaurants were still open for a sit-down, dining room meal, during a visit to an upscale Chicago restaurant I had the need to use the restroom. As I left the restroom, an employee, in kitchen whites, walked into the restroom with his cell phone in his hand. It hit me like a bolt of gastrointestinal pain. Even if the employee properly washed his hands, that cell phone with its 25,000 germs per square (and some new fecal material added for good measure) would soon be back in the kitchen. Today, we can add COVID-19 to the long list of potentially dangerous microbes on that cell phone, if the owner of the phone is COVID-19 positive. We also know that the virus can be transferred through the air if someone is COVID-19 positive or has come in close proximity to the surface of a cell phone. As we know, many kitchens are still operating, if only to provide carryout or delivery service. Even though we are not treating COVID-19 as a foodborne illness, great concern remains regarding the transfer of pathogens to the face of the cell phone user, whether it is the owner of the cell phone or someone else who is using it. Just as there are individuals that are asymptomatic carriers of foodborne illness (i.e., Typhoid Mary), we know that there are COVID-19 positive individuals that are either asymptomatic or presenting as a cold or mild flu. These individuals are still highly contagious and the people that may pick-up the virus from them may have a more severe response to the illness.
A recent study from the UK found that 92% of mobile phones had bacterial contamination and one in six had fecal matter. This study was conducted, of course, before the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, consider that the primary form of transfer of the COVID-19 pathogen is from sneezing or coughing. This makes the placement of the virus on the cell phone easier to accomplish than the fecal-oral route because even if the individual recently washed their hands, if they sneeze or cough on their phone, their clean hands are irrelevant.
I also know there is no widely established protocol, for the foodservice industry, food manufacturing industry, sanitizing/cleaning industry, housekeeping, etc., for cleaning and sanitizing a cell phone while on the job. For example, if you examine a dozen foodservice industry standard lists of “when you should wash your hands” you will always see included in the list, “after using the phone”. However, that is usually referring to a wall mounted or desktop land line phone. What about the mobile phone that goes into the food handler’s pocket, loaded with potentially disease-causing germs? I have certainly witnessed a food handler set a cell phone down on a counter, then carefully wash his/her hands at a hand sink, dry their hands and then pick-up their filthy cell phone and either put it in their pocket, make a call or send a text message. What applies to the “food handler” also applies to those individuals on the job cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces, and other surfaces that many people will come in direct contact with such as handrails, doorknobs sink handles, and so on.
How can the pathogen count for a cell phone be so high compared to other items you would assume would be loaded with germs? The high number cited for a cell phone is accumulative. How often do you clean your cell phone (or for that matter your keyboard or touch screen)? I’ll bet not very often, if ever. In addition, a frequently used cell phone remains warm and with just a small amount of food debris (even if not visible to the naked eye) creates an ideal breeding environment for bacteria. Unlike bacteria, we know that viruses do not reproduce outside of a cell. The cell phone still presents an excellent staging area for the COVID-19 virus while it waits to be transferred to someone’s face or nose.
While there have been some studies conducted on mobile phone contamination and the food industry, most of the statistics we have come from studies conducted in the healthcare industry involving healthcare workers. If anything, we would hope the hygiene practices in the healthcare environment to be better (or at least as good) as the foodservice industry. It is not a pretty picture. In reviewing various studies, I consistently saw results of the following: 100% contamination of mobile phone surfaces; 94.5% of phones demonstrated evidence of bacterial contamination with different types of bacteria; 82% and so on.
Let’s state the obvious: A mobile phone, contaminated with 1000’s of potentially disease causing germs, acts as a reservoir of pathogens available to be transferred from the surface of the phone to a food contact surface or directly to food and must be considered a viable source of foodborne illness. As we stated earlier, we are not treating COVID-19 as a foodborne illness, but we cannot ignore the role that a cell phone could play in transferring and keeping in play this dangerous pathogen.
What do we do about it? Fortunately we can look to the healthcare industry for some guidance and adapt to the foodservice industry, some of the recommendations that have come from healthcare industry studies.
Some steps would include the following:
- Education and training to increase awareness about the potential risks associated with mobile phones contaminated with pathogens.
- Establish clear protocols that specifically apply to the use of and presence of mobile phones in the foodservice operation.
- Establish that items, inclusive of mobile phones, that cannot be properly cleaned and sanitized should not be used or present where the contamination of food can occur or …
- If an item, inclusive of a mobile phone, cannot be properly cleaned and sanitized, it must be encased in a “cover” that can be cleaned and sanitized.
- The “user” of the mobile phone must be held accountable for the proper cleaning and sanitizing of the device (or its acceptable cover).
It’s safe to assume the mobile phone is not going to go away. We must make sure that it remains a tool to help us better manage our lives and communication, and does not become a vehicle for the transfer of foodborne illness causing pathogens or COVID-19.
Register to attend the complimentary webinar: New Technology’s Impact on Pest Management in a FSMA Regulated World | March 5, 2020 | 12 pm ETMillions of pounds of food are lost every year due to pest activity. A lot of those lost food products could have been prevented through a quality sanitation program. One of the best ways to protect your facility from the potential damage and pathogen spread caused pests like rodents is to maintain a quality sanitation program.
Every sanitation program should take into consideration conditions that are conducive to attracting and supporting unwanted visitors. As rodents are incredibly agile and intelligent creatures, one of the best ways to keep them out of a facility is to give them no reason to be interested in coming in. This means eliminating access to each of their basic needs: Food, water and harborage—in any amount. Remember, they are small, scrappy creatures and only need crumbs and droplets of water to survive. Once you change your perspective from that of a human being to that of a rodent you may be surprised by the bountiful conditions that are at your feet.
In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Eddie Hall, business development director and food safety expert at Vital Vio looks ahead to 2020 and how technology will be impacting food safety, the additional measures that the industry will be taking to protect consumers, and the critical emphasis on sanitation.
Food Safety Tech: What are some of the touch points for food safety innovation in the supply chain in 2020?
Eddie Hall: When we think of the supply chain, we often imagine food traveling during transportation—by road, rail and air. During transit, our food comes into contact with countless surfaces, hands, tools and bacteria that travels from the farm to the table. However, transit isn’t the only place for germ spread and bacteria growth. When food reaches the factory for processing and packaging, there are opportunities for contact with debris, mold and dust, along with un-sanitized machinery and employees. Not only does this negatively affect the health of our workers, but also the cleanliness and safety of the food that consumers are buying off the shelves. In food manufacturing plants, Zones 1 and 2 are the most obvious for safety innovation in the supply chain, given food is bound to come into contact with tools, conveyor belts, etc. However, processors must consider the touch points in Zones 3 and 4 as well—such as employee break rooms, bathrooms and offices around the plant that foster bacteria. If these areas are not cleaned, food manufacturers have a significantly higher chance of breeding bacteria in food production areas, even if the right protocols are put in place in those zones.
FST: How will the retail sector step up to the consumer demand for safer food?
Hall: Consumers are increasingly demanding transparency around how food ends up on their plate, and prioritizing purchasing from brands that they trust to be safe. Food suppliers are being careful to remove harmful chemicals from the manufacturing process, along with displaying ingredients and supply chain information. For example, Bumble Bee Foods is using blockchain technology for its tuna fish, allowing consumers to access detailed information around the tuna’s origin, authenticity, freshness and sustainability by scanning the QR code on its packaging. Panera Bread has been consistent in offering customers ingredient transparency [by] providing calorie counts on menu items and removing antibiotic-treated animal proteins, as well as vocalizing recent efforts to perform safety audits throughout its supply chain. Not only does tracking technology and clarity meet consumers’ demands, but [it] also helps retailers pinpoint locations of outbreaks, foodborne illness and mislabeling. We’re already seeing retailers step up to meet the growing demand for safer food, but in 2020 we will see an uptick in brand transparency around supply chain information, safety programs and ingredient clarity within restaurants, fast food chains, processing companies and grocery stores.
FST: How will automation play a role in advancing food safety?
Hall: Food processing companies and retailers are implementing remote monitoring technologies that track data and help measure protocol, temperature controls, sanitation, record-keeping and food traceability. Automation can also help advance food safety through methods such as enhance sanitation and sterilization efforts. It is critical for food industry employees to maintain clean environments, but continuously cleaning every hour of every day can become labor-intensive, and sometimes fall off the to-do list. Automated technologies can take on some of these tedious tasks and work in our favor to heighten food safety. For example, Stop and Shop’s new robot, Marty, patrols the aisles to detect food on the floor, torn packaging, empty shelves and more. However, robots aren’t the only place we’re seeing automation in action. Vital Vio has found a way to automate killing bacteria through antimicrobial LED lighting technology, which continuously kills pathogens with the flick of a switch. Automated tech isn’t meant to replace workers, but to enhance their work around cleaning, sanitizing and meeting safety requirements. In 2020, automation is expected to explode and it’s important for leaders in the food and beverage industry to take advantage of safety tech innovations to advance food safety in 2020 and beyond.
FST: How will food companies continue to work towards reducing contamination issues and recalls?
Hall: The U.S. government has stepped in to tackle issues in the food industry by implementing new regulations, such as FSMA. This regulation urges food companies to shift from reactively responding to safety and contamination issues, to proactively working to prevent them. In an effort to reduce recalls, retail giant Walmart recently employed blockchain to track its lettuce supply chains all the way back to the grower. For food companies to reduce contamination, they must also implement more automated sanitation technologies along the supply chain. The most common food contaminants are usually invisible to the naked eye, such as mold, Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli. Sanitation automation tech—such as antimicrobial LED lighting—can continuously kill microscopic bacteria and prevent regrowth, ensuring clean food and equipment. Not only will food companies begin implementing more sanitization technologies, but also focus on other ways, like blockchain traceability, to prevent food recalls and bacteria growth that pose serious health risks to their customers.
FST: Any additional comments?
Hall: Our Dirty Truth report reveals disturbing stats around Americans’ cleaning habits, such as 1 in 4 (27%) do not sanitize their hands after traveling on public transportation. This means that factory or grocery employees that commute to work via bus, train, etc. are bringing bacteria and other germs with them. What’s worse, 1 in 6 Americans get sick and 3,000 die each year from consuming contaminated foods or beverages. This alarming rate can only be improved if we see effort from all sides of the industry—including food processors, manufacturers, workers throughout the supply chain and retailers. Continuous cleaning and sanitation measures can be labor-intensive and sometimes impossible to tackle throughout the day. Luckily, automated technology exists and is expected to address this growing issue of contamination, the spread of bacteria, recalls, and consumer demand for safety and transparency.
Birds of different species can become a pest problem depending upon where they are landing, roosting or nesting. In terms of food facilities, birds can cause various concerns: Product safety risks, possible contamination (bird droppings/feathers), poor audit grades, inspection failure, secondary insect pest problems, vectoring of foodborne illness pathogens, plant closures or fines. It is for these reasons that it is essential that food, beverage and product manufacturers (FBP) establish an integrated bird management (IBM) program.
An IBM program will ensure that every essential team member is on the same page in terms of the protocols for managing pest birds within and around the facility. Even if a facility has taken a proactive approach to bird control, the potential exists for birds to enter a facility. Especially considering bird pressures around adjacent properties, buildings, bodies of water and food sources near the facility.
Read Part I of this series: Bird Problems and Control Methods for Food Production FacilitiesIBM for food industry facilities is a systematic approach to preventing birds from gaining access within a facility and reducing the length of time birds remain within a facility. Nuisance birds, depending upon how severe the bird pressure—i.e., how many birds are landing, roosting and/or nesting within a given area—can cause severe damage to equipment, property, food products, displays, vegetation, façade signage, ledges, roofs, HVAC equipment, drains, fire suppression, electrical equipment and more. The longer that birds are permitted to remain within and around a facility, the more damage they can cause, and the harder it is to remedy the problem. Thus, it is critical to remove any birds that have gained entry as soon as possible to prevent possible FBP contamination and the birds getting comfortable within the facility.
There are several components to developing an IBM program. First, you need to conduct a complete inspection of the interior/exterior of the facility, followed by a review of the current data as well as any historical bird data. Now that you have all the raw data, you can begin developing the site-specific IBM plan for the FBP facility. Now that you have the program designed, the program can be implemented. Finally, after a defined timeframe that the IBM program has been active, the program needs to be evaluated to determine if any adjustments need to be made to the program.
The first step in developing an IBM program is to conduct an initial site inspection audit of the interior and exterior of the facility.
The following various elements need to be inspected and with said findings documented.
On the interior of the facility, look at the following items:
- Active Birds with the Facility
- List the areas and locations of birds
- Example: Location(s): Food prep area(s), warehouse, etc.
- Any history of birds and related areas
- List the areas and locations of birds
- Interior Landscaping
- Type(s) and necessity
- Food Processing Areas
- Any active control measures in place
- Assess the level of risk
- Bay Doors
- Location(s): Gaps
- Location(s): Bumpers
- General Doors
- Location(s): Gaps
- Location(s): Bumpers
- Location(s): Structural
- Location(s): Doors left open
- Additional Access Point(s)
- Check all equipment areas that enter/exit building
- Pipe-Line Penetrations
- Conductive Conditions
- Location(s): Standing water
- Location(s): Food Sources
- Bird Droppings or Nesting Materials
- Staff feeding birds
- All access to food and water
On the exterior of the facility, look at the following items:
- Active birds with the facility
- List the areas and locations of birds
- Example: Locations(s): Rear loading dock
- Any history of birds around the exterior of the facility
- List the areas and locations of birds
- Adjacent Structures
- Accessory buildings and structures
- Sanitation Practices (Exterior)
- Location(s): Dumpsters
- Exposed food sources and spillage
- Trash Receptacles
- Trash Removal Frequency
- Food Waste on Ground
- Cleaning Practices
- Cleaning Practices Schedule
- Cleaning Food Waste Bins
- Motion Doors
- Bay Doors (Exterior)
- Location(s): Gaps
- Location(s): Bumpers
- Location(s): Structural
- General Doors (Exterior)
- Location(s) Doors Being Left Open
- Additional Access Point(s)
- Bodies of Water
- Conductive Conditions
- Structural (Exterior)
- Location(s): Pipe-Line Penetrations
- Location(s): Flashing
- Location(s): Pipes
- Location(s): Openings
- Location(s): Roof
- Location(s): Roof Hatches
- Location(s): Windows
- Location(s): Canopy (Front/Rear)
- Location(s): Awnings (Front/Rear)
- Location(s): Façade Signage (Front/Rear/Side)
- Standing Water
- Clogged Drains
- Retention ponds
- Bird Droppings or Nesting Materials
- Exterior Storage
- Merchandise Displays
- Existing Bird Control Devices
Next, after all the above items have been inspected and findings recorded, all the data needs to be reviewed. In addtion, all the current bird management practices within the facility, documentation practices, and current audit/inspection findings should be all evaluated together. All this information is your road map for developing your IBM Program. Make sure that while you are collecting all the said raw data, you also speak with all necessary staff to get the most accurate information possible.
Now that you have conducted your inspections and collected all the data, it’s time to create a site-specific IBM Policy & Plan for the facility. The development and implementation of the IBM plan will provide the appropriate procedures that are to be implemented to prevent, control and exclude birds from entering a facility and from keeping birds an acceptable distance away from the facility. With proper training and implementation of IBM procedures, there will be a reduced likelihood that birds will be able to enter the facility, and the length of time birds remain inside the facility will be reduced—thus, reducing the level of pest bird damage caused, reducing hazards to food sources, equipment, the public, and the facility environment.
Each facility is unique in its operation, location and potential for bird activity. The facility’s IBM plan will be designed to factor its control options when remedying and preventing bird pressure.
Now that you have an IBM Plan, it’s time to implement the plan. First, make any necessary changes based upon findings of the audit and review of all data. Next, correct any conducive conditions that were discovered during the inspection. All the items that may require adjustment may need to be planned out depending upon budgetary constraints. Define staff roles regarding bird control efforts on a front-line facility level. Each member of the action team must fully understand their role and responsibility about the implementation and day-to-day operation of the plan.
The IBM Plan is the roadmap that should be followed for managing pest birds throughout the interior and exterior of the facility and related structures. It will set forth the facility’s bird threshold levels and site-specific facility needs. Furthermore, the IBM Plan will provide in detail how each phase of the plan will be implemented at each facility. The facility coordinator, in collaboration with the IBM coordinator, shall be responsible for the administration and implementation of the IBM plan. Each of their roles and responsibly should be thoroughly reviewed and understood.
Next, conduct staff training on proper bird control removal methods if handing live removal internally. Otherwise, what are the approved processes for third-party vendors who are providing removal services? Finally, conduct a review of the new documentation process to record all necessary data for the IBM program. Data collection is a critical component in evaluating the success of the plan and determining if any adjustments need to be made.
To ensure goal compliance, the IBM program should be evaluated at each site annually. The review must consist of all records, the number of birds that gained access into the store, corrective actions taken (at the facility level and outside efforts), and any plan adjustments. By reviewing all the data collected, the plan’s effectiveness can be determined, and whether alterations need to be made. Note that the IBM plan is not a static document that sits in a binder. The plan will have to evolve as operations change, or the set goals of the program are not met.
A proactive approach to reducing bird populations is critical for food industry facilities. As such, the IBM program will ensure that your entire staff is adequately trained on all the site-specific bird control methods, reduce the frequency of birds entering the facility and create a documented bird control program that is designed for your specific facility.
Various types of pest birds can impact food plant structures and facility surroundings. Even a single bird that finds its way into a food plant can trigger a host of concerns such as, failed audits, product contamination, plant closure, production stoppage, lost revenues, fines, structural damage, health hazards to occupants and fire hazards.
In most cases, a food plant operation has a bulletproof pest control plan; however, in most cases, birds are always an afterthought in most pest management plans. After inspecting and consulting numerous food plants, I hear the same story over and over: “I have a person in the warehouse that can chase them out” or, “are birds really a big deal?” or, “why do I have to be concerned about birds?” and on and on. Despite what you may think, birds are a big deal, and you should take them seriously!
Since food processing plants contain areas that have very sensitive environments, birds can introduce various adulterants and harmful contaminants. Birds can cause potential harm to humans due to foodborne illness.
Pest Bird Species
There are four main pest birds: Pigeon, Starling, Sparrow and Seagull. Each one of these birds can cause a host of concerns and issues for food processing facilities. Just one bird can cause catastrophic damage. In most cases, small pest birds such as Sparrows and Starlings can gain access into a facility through a variety of ways:
- Damaged bumpers around truck bay loading dock doors.
- Open doors (seems obvious, but I always find doors wide open during audits).
- General building deficiencies.
Larger birds, such as Pigeons and Seagulls, typically cause more problems around the exterior of a facility on ledges, rooftops, HVAC units, loading docks and related areas.
In either case, these various types of pest birds can cause significant problems on the interior and exterior of food plants.
In most cases, facilities want to reduce as many conducive conditions as they can around and within the facility in a timely fashion. A conducive condition is one whereby due to a building condition, structural design, equipment operation, food or water source, or surrounding conditions (i.e., near a public landfill, raw materials mill or body of water) can attract pest birds to a facility. With each of these conditions, great care must be taken to reduce as many conducive conditions as possible.
Examples of Conducive Conditions
- Loading docks/canopies with open beams and rafters
- HVAC equipment
- Pooling water (roof and landscaping)
- Structural overhangs and ledges
- Open access points
- Landscaping (types of plantings)
- Damaged truck bay bumpers
- Gaps and opening around the structure
- Doors with improper sealing
- Open dumpsters
- Overflowing dumpsters
- Dirty dumpsters
- Product spillage
- Employees feeding birds
- Doors left open
All these conducive conditions, if left unresolved, can lead to significant bird problems. Reducing as many conducive conditions as possible will be the first step of any bird management program.
Bird Control Methods
From the start, your facility should have a bird management plan of action. For the most part, bird problems should not be left to be handled internally, unless your staff has been properly trained and has a bird management plan in place.
Most birds are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. However, Pigeons, Sparrows, and Starlings are considered non-migratory birds and are not protected under this Act. Even though these three bird species are not protected, control methods still need to be humane. More specifically, your bird control program must also comply with is the American Veterinary Medical Association (“AVMA”) Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals if this is the control method selected. The AVMA considers the House Sparrows, Feral Pigeon, and the Common Starling “Free-Ranging Wildlife.” And Free-Ranging Wildlife may only be humanely euthanized by specifically proscribed methodology.
In addition to the above-mentioned regulations, various regulations regarding the relocation of birds/nests may also apply. I also always recommend checking with local and state agencies to ensure that there are no local regulations that may apply. Bottom line: Don’t rely on untrained internal practices; one misstep could result in heavy financial fines and penalties.
Bird Management Strategies
First Line Defense
- Stop any bird feeding around the facility immediately
- Any bird management plan should have a clear policy prohibiting employees from feeding birds. Once birds have been accustomed to routine feeding, the birds will continue to return.
- Eliminate Standing Water Sources
- All standing or pooled water needs to be eliminated. Thus, routine roof inspections need to be conducted to ensure drains are working properly.
- Landscape irrigation needs to be calibrated to ensure no puddling of water in areas of low sun exposure.
- Proper Sanitation Practices
- Ensure that dumpster lids are closed when not in use.
- Trash removal frequency adequate.
- Routine cleaning of trash receptacles.
- Immediate removal of spilled food.
- Eliminate Entry Points
- Survey the facility to ensure that all holes are properly sealed.
• Around truck bay bumpers and doors
- Exhaust vents are properly screened.
- Windows are closed and have screens when in use.
The most appropriate bird control strategy will be determined based on the severity of the bird pressure. For example, if the bird pressure is high (birds have nested), then in most cases, you will only be able to use bird exclusion methods. Whereas, if the bird pressure is light to moderate (birds have not nested), bird deterrent methods can be used. This is an important distinction. Bird exclusion is physically changing the area to permanently exclude said pest birds. Whereas, bird deterrent devices inhibit birds from landing on treated areas.
Bird Deterrent Methods
After the previously mentioned first-line strategies have been implemented, the next step would be to install bird deterrent products (birds have not nested).
- Bird Spikes
- Bird Wire
- Electrified Shock Track
- Bird Gel
- Sonic & Ultra Sonic Devices
- Lasers and Optical Deterrents
- Hazing & Misting Devices
- Live Capture
Bird Exclusion Methods
If the birds have nested in or around the facility, the next step would be to install bird exclusion products (birds have nested).
- Bird Netting
- Ledge Exclusion (AviAngle)
- Architectural modifying structural
- Aggressive Harvesting (Targeting)
The best prevention strategy is planning and knowledge. Conduct a bird audit and develop a bird management plan before birds get near or inside the facility. The key is to act quickly, as soon as an incident occurs. I find countless times when I am called in to consult or service a food plant, that the birds got into the facility and no one knew what to do, and as a result, the birds remained within the facility for an extended period, thus increasing the risk of exposure. It is always much easier to remove a bird when they are unfamiliar with their surroundings. Whereas, it is much more difficult to remove birds from a facility that has had a long-standing bird problem.
Once you have a plan, who oversees the bird management plan? Are thresholds determined and set for various areas of the facility? For example, a zero threshold in production areas? Threshold levels will be set based upon by location and sensitivity of the said location. What steps are going to be taken to remove the bird? For how long is each step conducted? These questions need to be answered and developed to stay ahead of bird problems.
Reduce as many conducive conditions as possible. The longer a conducive condition stays active, the more likely birds, as well as other wildlife or rodents, will be attracted to the site and find a way into the facility.
Pathogen Contamination & Hazards
Birds present a host of problems, whether they are inside or outside of a facility. Birds can roost by air vents, and the accumulation of bird feces can enter the facility air system. Bird droppings on walkways and related areas allow for the possibility of vectoring of said dropping when employees step on droppings. Thus, spreading fecal matter/spores and other contaminants to areas throughout the facility.
If birds are within the facility, droppings can spread on product lines, raw materials, stored products, equipment and more, thus, causing contamination. Because of a bird’s ability to fly, they are perfect creatures to spread various diseases, pathogens, ectoparasites and fungal materials. Diseases such as Histoplasmosis, Salmonella, Encephalitis, E-coli, Listeria, and more. Birds have been known to transmit more than 60 infectious diseases!
Besides the spread of potentially harmful contaminants throughout the facility, bird droppings and nesting materials can also create a host of additional problems:
- The acidity in bird droppings can damage building finishes, façade signs, lighting and more.
- Wet bird droppings can create a slip and fall hazard.
- Bird nesting materials can create a fire hazard around façade signs, exit signs and light fixtures.
- Bird nesting and debris can clog roof drains and cause roof leaks from standing water.
- Introduction of ectoparasites into the facility such as bird mites, lice, fleas, ticks and more.
In summary, taking a proactive approach to bird control is the best practice. Reduce food, water and shelter sources (aka conducive conditions) promptly. Pest management programs need to implement a more in-depth section of the program for bird control. Like integrated pest management, bird control should be based upon an integrated method. Each facility will have its unique challenges. As such, each bird management plan needs to be tailored to the specific site. A well designed and balanced, integrated bird management program will provide long-term and cost-efficient bird control.
The next article in this series takes a closer look at how to prepare an integrated bird management audit program.
Technology and automation for safety and surveillance have already impacted nearly every industry in the world. For example, in the United States and many other developed regions, we have just lived through the transformation to electronic health records within the healthcare industry. Prior to that, we lived through the digital transformation of all of our banking information to an online banking platform—now the norm across the world.
However, the food and beverage industry is still learning how technology can improve their organizations. The food safety segment of this market is particularly in need of a digital transformation, as the risk associated with foodborne illness is potentially catastrophic to food companies, and moreso, to the end consumers who are impacted by preventable pathogenic outbreaks.
Along with regulation advancements, such as the timed roll-out of FSMA, the industry continues to work towards a more effective approach to food safety. But most regulations, and advancements in the industry are pointed toward a reactive stance to food safety issues, rather than a preventive stance. For example, although traceability is important in leading investigations to the source and taking remediation steps sooner, a more proactive approach to prevention should be considered when investing in food safety programs.
This is where the importance of an automated environmental monitoring program comes in. To be proactive requires a commitment to embracing data and digital technology. Knowing where to start to effectively pivot your digital approach can be a challenge.
Understanding the following thought process can help you to recognize areas of potential improvement and growth within your environmental monitoring program.
- Define Your Business Objectives. Ask how profitability and production uptime is connected to food safety issues.
- Verify Suppliers. Establish protocols for incoming product from external suppliers and validate their food safety performance and ability to maintain a clean facility.
- Modernize Your Environmental Monitoring Program (EMP). Are you able to confirm that your EMP is being executed consistently? Across all facilities?
- Understand Data Exhaust. See how your organization’s valuable data can be used to identify trends and accelerate root cause analysis that impact decision-making processes.
Define Your Business Objectives
Food companies large and small are being challenged to implement required processes and procedures to meet the demands of FSMA, and ultimately achieve a more proactive and preventative food safety stance. Transformation in this arena, led by government regulation, and enhanced by standards certification requirements, has highlighted the responsibility of suppliers and manufacturers to protect consumers.
Many organizations are not aware that a single failure in their food safety program could actually be the most devastating profitability risk that the organization faces today. When your organization is focused on production uptime and profitability, it can be easy to overlook the details involved in maintaining a strong food safety program. In reality, though, food safety and profitability are inextricably linked due to the risk of production interruptions that can be caused by safety issues.
Whenever a food recall occurs, it has the potential to start the dominoes falling, with major implications regarding costs, reputational damage, compliance penalties, supply chain interruption, and sales declines. Worse yet, these impacts can last for years after the actual event. By delaying both the importance of recognizing the seriousness of this risk as well as taking necessary steps to prevent it, your organization’s reputation could be on the line.
Unfortunately, planning is often sacrificed when managers fail to implement the proper technological solutions. Fulfilling fundamental documentation requirements involves a smart, automated approach. This is the best way to optimize recall prevention. By incorporating an automated EMP process, a supplier management system, and other FSMA Preventive Controls measures, suppliers ultimately improve the strength of the entire chain for their partners, consumers and themselves.
There are many other facets to food safety, but the EMP is where inspectors and auditors will look to see the indicators of contamination and the efficacy of your sanitation controls. Therefore, it is critical that your organization exhibit not only that you are on top of things and are following your EMP procedures consistently, but that you can analyze and pinpoint issues as they arise, and that you have a track record of corrective actions in response to those issues. This, in-turn, allows you to see where your business objectives are most at-risk.
Regardless of which specific food industry segment your company operates in, or which governing body it reports to, it’s essential to stay informed and compliant with changing regulations in order to reduce the risk of experiencing a recall. In a strategic operational role, intelligent environmental monitoring allows companies to not only proactively work to avoid public health issues, but is vital to retaining a consistent bottom line.
Earlier this year, the FDA heralded what they call a “New Era of Smarter Food Safety”. As technology becomes increasingly accessible, more and more companies are investigating how technology can be used to harness and control the growing complexity of supply chain implications.
The challenge of making sure your organization is doing its due diligence to prevent recalls is further complicated when incorporating outside suppliers. For example, 15% of the United State’s overall food supply is imported from more than 200 other countries, according to the FDA. Making sure the product coming into a facility is also meeting your standards is vital to preventing pathogens from entering your supply chain either through containers, people, or the incoming product itself.
The complexity grows exponentially when we contemplate what this means for tracking food safety across a supply chain of this scope. Generally suppliers are asked to provide verification for the cleanliness of the product they are bringing into your facility. However, by going a step further and establishing test points for the product when it comes in, you will be better equipped to catch pathogens before they can enter into your own supply chain and potentially contaminate other products. While you may already have a good relationship with your suppliers, being able to independently verify the safety of their products and that their own processes are working, creates a mutually beneficial relationship.
Modernize Your Environmental Monitoring Program
Food experts at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva discussed the critical nature of ensuring food safety across geographic boundaries, as it is an issue that affects everyone. Incidents of pathogen outbreaks around the world have a direct impact on the health of global citizens, with one in 10 people falling ill due to food contamination.
A traditional EMP allows organizations to continuously verify that their sanitation programs are working by scheduling testing, monitoring results for any signs of pathogens, and maintaining compliance with regulatory bodies. Historically, this type of program is documented in spreadsheets and three-ring binders, but today the acceptance of new tools being offered by vendors and labs are expanding offerings to modernize the monitoring process.
Food safety professionals, many of whom are trained microbiologists, should have better tools at their disposal than spreadsheets that force them to manually sift through data. All regulatory bodies in the food industry have guidelines when it comes to where, what, and when you should be testing in your facilities. Ensuring that this is happening is a basic requirement for meeting regulatory mandates.
By choosing an automated EMP, FSQA teams are able to schedule testing plans including randomization and test point coverage rules, see what testing is being performed when, and obtain all testing data in one system for ease of access before or during an audit. This offers an “always-on” source of audit data and more importantly, trending and root-cause analysis capabilities to find and define actions to remediate recurring problems.
Further, an automated EMP that is integrated with your food safety plan allows you to set up workflows and automatically notify appropriate team members according to your organization’s policies. Each remediation step can be recorded and time stamped as the corrective action moves towards completion.
Understand Data Exhaust
A dominant theme pushed forward by FSMA is the need to document all aspects of your food safety plan, from the written outline to the records indicating proper implementation. Today’s manufacturers face a time of heightened regulation, and with stricter enforcement comes greater requirements for documentation. Automated EMPs not only provide your organization insight into what is happening within your facilities for documentation, it also gives time back to your FSQA team who, instead of spending their days with three ring binders, can analyze and investigate recurring issues in your facility to look for new, innovative ways for the organization to maintain a high standard of quality.
However, effective testing also means reading, understanding and responding to results. It is not enough to simply meet the required volume and frequency of environmental testing metrics. You need to use the resulting information to effect change and improvements by lowering the likeliness of pathogens, allergens and contaminants from entering the food supply chain. The more data collected, the more it leads to true understandings. What testing might show is just the symptoms of the problem—not the root cause of a far bigger problem. As more data is available, it becomes more valuable through the insights that can be gained through trend analysis. This, in turn, moves the conversation to higher levels within the organization who care about ensuring productivity and reducing avoidable risk.
Incorporating your lab into the equation is essential. Find a lab partner that offers an automated testing program that is integrated with their LIMS. Your organization will then be in a better position to ensure results are being responded to in an appropriate time frame.
There are many diagnostic tools in use today, both in-plant and at the lab. Each of these tools generates “data exhaust” in the form of a diagnostic result. But are your data streams being integrated and analyzed to find correlations and potential cause/effect relationships? Or does your ATP device simply record its data to a dedicated laptop or spreadsheet?
Testing, combined with an automated EMP, can allow you to combine data from various diagnostic systems (on-premise or from your lab partner) to identify trends and therefore a more holistic path to remediation. For this to occur, data must be accessible, aggregated and actionable, which an automated EMP achieves.
Forward-thinking companies and facility managers are leveraging valuable software solutions to improve processes, protect reputations, minimize inefficiencies, and simplify multifaceted compliance and audit tasks. Over the next three to five years, numerous organizations will reduce their risk of food recalls by combining their EMPs with analytics capabilities to reduce food risk and improve quality using diagnostic solutions and data assets. This change will be arduous, as all digital transformations in other industries have shown. But, in the end, they have shown the value and long-term success that the food industry now needs to experience.
The unlimited supply of food sources that manufacturing facilities provide can make pest management a daunting task, especially with the scrutiny of third-party auditors, government regulators and customers. These high standards, along with yours, mean that diligence is a key ingredient in the recipe for pest management success.
Why is this important? The steps you take to prevent pests, and how issues are resolved if pest activity is detected, affects the overall credibility of your business. After all, pest management can account for up to 20% of an audit score.
Auditors look for an integrated pest management (IPM) plan, which includes prevention, monitoring, trend reports and corrective actions. If you want to stay audit-ready, all the time, implement the following five principles.
Open Lines of Communication
A successful pest management partnership is just that: A partnership. Create an open dialogue for ongoing communication with your pest management provider. Everyone has a role to play from sanitation to inspection to maintenance. For example, if there are any changes in your facility, such as alteration of a production line, let your provider know during their next service visit. During each visit, it’s important to set aside time to discuss what was found and done during the visit, including new pest sightings and concerns.
Communication shouldn’t be limited to the management team; your entire staff should be on board. During their day-to-day duties, employees should know what to look for, and most importantly, what to do if they notice pests or signs of pests. Reporting the issue right away can make a huge difference in solving a pest problem before it gets out of hand. Also, most pest management providers offer staff training sessions. These can be an overview of the basics during your next staff meeting or a specialized training on a pertinent issue.
A thorough inspection can tell you a lot about your facility and the places most at risk for pests. Your pest management provider will be doing inspections every visit, but routine inspections should be done by site personnel as well. Everyone at the site has a set of eyes, so why not use them? This way, you can identify hot spots for pests and keep a closer eye on them. Pests are small and can get in through the tiniest of gaps, so some potential entry points to look out for are:
• Windows and doors. Leaving them propped open is an invitation for all sorts of pests. Don’t forget to check the bottom door seal and ensure it is sealed tight to the ground.
- Floor drains. Sewers can serve as a freeway system for cockroaches, and drains can grant them food, water and shelter.
- Dock plates. A great entry point for pests, as there are often gaps surrounding dock plates.
- Ventilation intakes. These are a favorite spot for perching, roosting or nesting birds, as well as entry points for flying insects.
- Roof. You can’t forget about the roof, as it serves as a common entry point for birds, rodents and other pests.
Another thing to look for is conducive conditions, such as sanitation issues and moisture problems. These are areas where there may not be pests yet, but they provide a perfect situation that pests could take advantage of if they aren’t dealt with. Make sure to take pictures of deficiencies so that can be shared with the maintenance department or third-party who can fix it. You can also take a picture of the work when it has been finished, showing the corrective action!
Keep It Clean
Proper sanitation is key to maintaining food safety and for preventing and reducing pests. You need a written sanitation plan to keep your cleaning routine organized and ensure no spots are left unattended for too long. The following are some additional steps consider:
- Minimize and contain production waste. While it’s impossible to clean up all the food in a food processing site (you are producing said food!), it’s important to clean up spills quickly and regularly remove food waste.
- Keep storage areas dry and organized.
- Remember FIFO procedures (first in, first out) when it comes to raw ingredients and finished products.
- Clean and maintain employee areas such as break rooms and locker rooms.
- Ensure the outside of your facility stays clean and neat with all garbage going into trash cans with fitted lids.
- Make sure dumpsters are emptied regularly and the area around them kept clean.
Monitoring devices for many pests will be placed strategically around your facility. Some common ones are insect light traps (ILTs), rodent traps and bait stations, insect pheromone traps and glue boards. It’s important to let employees know what these are there for and to respect the devices (try not to run them over with a fork lift or unplug them to charge a cell phone). These devices will be checked on a regular basis and the type of pest and the number of pests will be recorded. This data can then be analyzed over time to show trends, hot spots, and even seasonal issues. Review this with your pest management provider on a regular basis and establish thresholds and corrective actions to deal with the issues when they reach your threshold. The pest sighting log can also be considered a monitoring tool. Every time someone writes down an issue they have seen, this can be quickly checked and dealt with.
Maintain Proper Documentation
Pest management isn’t a one-time thing but a cycle of ongoing actions and reactions. Capturing the process is extremely important for many reasons. It allows you to analyze, refine and re-adjust for the best results. It’s a great way to identify issues early. Also, it’s a critical step for auditors. Appropriate documentation must be kept on hand and up-to-date. There’s lots of documentation to keep when it comes to pest management and your provider should be keeping all of that ready—from general documentation like your annual facility assessment and risk assessment to training and certification records, pest sighting reports, safety data sheets and more.
The documentation aspect may seem like a lot at first, but a pest management provider can break it down and make it easier. It’s absolutely necessary for food and product safety and will become second nature over time.