Tag Archives: sanitation

Safe Food: A Product of a Clean Environment

By Gina R. Nicholson-Kramer
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Most recently we have seen an increase in foodborne illness outbreaks from Listeria to Salmonella to Norovirus to E.coli, many of which are a result of post-lethal contamination of processed foods. This is often a direct result of a gap in the sanitation programs that were in place at the processing facilities. Every facility should conduct a sanitation gap analysis on an annual basis. In order to receive unbiased feedback, this activity is best performed by a third party that is not a chemical provider.

Join Gina Kramer at the Listeria Detection & Control Workshop, May 31–June 1 in St. Paul, MN | LEARN MOREDeveloping and implementing a sound environmental hygiene program at a food processing facility is essential to its success in producing safe food for consumer consumption. There are fundamental basics of sanitation that every plant must follow in developing a strong program. The fundamental basics include: Developing sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs) for; Floors and drains, walls, ceilings, equipment and utensils, and employees. SSOPs must also contain perimeter control, foot traffic control into food preparation areas, zoning, and environmental sampling procedures.

Jeff Mitchell, Gina Kramer, Listeria
VIDEO: Jeff Mitchell and Gina Kramer discuss the increase in Listeria recalls. | WATCH NOW

When developing SSOPs, using the proper risk reduction formula will lead to sanitation success. To determine the best risk reduction formula, I sought the advice of sanitation expert, Jeff Mitchell, vice president of food safety at Chemstar. Before working for Chemstar, Mitchell was the Command Food Safety Officer for the United States Department of Defense (DOD). Serving more than 20 years for the DOD has given him the opportunity to visit thousands of processing facilities all over the world, seeing the best and the worst, and assisting in finding the root cause of contamination issues and negative environmental sampling results. In this article, I share Mitchell’s risk reduction formula for sanitation success and how to use the formula to build a solid and successful sanitation program.

Foundational Science

“An understanding of the difference between transient and persistent (or resident) pathogens is a key part in the foundational science of sanitation solutions,” explained Mitchell as we discussed the details of the risk reduction formula. Transient pathogens are those that are introduced to the processing facility from the external environment. Entrance occurs from deliveries on transportation vehicles and pallets, food, and non-food products and its packaging, employees and visitors, pests and rodents, along with leaks in the roof or improper cleaning of drains, which are known reservoirs.

Kramer_FoundationalScience“Persistent pathogens are those pathogens that establish residency within the processing facility. Most bacteria will aggregate within a biofilm, allowing them to live in communities. A biofilm is a survival mode for the bacteria; it protects it from sanitizer penetration. The biofilm layers actually masks it from sampling detection. You could swab a surface or an area and not get a positive pathogen test result, because the biofilm is masking it,” Mitchell stated. He continued to explain that most contamination risks are likely from established populations. Four things need to exist for resident populations to form: Pathogen introduction, water, trace organics and niche area for attachment and growth. Food processing facilities should be most concerned about these populations, as they’re being traced to many recent outbreaks and recalls.

In his experience, Mitchell shared that sanitation efforts should focus on areas within the processing facility where moisture and nutrients are collected; both are needed for biofilm formation. Disruption of these niche areas containing biofilm can result in direct (food contact) and indirect (non-food contact) contamination if the biofilm is not completely penetrated or removed. This can occur through active and passive dispersal of pathogens. Active dispersal refers to mechanisms that are initiated by the bacteria themselves where they naturally eject from the biofilm and land on other surfaces. Passive dispersal refers to biofilm cell detachment that is mediated by external forces that shear the biofilm, causing it to move and further spread. This can be caused through fluid shear, abrasion and/or vibration due to power washing, equipment vibration, or deep cleaning/scrubbing that does not penetrate and remove all the aggregate layers of biofilm. In other words, the biofilm and pathogens are just smeared around the facility like cleaning a mirror with a greasy wiping cloth.

Chemistry and Application

Kramer_CleaningMatrixThe cleaning matrix must be considered to properly remove soils that house both transient and persistent pathogens. This is done by combining proper cleaning and sanitizing agent concentration (PPM), adequate exposure time, proper temperature and mechanical action (agitation) or good old elbow grease. If there is a decrease in one area of the matrix, then an increase in the other areas needs to be made as an accommodation to the cleaning process. My years working in industry have taught me that the most expensive quadrant of the cleaning matrix is agitation, because it requires manual labor. Reduction of labor is one of the first ways companies build in efficiencies to increase profit margins. That means a solution must be built that focuses on temperature, concentration and proper contact time to produce the sanitation results necessary to prevent persistent pathogens from establishing residency within processing facilities.

Temperature should be regulated by the type of soils that need to be removed. High fat soils need a higher temperature of about 140⁰ F. However, when removing high protein soils, the temperature needs to be reduced so that the protein is not baked onto the surface. Baked proteins that are not removed become nutrients for bacteria to aggregate and reside. High temperature is does not work in every food processing plant, Jeff explained.

Proper balance of detergent and sanitizer is necessary to remove and destroy both transient and persistent pathogens. The detergent needs to be the right formulation and contact time to break down soils and biofilms with application of the right concentration and contact time of sanitizer to kill the exposed pathogens. Without the right balance in place it can create the perfect storm for spread and contamination within the processing facility.


Do your homework. Research is the most valuable tool when validating the effectiveness of a cleaning process. Private research is good but not the only form of validation on which to base a business decision. I have found that peer reviewed published research is best to use in validating all quadrants of the cleaning matrix. Academic research based on sound science that has practical application results is worth the investment to make sound business decisions.

Many products have been developed to penetrate and destroy the biofilm layers that bacteria aggregate. Again, do your homework. Choose a product that also provides a pathogen kill once the biofilm has been penetrated. I cannot stress enough to make sure that the SSOPs follow the manufacturer’s validated processes and the sanitation team follows the SSOPs’ directions.


Applying the desired solution requires dividing the processing facility into zones to designate specific sanitation requirements. This will assist in the development of specific SSOPs that apply the right solution in the right zone throughout the site.

Kramer_ZoneMitchell also gave great advice about cleaning tools and cleaning chemical basics. He explained that a facility should color code the cleaning tools according to zone and only use them in the designated zone area. This prevents cross contamination from occurring, because cleaning tools can be vehicles of contamination transfer. Utilize foam detergents and foam sanitizers as they are more forgiving and increase contact time, and sanitation crew can see where they have applied the chemicals. Use the Ross-Miles foam test for stability: Foam should last more than three minutes before breaking and turning into a liquid solution that runs down the drain, costing a site money and opening up the potential for introducing pathogens into production rooms.

Mitchell advised the development of sanitation procedures that focus on daily thorough cleaning of everything from the knees down in Zones 1-3. “You want to knock everything down and keep it down. The objective is to keep bacterial creep from occurring,” he said. “Creep is where bacteria are moved by processes like water spray, splash and aerosolization, causing the bacteria to move from one area (it usually develops on the floor) to then move up walls and the legs of equipment, etc.— eventually causing contamination of food during food production and packaging.” Obviously, all food contact surfaces in Zone 1 need to have specialized SSOPs according to the equipment, food processing shifts per day, and type of foods that are being processed.

Mitchell stressed that perimeter and foot traffic control entry programs should incorporate a good foam sanitizer that stands up to the Ross-Miles test with optimal duration of five minutes. The distribution of the foam should cover a large enough area that the employees’ foot path and equipment must travel through the foam to achieve contact to control transient pathogen entrance into Zones 1–3. Concentration levels of these areas should be at least double what the food contact area strength is for effectiveness of log kill needed for control.

Environmental monitoring procedures should follow the zoning process set up for sanitation. “Swabbing for Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) and/or Aerobic plate count (APC) are tools that can be used to help identify biofilm locations. One thing to note is that the bacteria located under the biofilm are in a modified dormant state requiring less energy and making less ATP available for detection.  With that said, ATP and APC swabbing are still both viable tools to use in sanitation verification,” said Mitchell. If you only test for general risk pathogens in your facility you may receive false negatives due to biofilm masking the pathogen from showing up as a positive in environmental testing. Utilizing both general pathogen, ATP and APC in concert, is the best combination in a facility’s environmental monitoring program. The goal is to seek and find then destroy and verify.

I recently discovered a great biofilm visual detection test from Realzyme that is wonderful to use to verify whether the sanitation system in place is working. It can also differentiate between protein build-up and biofilm formation. In my professional opinion, this visual detection test is essential to incorporate in a robust environmental testing system.

Safe Food: The End Product

Our responsibility as food safety/quality professionals is to provide the safest, most delicious food for our customers to enjoy. To ensure safe food in our end product, we need to develop a robust sanitation and environmental testing program that follows the risk reduction formula (Foundational Science + Chemistry & Application + Validation = Solution) and conduct an annual sanitation gap analysis by a third-party expert for continuous improvements.

Apply these steps to protect your food, protect your brand and protect your customers so that they Savor Safe Food in every bite!

Scotch, ice cubes

Scotch On the Rocks, but without E. Coli, Please

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Scotch, ice cubes

This article was part of our April Fool’s edition. 49% of poll participants thought this story was fake. Alas, it’s true! Better luck next time.

If you plan on visiting Switzerland any time soon, take your beverages without ice. Why? A recent study has found that more than 25% of ice cubes used in bars and restaurants in Switzerland contain bacteria, including E. coli, pseudomonas and enterococci. According to SonntagsBlick, the publication that released the information, the bacteria is an indication of unsanitary ice cube production, namely due to the machines being kept in basements and cellars and not being properly cleaned or maintained.

“Abroad you are always careful with ice,” Sara Stalder, director of a consumer protection group told SonntagsBlick. “But in Switzerland one would never expect one in four ice cubes to exceed legal limits.” Despite the fact that the ice cubes surpassed legal limits in terms of the presence of bacteria, the amount of bacteria isn’t enough to be dangerous to humans.

You can be the judge of that.

Sanitation in Retail

Out with the Old: From Dirty Rags to Cleaner, Safer Technology in Retail

By Maria Fontanazza
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Sanitation in Retail

Across the board, increased employee awareness and training has become a big issue in food safety. The foodborne illness outbreaks that hit Chipotle Mexican Grill has put retail and restaurant establishments on high alert, yet this is just another example of the reactive culture in which we operate, according to Matt Schiering, vice president and general manager at Sani Professional.

Matt Schiering, Sani Professional
“Think about your own restaurant experiences. Guests don’t want to see or be confronted with a greyish brown rag [that is used to] wipe a table, then wipe a seat, then wipe an adjacent table. It just screams unclean,” says Matt Schiering of Sani Professional.
Food Safety Tech recently hit the road with Schiering and John Caton, regional sales manager at Sani Professional, to experience first hand how one company is communicating its message to customers. Breaking with tradition has been an important part of promoting cleaner technology: The use of the rag and bucket as a means to clean both the front of the house (tables, chairs, counters, etc.) as well as the back of restaurants and retail establishments, while still fairly common, has outlived its effectiveness, and frankly, says Schiering, “screams unclean”. Caton and Schiering continued the conversation with their customers about how using disposable wipes for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection helps prevent the spread of contamination, along with the cost savings associated with using such products. The company takes a multi-prong approach to promoting awareness among its current and potential clients, from deploying a sales force that directly interacts with quality assurance and food safety professionals in establishments to offering how advances in sustainable technology can help them stay ahead of the curve to driving consumer advocacy.

Food Safety Tech: How is Sani Professional raising the level awareness of the disadvantages of the traditional cleaning method (the rag and bucket method) in the retail environment?

Matt Schiering: There are a few ways to raise the level of awareness. The first and foremost is “feet on the street”. We’ve deliberately moved toward a direct-to-customer sales force, which gives us the opportunity to interface directly with QA, food safety and operations to show them a simpler, more efficient, more effective, and guest appealing way versus the traditional rag and bucket. The first win is one for the user (the employees of a given establishment), because associates have shown us time and time again that they do not like the mixing and measuring, and the errors that are often associated with that process. They don’t like the dirty rag itself—having to fish it out of the bowl and then present it or be seen with it in the front of the establishment. It’s a win for the operator (the manager), because with our system, there’s no longer any heightened heart rate when the health inspector shows up. One of the most common violations is the water in the buckets being out of spec or the rags themselves not being inside the bucket per regulation. And perhaps most importantly, it’s a win for the guest. Think about your own restaurant experiences. Guests don’t want to see or be confronted with a greyish brown rag [that is used to] wipe a table, then wipe a seat, then wipe an adjacent table. It just screams unclean.

As we talk about the evolution in perception, away from traditional methods, we believe that speaking directly to the consumer has to play a role. There has to be a degree of consumer-driven advocacy for a better way. – Matt Schiering

FST: Regarding employee training, how should retailers be more proactive in ensuring their employees are engaging in proper food safety practices and aren’t spreading foodborne illnesses?

Schiering: It varies by chain. Unfortunately, we live in a reactive culture—and that goes well beyond the restaurant industry.

Oftentimes a problem precedes a protocol or other means of addressing said problem. Chipotle is one example: They’ve taken an exhaustive look at restructuring their food safety protocols as a result of a myriad of foodborne illness-related issues that they suffered in the preceding months. The [retailers] who are doing it best are the ones who build it into their establishment in the first place where it’s not predicated by some sort of problem. That involves training materials, in-service lessons, and online training (i.e., ServSafe certifications). Waffle House, for example, has Waffle House University where food safety is a key component to that system.

We envision ourselves as part of that process. We take a microcosm—the notion of proper food handling, prevention of cross contamination related foodborne illness—and provide an innovative and easy-to-use solution, and all the training and collateral materials associated with the solution that explain the proper use. We also provide test kits so that if the health inspector wants an in-the-moment proof that our product is doing what the label says it does, [the retailer] can provide that at a moments notice. It becomes more of a service proposition than simply a product-driven solution.

Sanitation in Retail
Using disposable wipes for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection can help prevent the spread of cross contamination and foodborne illness.

FST: Where do you see sustainable products fitting into the space?

Schiering: This also boils down to education, because the perception of disposables is that they’re wasteful, when in fact they needn’t be any more costly than existing solutions.

If you’re using a linen service, there’s a cost associated with renting towels, but there’s a higher cost associated with wasting towels. So if a towel ends up in a gym bag or in the trash because of overuse and/or abuse, there’s a significant upcharge for not returning that towel to the rental agency. That’s what we call the hidden cost or the dirty little secret of rag and bucket sanitizing. When you factor that in, and everyone [retailers] experiences that type of loss, and you look at the fact that sanitizing wipes kill pathogens trapped in the wipe as well as whatever it is coming into contact with at the surface, thereby enabling it to be used on multiple surfaces without causing cross contamination—the cost aligns very closely. And of course it’s a more value-added guest experience than a dirty rag being used from table to table, which is not preventing cross contamination.

Speaking to the environmental piece: At the moment, we’re actually fairly well ahead of the industry. It varies chain to chain—some chains are doing a better job than others, because it’s part of their corporate culture. But by providing solutions that are leveraging either recyclable substrates or compostable substrates, we provide greater opportunity to reduce the environmental impact often associated with disposable products. If a retailer is working with a waste management partner that can handle industrial compostable products or non-solid state recyclables, we have solutions that are appropriate for those operations, so that we’re not just adding to landfills but rather essentially recycling and/or regenerating the products that are being used, and at no greater cost.

Most retailers haven’t gotten there yet. It speaks directly to corporate culture and corporate mission of the end user. We deliberately target customers who are a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to “green technology or “green behavior”. And so when the rest of the industry catches up, we’re more than ready to serve them with products that meet those needs.

FST: Where do consumers fit into the picture, especially has industry moves away from traditional methods in food safety?

Schiering: About a decade ago, consumers started demanding that retailers like Walmart, Target, and local grocers provide a means of sanitizing shopping carts when they walk into their local retail establishments. There were myriad news reports about the germs and potential for contamination and illness arising from the often used and rarely cleaned implements—these vehicles for placing your groceries. We answered the call a decade ago, and at one time it was a significant piece of our business.  It continues to be a marketplace we serve, albeit a much commoditized one. But the rise in that solution would not have taken place if not for consumers advocating for a better way.

We’re starting to create a presence on Facebook and other social media outlets to remind consumers that it’s up to them in many cases to ask for, if not demand a more effective, more pleasing way of ensuring their safety in dining establishments. Unfortunately, incidents like what we saw at the large Mexican food service retailer do ultimately play a part in that consumer advocacy, albeit a negative one, because we are a reactive society. But by presenting a positive message and sharing alternatives in the absence of citing examples or shaming retailers through the problem, we believe that will be one of the keys to changing perceptions at the retail level.

Mike Hardegree, Proton Towels

Advancing Technology in Disinfection and Sanitation

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Mike Hardegree, Proton Towels

“There is a lot of new technology that has taken place in sanitizers, [and] in practices, procedures and protocols to reduce the risk of foodborne illness,” said Mike Hardegree of Tietex International, Ltd at the Food Safety Consortium. “The cotton towel and the disinfecting and cleaning towels most often used are the same ones that have been used for many, many years.”

In the following video, Hardegree and Margaret Hearon, market development manager at Teitex share how the single-use towel technology is reducing the risk of cross contamination.


Gina Kramer
Food Safety Think Tank

Listeria, the Pesky Bug is Everywhere!

By Gina R. Nicholson-Kramer
Gina Kramer

“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”  A quote, by Alexander Den Heijer, trainer, speaker, purposologist, that rings true in food safety. When there is a contamination issue in food processing, one must fix the environment in which food is being processed. Safe food is a product of a clean environment.

We have better environmental sampling programs in our food manufacturing plants and processing facilities, and we have sanitation standard operating procedures, so why are we seeing a prevalence of Listeria, and in rising numbers?  I recently sat down with Jeff Mitchell, vice president of food safety at Chemstar, about the recent increase in Listeria outbreaks and how you can rid your facility of the dangerous pathogen.

We’re seeing Listeria—in product recalls and outbreaks—over the last couple of years, and in multiple numbers. Why do you think this is happening?

Jeff Mitchell, Gina Kramer, Listeria
My interview with Jeff Mitchell about the increase in Listeria recalls.  Watch the video

Jeff Mitchell: The distribution of Listeria in the environment has not changed, and the processes that we use for processing food really haven’t changed. What’s changed is the way that we collect data. We have PulseNet now, which gathers information. If someone goes to a medical treatment facility with a foodborne illness, they’re going to investigate that and they’re going to get the whole genome sequencing on the pathogen.

There’s a difference between understanding what transient Listeria is and resident Listeria. I think there are a lot of sanitation efforts being put forth to eliminate the resident populations—those are the populations we’re most concerned about, and they’re the ones that are being related back to a lot of these recalls.

If I have resident Listeria in my facility, why can’t I find it?

Food Safety Tech is organizing a Listeria Detection & Control Workshop, May 31 – June 1, 2016 in St. Paul, MN. LEARN MOREMitchell: Resident populations of Listeria are found in a biofilm—most bacteria aggregate within a biofilm. A biofilm is a survival mode for the bacteria; it protects it from sanitizer penetration. That layer actually masks it from sampling. You could swab a surface or an area and not pick it up, because the biofilm is masking it.

Jeff goes on to discuss the type of sanitation program that companies should have in place to get rid of resident Listeria. You can learn about the steps you need to take in my video interview.

Jeff Mitchell, Gina Kramer, Listeria

The Increase in Listeria Recalls and What You Can Do About It

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Jeff Mitchell, Gina Kramer, Listeria

Why has the food industry been seeing more Listeria outbreaks in recent years? What is the reason behind it? According to Jeff Mitchell, vice president of food safety at Chemstar, the prevalence in Listeria-related recalls may have more to do with the fact that industry is collecting more meaningful data. During a Q&A with Gina Kramer, founder and executive director of Savour Food Safety International, Inc., Mitchell discusses the methods through which industry is collecting data and how food companies should be using a sanitation program to rid facilities of resident Listeria at the 2015 Food Safety Consortium.

Color coding to enable allergen and potential contamination distinction

If You Aren’t Color Coding Yet, You’re Way Behind

By Bob Serfas
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Color coding to enable allergen and potential contamination distinction

Since the introduction of FSMA, food safety has been under a much-needed magnifying glass. Standards for hygiene and accountability are increasing, and companies are implementing more measures to keep consumers safe. One of the ways in which businesses are being proactive is through implementing color-coding plans. If you have not heard of this type of plan yet, it’s time to get schooled; and if you have, this article will provide a quick refresher on why companies are expanding their spectrum on contamination prevention—by literally implementing the color spectrum in their plants and businesses. 

What Is A Color-Coded Plan?

A strategy for a plant or business that designates certain colors for a specific area or purpose designed to promote safety and cleanliness.

Example Plans. Although color-coding plans vary by the needs and demands of each plant, the following are the most popular types of color-coding plans currently being practiced in food manufacturing.

Color coding to enable allergen and potential contamination distinction
Color coding a cleaning brush can help employees make the distinction when dealing with allergens and potential contamination. All images courtesy of Remco/Vikan

Allergen/Potential Contaminant Distinction

Food Processors and manufactures usually have identified potential allergens and contaminants that pose a risk to the production process. Color distinction for equipment or instruments that come into contact with these potential contaminants is an ideal tool for food safety. Determining the amount of items that fall into this category within your facility is the first step to selecting the appropriate amount of colors to implement. The most basic color-coding plan for this purpose would be to select one color to represent tools that come into contact with a particular risk agent and one color to represent those tools that may be used elsewhere. If a plant has more than one risk agent, this plan may be expanded to include several colors. It is important to remember, however, that simplicity is key in color coding and that additional colors should be implemented strictly on an as-needed basis.

Zone Distinction

Many plants already have identified zones in place based on what is produced in each zone or simply due to operating a large plant. This presents an ideal opportunity to color code zones to keep tools in their proper place.  

Shift Distinction

Certain plants that have a large number of employees working different shift times should also consider color coding. Color coding by shift can hold each shift responsible for proper tool use and storage. This approach also allows management to see where work habits may be falling short and where the cost of tool replacement is highest. 

Assembly Process Distinction

Plants that have assembly line-like processes can implement color coding if necessary to differentiate tools that belong to each step. For example, this becomes particularly important in plants that deal with products such as meat; obviously you do not want to use the same tools with raw and processed meat. Color coding eliminates the question of whether or not a tool is meant for each step in the process.

Color coding for cleaning purpose distinction
Implement a two-color-coding plan to distinguish between tools used for cleaning versus sanitation.

Cleaning Purpose Distinction

For many food plants, cleaning and sanitizing are processes that are considered different in purpose and practice. Often, there is a specific list for cleaning and then a separate plan for sanitizing. Implementing a two color-coding plan can distinguish tools that are meant for each process.

Why You Need A Color-Coded Plan

It helps meet FSMA requirements. A major part of complying with FSMA regulations is having proper documentation to prove safety measures. Color-coding plans do exactly that, and most providers of these products can provide you with the necessary documentation.

It reduces pathogens and allergens contamination. For food producers, this is the most important reason to implement color coding. There is nothing worse for a company than experiencing product contamination or a recall; this is one step that may prevent such events from occurring. 

It is easy to understand. Color coding works so well because it is so simple. All employees, even those who may not speak the same language or are unable to read posters and manuals that dictate proper procedures, can easily comprehend it.

It creates a culture that holds employees accountable. Managers enjoy color-coding practice because it is a simple measure that really works to hold employees accountable in the proper use of tools. It becomes much more obvious when a brightly colored tool is out of place, and thus workers are more likely to follow proper procedure.

Food processing and sanitation

Seize the Competition by Improving Sanitation

By Tim Tancred
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Food processing and sanitation

For consumers and manufacturers, product quality and cleanliness are a preeminent priority. Product recalls resulting from manufacturing errors in sanitation often warrant national headlines and cause widespread mistrust and panic among consumers.

After a tumultuous spring and summer, Blue Bell Creameries, a Texas-based ice cream manufacturer, will be restocking its products in select grocery store freezers in five phases. The popular brand was forced to recall its products due to Listeria contamination, which has been blamed for the deaths of three people.

Learning from these instances can greatly reduce the number of sanitation-related issues in the future. Investing in sanitation not only increases safety but does wonders for performance and efficiency.

How can sanitation be a competitive advantage and not a troublesome necessity? It’s all about OEE.

Sanitation efficiency
Investing in sanitation efficiency now will pay off later. Image courtesy of Myrtle Consulting Group

While not investing in sanitation may save you a little money in the short-run, neglecting it can cause exponentially larger costs down the road, including elevated food scrap, equipment reliability failures, excessive non-value adding to production time, expensive recalls, remediation costs, potential legal liability, and destroyed consumer trust.

A focus on Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) will increase capacity without investment or additional resources, and it does not need to be overly difficult or expensive. However, OEE management does require detailed process analysis, process rethinking, reconstructing of resource assignments, and installation of management control and reporting systems. When equipment is scheduled to run, it’s running at the correct rate, using the right number of resources and at the right level of quality. This will not only boost the efficiency of your operation, but the safety and quality of it as well.

An Important Piece of the Puzzle

Adopting lean techniques into your sanitation plan is an effective and efficient way to improve process time. With this approach, you can determine:

  • How to best execute work
  • How much time it should take
  • Who should do it
  • What specific equipment or tools are needed
  • Which materials and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are necessary
  • What testing is required

Using LEAN will allow you focus in on three essential areas: the elimination of waste, reduction in variability and reduction of inflexibility. When these factors come together, work can be completed in a standardized, efficient and sanitary manner.

Study. Streamline. Standardize.

Food processing and sanitation
Product recalls due to manufacturing errors in sanitation cause mistrust among consumers. Image courtesy of Myrtle Consulting Group

Study. To incorporate, improve or ensure sanitation, the first step is to evaluate what you’re working with. Take the time to examine existing protocols and contracts. Conducting a detailed study of the current processes can help you define the areas that need work, which may include equipment effectiveness, supervisory staff and materials used.

Streamline. Once you obtain the initial result of the study, goals and plans can be determined to streamline the process and make everything run more efficiently. It is not unusual to discover at least 30% of non-valued time within the existing process, mainly due to poor planning, poor coordination or the use of overly cumbersome methods.

Standardize. After creating a plan to improve effectiveness and sanitation, swift and certain implementation of these ideas are critical to maintain commitment and realize results. With a detailed plan, sanitation of machines and other supplies can be executed in an exact, timely fashion.

Placing Sanitation Operation First

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made in manufacturing is viewing sanitation operations as secondary in importance. This attitude can lead to all kinds of oversight and carelessness, which can cause costly mistakes. Clear expectations, clear roles and responsibilities, and measured performance are the hallmarks of well-executed operations and an effective way to make sanitation a priority.

Dramatic Improvements, Significant Savings

Making these changes to increase efficiency and sanitation have yielded dramatic improvements for manufacturers. A large U.S. food manufacturer installed this system in five of their plants and quickly cut costs while boosting productivity. One of the plants was able to repatriate production outsourced to a co-manufacturer at a savings of approximately $500,000. Another replaced its entire 50+ person sanitation crew with a subcontract cleaning crew, reducing its labor cost from $22 to $11.47 an hour, while at the same time increasing the work effectiveness of the crew and performing 15% more sanitation work within the same time frame.

Manufacturing isn’t only about quantity; it involves ensuring a level of quality that builds consumer loyalty and efficiency. When your product potentially poses risk for the consumer, it also poses a danger to your business and its success. Remember, you don’t have to risk using unsanitary methods for the sake of saving money or increasing efficiency. In fact, sanitation and efficiency are easily attainable when they are brought together in a strategic plan. Putting in the time and dedication to create an effective sanitation plan will help you avoid negative consequences and bring you to the top of your game. Stay clean.

Listeria Invasion – How is it Creeping into Our Beloved Foods?

By Traci Slowinski
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As a result of several recent high-profile Listeria-related recalls, interest in the foodborne pathogen is increasing and food processors must take preventive measures to keep it out of facilities.

Listeria monocytogenes is a gram-positive bacteria. It has 13 serotypes, three of which have been associated with the vast majority of foodborne infections (called listeriosis). Although it is not a leading cause of foodborne illness, it is among the leading causes of death from foodborne illness. This hardy pathogen is salt tolerant, thrives in cold, moist environments and can grow under refrigeration temperatures. Listeria is found throughout our environment including in soil, water, sewage, decaying vegetation and even some animals. Its presence has most often been identified in foods such as raw or under-pasteurized milk, smoked fish, deli meats, soft cheeses and raw vegetables.

For a healthy individual, Listeria may cause mild symptoms or have no effect at all. Fever, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are common signs of infection. For the e  immunocompromised (the very young or old, pregnant women, or adults with weakened immune systems), symptoms can be more severe and include septicemia and meningitis; in pregnant women, it can cause miscarriage. Symptom-onset ranges from a few hours to two–three days, with durations lasting from days to several weeks, depending on the severity of infection.

Keep Listeria Out of Your Plant

The first line of defense against Listeria contamination is to keep it out of a facility, but that may not always be possible, thus a Listeria prevention plan should be integrated into a company’s food safety program, considering the following areas:

    • Employees—can be brought in on shoes and clothing, or through infected workers. Prevention includes:
      • Good Manufacturing Practices
        • Personnel Hygiene—proper hand washing, wearing clean clothes and shoes, wearing proper hair restraints
        • Employee Illness Policy—restriction/exclusion of ill employees
    • Raw Materials—introduction into the environment from raw ingredients (milk, fish, seafood, produce), pallets, cardboard, packaging material. Prevention includes:
      • Supply Chain Management
        • Supplier Approval Program—having strategic partners that ensure only safe, high-quality raw materials
        • Ingredient Management—requesting COAs, letters of guarantee, allergen control
        • Receiving/Storage Procedures—completing incoming inspections, proper nonconforming material handling
    • Processing Aids—harborage in ice, brine solutions, improperly filtered compressed air and HVAC units. Prevention includes:
      • Sanitation Program—proper cleaning/sanitizing of equipment
      • Preventative Maintenance—regular replacement/maintenance on filters/motors
      • Water, Air, and Steam—utilizing potable water, properly filtered air, properly treated steam
    • Equipment Design—contamination of conveyor belts, filling and packaging equipment, slicers/dicers, ice makers, hoses, equipment framework, condensate drip pans, maintenance tools, trash cans, tools for cleaning equipment (brushes and scouring pads). Prevention includes:
      • Sanitary Equipment Design – ensuring that all equipment can be broken down as far as possible and properly cleaned and sanitized to remove dirt, debris and micro-organisms
    • Process Flow—not maintaining segregation of high vs. low risk, clean vs. dirty. Prevention includes:
      • Separation of high-risk vs low-risk areas through time, space or physical barriers
      • Proper garb (smocks, hair restraints, captive shoe policy) and sanitary measures (hand wash and sanitize, shoe sanitizer) to reduce introduction into high-risk areas
      • Proper personnel flow or movement to prevent cross-contamination
    • Plant Environment—common pathogen harborage areas. Prevention includes:
      • Floors/Drains – splash back, biofilms
      • Overhead Structures – condensate, dust/debris
      • Waste Areas – trash buildup
      • Wash Areas – standing water
    • Sanitation Program—insufficient cleaning/sanitizing to remove pathogens. Prevention includes:
      • SSOP’s – comprehensive sanitation SOPs with special focus on hard-to-clean areas and equipment.
      • Drain Cleaning—proper frequency, chemicals and procedures
      • Clean-In-Place Systems—accessibility to hard-to-reach areas
      • Sanitizing Agents—quaternary ammonium compounds, peroxyacetic acid sanitizers (for biofilms)
    • Environmental Monitoring Program—tool to identify gaps and risk used improperly resulting in missed problems. Prevention includes:
      • Robust Sampling Plan—identify zones and sampling areas
      • Effective Track & Trend Tool—identify gaps or risk that require corrective/preventive action
      • Timely Corrective Action— ensure proper follow-up on any issues that arise

First Person: The Listeria Experience and Lessons Learned

The above list is by no means exhaustive when it comes to all the areas you need to consider when completing a gap analysis within your facility. Listeria can be very insidious, and you will need to be ever-vigilant to ensure it does not take hold in your environment. Believe me, I have been there when it has.

Once upon a time, I worked for a Ready-to-Eat processing plant. We had robust food safety and quality assurance programs. We employed two microbiologists and had a good environmental monitoring program. The sanitation team did a thorough job of cleaning and sanitizing every night, and we completed preoperational sanitation inspections (including ATP testing) every morning.

Then we had a Listeria recall.

It started out small. One sample tested by FDA came back positive. Then another…and another. More intensive environmental testing found Listeria in the plant—in the drains, in the hard to reach areas of the old slicers and MAP packaging equipment, and even in the production room cooling units.

After many, many hours of cleaning, sanitizing, testing and retesting, we determined that the current layout of the facility would never allow for complete elimination of the Listeria. We had one big production room where raw material was brought in and broken down, fed into the processing lines and assembled, and lastly, finished product was placed into the packaging, which then went into cases and onto wooden pallets. There was no separation of high-risk areas from low risk.

So, what did we do? We set up a temporary location for production (which was a major project in and of itself), redesigned the process flow, shut down the plant, and remodeled our production area.

Highlights of the redesign included:

      • Building a cleanroom for the production area. We walled off the raw material handling area by the receiving warehouse, enclosed the packaging area by the shipping warehouse, and made the room that housed the processing lines a cleanroom/high-risk room. Entry into the room required appropriate garb (clean smocks, hair restraints, gloves, captive shoes), use of the hands-free hand wash and sanitizer, and a pass through the boot sanitizer. The temperature of the room was reduced from 50oF to 38oF to discourage pathogen growth.
      • Setting up a raw material handling room. A separate “dirty” area was built to break down raw material components and remove them from their packaging (corrugate cases, plastic wrap). Raw material was then fed through a wall opening where a UV light was mounted to “sanitize” the outside of the material. This helped to reduce the introduction of cardboard packaging and wood pallets into the cleanroom and drive down any pathogens that might be on the surface of the raw material.
      • Adding a packaging room. All sealed, packaged finished product passed through a wall opening into the packaging room where it was boxed up and placed on pallets. This also helped to reduce the introduction of cardboard and wood into the clean room.

The new process flow allowed for employees to move from the “clean” processing room to the raw material or packaging rooms without any extra precautions, but they were required to go back through the clean room procedures prior to going back to the processing area. Raw material and packaging employees were excluded from the cleanroom to minimize potential of contamination from personnel flow.

We also reevaluated our Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs), and Sanitation and Environmental Monitoring (EM) programs to ensure all potential risk was identified and addressed either through the new facility design or other control measures. One key takeaway was to use the EM program to identify gaps and areas of opportunity rather than to just try to prove that everything is fine. We learned that having a comprehensive EM program that can capture all the necessary data points, analyze trends and drive corrective action helped our team use the program to drive food safety and continuous improvement. It wasn’t good enough to just have an EM program in place; we needed to use the data to address gaps and mitigate identified risks.


Foodborne pathogens are one of the biggest risks to the safety of our foods. Listeria poses a threat to a number of food categories (dairy, protein, and produce) and should be highlighted as a significant hazard to be assessed when developing and implementing your food safety programs. Using risk-based preventive controls within your facility will help prevent adverse events related to Listeria.

Using ATP-based Methods for Cleaning and Sanitation Verification

By Camila Gadotti, M.S., Michael Hughes
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There are several factors that must be considered when selecting a reliable and accurate system for detecting adenosine triphosphate.

A common way to assess the effectiveness of cleaning and sanitation programs in food manufacturing facilities is through the use of methods that detect adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Methods based on ATP detection are inexpensive and rapid, and provide the ability to perform onsite in real-time. There are several manufacturers of ATP-based methods, but choosing the most reliable one can be a daunting task. This article will discuss how these methods work and which factors should be considered to make an informed purchasing decision.

ATP is the universal energy currency in all living cells. It is present in all viable microorganisms (with the exception of viruses) and in foodstuffs. High amounts of ATP can be found in some fresh foods like vegetables, while other foods, especially highly processed foods such as fats, oils or sugar, contain very low amounts of this molecule. It is also important to know that ATP can be found in the environment in its free form hours after a cell has died.1 An ATP bioluminescence assay operates on the principle that ATP in food/food residues and microorganisms, in the presence of a luciferin/luciferase complex, leads to light emission. This light can be measured quantitatively by a luminometer (light-detecting instrument), with results available in 10–40 seconds. The amount of light emitted is proportional to the amount of ATP on a surface and hence its cleanliness. The light emitted is typically measured in relative light units (RLUs), calibrated for each make of instrument and set of reagents. Therefore, the readings obtained from assessing the cleaning of food manufacturing facilities need to be compared with baseline data representing acceptable clean values.

Varying Optical Components

Luminometers have evolved over the years from very large and cumbersome in size to small handheld models that can be used anywhere within a manufacturing facility. Although several components are housed inside these instruments, the optical component is the most important part of a luminometer. Used to detect light coming from the ATP/luciferin/luciferase reaction, the optical component is the defining factor related to luminometer reliability, sensitivity and repeatability. Good luminometers use a photomultiplier tube (PMT) in the light detection system; however, as part of the drive toward cheaper and smaller instruments, some manufacturers have replaced PMTs with less-sensitive photodiode-based systems. When using photodiodes, the swab chemistry must be adapted to produce more intense light. This results in a shorter duration of light, decreasing the time window allotted to place the swab in the luminometer and obtain an accurate read. A PMT, however, multiplies the electrical current produced when light strikes it by millions of times, allowing this optical device to detect a single photon. This approach emits light over a longer period of time. Although the weight of the system is also dependent on factors such as the battery, case and the display screen, a luminometer constructed with a photodiode will generally weigh less than a luminometer constructed with a PMT, since the former is smaller than the latter.

Sensitivity Testing

When an ATP hygiene monitoring system has poor sensitivity or repeatability, there is substantial risk that the test result does not truly represent the hygienic status of the location tested. Therefore, it may provide false positives leading to unnecessary chemical and labor costs and production delays, or false negatives leading to the use of contaminated pieces of equipment. A system that is sensitive to low-level contamination of a surface by microorganisms and/or food residues allows sanitarians to more accurately understand the status of a test point. The ability of a system to repeat results gives one peace of mind that the result is reliable and the actions taken are appropriate. To test different ATP systems for sensitivity, one can run the following simple test using at least eight swabs per system:

•    Make at least four serial dilutions of a microbial culture and a food product in a sterile phosphate buffer solution.
•    Using an accurate pipette, dispense 20 μl of these dilutions carefully onto the tip of the swabs of each ATP system and read the swabs in the respective luminometer, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
•    Use caution when dispensing the inoculum onto the swab head to prevent any sample loss or spillage. In addition, it is very important the swabs are inoculated immediately prior to reading, which means that each swab should be inoculated one at a time and read in the respective luminometer. Repeat this process for all the swabs.


To test different ATP systems for sensitivity, one can run a simple test using at least eight swabs per system. Photo courtesy of 3M

The most sensitive system will be the one that results in the most “fail results” (using the manufacturers’ recommended pass/caution/fail limits).

One can also test different ATP systems for repeatability by the following test:

•    Prepare a dilution of a standard ATP positive control or a food product such as fluid milk in a sterile phosphate buffer. If using a standard ATP positive control, follow the manufacturer’s direction to prepare dilution. If using fluid milk, add 1 ml of milk into 99 ml of phosphate buffer.
•    Using an accurate pipette, dispense 20 μl of this standard onto the tip of the swabs of each ATP system and read these swabs in their respective luminometer, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
•    Prepare and read at least 10 swabs for each system you are evaluating, and capture the results on a digital spreadsheet.
•    Once all 10 swab results (for each system) are in the spreadsheet, calculate the mean (=average) and standard deviation (=stdev) for each system’s data set. Divide the standard deviation by the mean and transform the result in percentage; this value is called the coefficient of variation percentage (CV%).
The test with the lowest CV% is the most repeatable and will provide the most reliable information to help make the correct decisions for a food manufacturing facility.

Choosing the Right ATP System

There are many ATP systems available on the market to support cleaning and sanitation verification in manufacturing plants. Some systems are more reliable than others and will provide results that are meaningful, accurate and repeatable. Be sure, therefore, not to choose a system solely based on its price. Check for the quality of the instrument, ask the sales representative what kind of optical device is used in the construction of the instrument and, moreover, perform an evaluation running tests for both sensitivity and repeatability. It is also important to consider the functionality and usability of the software provided with the system to ensure that the software can be used to customize sample plans, store test results and produce reports and graphs.


  1. Jay, J. M., ‎Loessner, M. J., & Golden, D. A. (2008). Modern Food Microbiology.


About the Author:

Camila Gadotti, M.S., is a field technical service professional and Michael Hughes is a technical service professional with 3M Food Safety.