Newsletter – Q1, 2016

White Paper: The Hygienic Design of Food Industry Brushware

The Hygienic Design of Food Industry Brushware White Paper

Minimising Contamination, Maximising Food Safety
The Hygienic Design of Food Industry Brushware – the good, the bad and the ugly

Cleaning is a critical step in the management of food safety. Consequently, the correct selection of cleaning equipment by the food manufacturing and food service industries is essential to minimize the risk of product contamination, and aid compliance to relevant regulatory, guidance and standard requirements.

This white paper Vikan will help you understand:

  1. Hygienic design criteria
  2. Hygienic design assessment of food industry brushware
  3. Compare the different types brushware used in the food industry
  4. The benefits of using UST products in hygiene critical areas

Download this White Paper

What you need to know about FSMA: Part 1

If you are in the food industry and have had your eyes and ears open, then most likely you have heard the word FSMA being thrown around… a lot. However, some people might find themselves unfamiliar with the term or have limited knowledge of it, so in this entry we are going to cover some general information regarding FSMA and in upcoming blogs we will go into further detail about each proposed rule issued by the FDA that supports this legislation.

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The people, pathogens and food of today are not those of the past. Our population is living longer and with problems that make them more susceptible to foodborne illness complications. Pathogens are evolving and becoming more adaptable and harder to kill. Our food is traveling more than it ever has. For example, the FDA states that 15% of food we eat is imported. A total 75% of our seafood, 20% of our vegetables, and 50% of our fruit is imported. However, one thing has not changed and that is the threat that foodborne illness presents to the food industry and its consumers. Continue reading What you need to know about FSMA: Part 1

Hosting My First Thanksgiving

Hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is already stressful to begin with, especially if you have a large family like myself, but being a food safety enthusiast added a whole new level of importance to the holiday because I wanted to take this opportunity to teach my family more about food safety.

Thanksgiving Turkey

In my family we rotate who hosts Thanksgiving so it doesn’t fall on the same person every year to do all the work…and this year was my year.  I was so excited because my husband and I just recently got a house and I was anxious to show off my hosting, cooking, and most importantly, my food safety skills.

The whole process started about two weeks before the event when I went to the grocery store to get the turkey. I worried that if I procrastinated buying the turkey then the store would run out. (Side note…I went to the store the day before Thanksgiving to grab last minute items and there were TONS of turkeys left). I put the turkey in the freezer when I got home.

As the host, we were responsible for the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and a sweet potato and carrot sauté, while the rest of the family was responsible for other various traditional Thanksgiving dishes.  About five days before Thanksgiving I went and bought the rest of the ingredients and promptly put them in the refrigerator or pantry when I got home.  A few days before Thanksgiving, I moved the turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator to safely start thawing and I also cubed loaves of bread to lay out to dry out for the stuffing (my family does not actually stuff the turkey, so some may call this dressing).

Food Thermometer

The day before Thanksgiving was prep time, so I washed and cut celery, diced onion, peeled and cut carrots and cleaned the turkey.  I stored the prepped ingredients in proper containers and put them in the refrigerator until the big day.  While doing so, I made sure to wash my hands, utensils, and countertops thoroughly between handling the raw turkey and my produce. No cross-contamination at this house!  I also calibrated my meat thermometer in case I had to get a new one. (You can do this by boiling a pot of water, sticking your thermometer in the water, not touching the pot, for 1 minute and you should read a temperature between 210-214°F).

The day of Thanksgiving, after the oven was preheated, I got Fred out of the refrigerator (yes, I named the turkey) and put him into the roaster, smothered him with butter, surrounded him with stuffing, and put him in the oven covered.

Meanwhile, my sister-in-law brought appetizers that we snacked on before the big dinner, such as cheese and crackers, deviled eggs, and chex mix. I made sure to refrigerate the perishable items as soon as she arrived, and only put out a portion of each appetizer at a time and refilled the snacks only when needed, leaving nothing out that should be refrigerated for more than 2 hours.

I checked the turkey about every hour to baste and stir the stuffing, meanwhile getting the rest of the food prepared and cooked. Finally, after 4.5 hours the thermometer read 165°F when I checked the turkey. I did this by inserting the thermometer in to the meatiest portion of the turkey and made sure to not get too close to the bone because that will give an inaccurate reading. The rest of the food was ready, so we feasted!

After Thanksgiving dinner, my husband and I cleaned the dishes and stored the leftovers in the refrigerator right away. I did not sit until all the leftovers were put in shallow containers (to allow for quicker cooling than deep containers). I divided the leftovers into individual containers for my family members to take home. I made sure to make it a point to tell them as a general rule to freeze or eat the leftovers within 3-4 days and to put the containers in the refrigerator as soon as they get home.

All in all, I was in the kitchen for about 8 hours that day. It was stressful, exhausting, and completely wonderful. I practice food safety in my everyday life, but this time I wanted to set an example for my family to observe and practice when it is their turn to host.

For more information on Thanksgiving and Holiday food safety please visit:  
http://www.cdc.gov/features/turkeytime/ 
http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/BuyStoreServeSafeFood/ucm328131.htm

Using Color-Coding for Food Safety and Organization

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of consulting with food processors to build and improve color-coding systems in their facilities. Color-coding can be approached in a variety of ways, and works well with a number of related programs. One such program is a lean manufacturing practice called 5S, which I encountered often in a previous position working in the steel industry.

I’m starting to see 5S used more often in food processing. Although I am not an expert in this system developed by the Japanese, I do know that the 5 S’s are Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. The aim is to eliminate waste, keep workspaces organized, and develop procedures that are consistently easy to follow. I can see why this set of guidelines is appealing to food processors. An organized processing facility is agreeable with inspection authorities, because it demonstrates that a food safety procedure is defined and in practice.

Color-coding for food safety

Color-coding is also commonly applied in conjunction with written food safety plans and HACCP programs to further enhance food safety. The purpose of HACCP and the CGMP regulations laid out in 21 CFR 110 is to identify and control hazards that could potentially impact the safety of food. Cleaning and food contact tools can potentially transfer hazards like pathogens and allergens throughout the facility, so it may be important to keep certain tools in designated areas. Color-coding supports this objective by clearly identifying where tools belong or what task they are designated to perform.

food safety color coding for controlled areas and tasks

Color-coding best supports food safety efforts when it is applied with simplicity. A best practice to keep in mind is that the way to create the most effective color-coding program is to implement tools in one solid color. Otherwise the program may become diluted and can introduce more confusion for employees.

Organizing tools with color

When food safety is a concern, it should take precedence over organizational efforts when building a color-coding program. A system like 5S is excellent in supporting a food safety program such as HACCP. However, colors should primarily be determined by the food safety program prior to defining organization principles related to 5S.

Fitting all of these programs together can be challenging, but it is possible and most definitely beneficial to food safety efforts. Anytime you need guidance or advice on building or revising a color-coding system in your food facility, you can call on Remco for support.

Food Contact Tool Storage Best Practices

In many of my visits to food production plants, I see outstanding food safety procedures that can be shared as best practices. One of the easiest and most beneficial best practices to adopt is proper storage of food contact and cleaning tools. Selecting the right tools for specific tasks can mean a significant investment of time and other resources. A good storage plan for those tools will help to protect that investment and enhance food safety efforts.

Wall with Full Red Bracket color-coded food contact toolsThe way a food contact or cleaning tool is stored is almost as important as the tool itself. Implementing a hygienic tool storage system takes some time and effort, but will also provide many benefits once set up correctly. These benefits include better organization, prolonged life of tools, and maintaining the sanitary conditions of tools.

From an organizational perspective, having a storage plan ensures that tools are where you need them, when you need them. Production line supervisors are able to check defined tool locations at the conclusion of each shift. Showing a visual representation of the tools designated for the area enables each supervisor to quickly verify if tools are missing and identify the correct part number for any tools that need to be reordered. Also, tools go missing less often when a storage plan is specified.

Tools that are stored neatly in an area that allows adequate space helps to keep them from colliding or bumping against other objects. Rough contact with other objects can potentially cause breakage, in turn introducing a risk for physical hazards in the facility. In addition, bristles on brushes and brooms can become misshapen and tangled if they are allowed to rest directly on the floor or other surfaces for extended periods of time. It’s a good idea to regularly inspect tools for wear or extraneous damage. If the storage method is contributing to wear, it’s time to make a change. Getting the maximum lifespan out of food contact tools translates to better operational efficiency.

The most important consideration of a storage system for food contact and cleaning tools is that tools are maintained in a sanitary state before being put to use again. Floors are a common surface in a facility for the transport of contaminants, so tools that have been cleaned should be stored off of the floor using a wall bracket or other sanitary mounting option. This is particularly imperative for tools that directly or indirectly contact food, as a tool that has touched the floor introduces a great risk of contamination. In this sense, designating a tool storage location that suspends tools off the ground can protect the integrity of your code-compliant facility and your end product.

Once the tool storage plan has been identified, it should be included in the written food safety plan for the facility. If you need help or guidance with your tool storage program, call Remco. That’s what we’re here for. We can help you determine the best practices to maintain hygiene in your facility. For more information, download a copy of our white paper, “Selection, Care and Maintenance Guide for Food Contact Tools and Equipment.”

Being a Food Safety-Minded Consumer

As a consumer with a passion for food and cooking, I know a thing or two about food safety in the kitchen. In my time at Remco, I’ve learned a lot more and have become acutely aware of all the considerations for the safety of our food as it moves from farm to fork. I am amazed at how much food safety professionals need to know in order to perform their daunting jobs.

Lettuce greens and food safetyI try to be aware of basic food safety guidelines in my kitchen. I use a meat thermometer to be sure the food is within the safe range, but also because I prefer not to overcook it. I avoid the cans with dents at the grocery, because the good ones stack better in the pantry—but also because some dents may compromise the integrity of the product. I clean my grill tools before flipping food if they’ve come into contact with raw meat, and I always use a fresh plate to bring food back inside.

Now that I’ve worked closely within the food industry for over three years, I’m starting to think a little differently about my own food safety. My new awareness goes beyond my own kitchen. Lately I’ve started to wonder about the food safety efforts at the facilities that produce the food I buy. And I’ll tell you, when I hear about a producer going above and beyond for food safety, it sticks with me.

A great example is Earthbound Farms—a California salad greens grower and packager. I read recently that they are BRC validated, which requires very rigorous third-party audits. As a consumer, the fact that they have pursued food safety validations above and beyond requirements tells me that they really care about the safety of their consumers. And they are very transparent about their food safety program. They’ve gained a loyal consumer in me.

With that being said, food safety in my kitchen now starts with getting to know a little bit more about where my food comes from—not just the temperature it arrives at when I’m done cooking it. I now seek information about the food safety programs of producers I purchase from, and I’m willing to spend a bit more if I know that they are diligent in their efforts.

Remco at Process EXPO 2013

At Remco, we’re gearing up to exhibit at Process EXPO 2013 on November 3-6 at McCormick Place in Chicago. We’ve been through this drill a few times in the past 28 years, but this time is going to be a little different. That’s because Remco has evolved—drastically—in the last year. And we’re ready to show off the results of that evolution in a couple short weeks at Process EXPO. You’ll find us in a shiny, new, redesigned and interactive display at booth #5245.

Remco booth sneak peekProcess EXPO aims to bring you the latest innovations and solutions to critical issues. Remco and Vikan have planned a show strategy that highlights the innovations and solutions we offer. We’ll also be celebrating the 25th anniversary of our partnership. Possibly the biggest innovation we have to offer is our mutually realigned focus on adding value to the food safety efforts of food processors. As complex as food safety is, Remco and Vikan can provide plenty of support above and beyond offering high-quality cleaning and material handling tools. 

As far as innovations you’ll see at Process EXPO, we can name a few. Not only will Remco unveil an interactive new display that will allow you to test out products from Remco and Vikan, but we’ll also offer live demonstrations of Vikan’s new Hygienic Zone Planner Application for the iPad. This innovative app makes quick work of building custom color-coding programs. You’ll definitely want to see the new app in action—there’s nothing else out there like it. 

Vikan also unveiled a redesigned line of products called the EDGE Range earlier in 2013. The first products offered were four styles of hand brushes, and the new style dustpans are now trickling into the market. These products not only feature a sleek new style, but the design actually makes the products more hygienic as explained in our April 5 blog article. We’ll have plenty of the EDGE Range products on hand to see, feel, and use.

Process EXPOCritical issues in food processing environments are about a dime a dozen, and we’ve got solutions to offer. If cross-contamination is a concern, you’ll find that color-coding may be a helpful solution in controlling it. When you need support and guidance for building your own program, we can help. We’re looking forward to starting a dialogue with you at Process EXPO regarding your color-coding needs and how we can support you. In the meantime, you’ll find a host of resources in the Remco Knowledge Center

If regulatory compliance is on your mind, we have some insights to share. We’ve recently released white papers on HACCP and Current food Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs). Remco’s own Cristal Garrison has also attained certifications from the International HACCP Alliance and AIB. If you’d like to schedule a time during Process EXPO to speak in person with Cristal about your compliance efforts, submit your information on her contact page.

We’re looking forward to seeing you at Process EXPO. We’re interested in finding out what innovations and solutions you’re seeking. What seminars are you planning to participate in? Also, if you need a pass to the exhibit hall, click on the button below to submit your information. Remco can set you up with a complimentary exhibit registration.

CGMPs and HACCP: The Dukes of Hazards

In the past couple of blog entries, we’ve covered CGMPs or Current food Good Manufacturing Practices. These are procedures and standards set forth by the FDA to help assure safe, quality, consumable food.

salmonella biohazard food safety riskIn this article, we’ll be covering the different types of hazards that can occur in food processing, and also the controls that can be put in place to reduce the risk of those hazards. Many CGMPs exist to control these hazards, so naturally CGMPs can be used to support a HACCP plan.

So what constitutes a hazard? There are basically three types: biological, physical and chemical.

Let’s start with biological hazards. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined four levels of biohazards starting with Level One which includes bacteria and other microorganisms that can transmit from one person to another via contact or through the air like E. Coli. Each level is more hazardous than the previous, leading to Level Four which includes the most sever strains such as Ebola virus and Marburg virus.

Physical hazards are perhaps the easiest to understand. These include any extraneous objects or foreign matter that could cause illness or injury to a person consuming a food product. Bone chips, injection needles, wood fragments, pieces of packaging, insects or filth are just several of the items possible. Glass fragments physical food safety hazardSources of contamination can be from raw materials, improper production procedures or badly maintained facilities. Harken back to our blog article that referenced Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and how it revealed the filth and unsafe practices of the meat packing industry in the early 1900s, and one could understand how such a list may have first been developed. CGMPs and other food safety regulations have advanced today’s food processing practices; however it is important to be mindful of how even the most minor change might introduce an opportunity for new physical hazards.

Finally, there are chemical hazards. Some of these, unfortunately, are unavoidable such as pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones and antibiotics, additives and processing aids, and lubricants. Sometimes, improper storage or usage of chemicals like cleaning compounds contributes to contamination of food. Allergens fall in the chemical hazard category, too. The top eight known food allergens reported by the FDA are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. Thus, the FDA has established tolerance levels to keep chemical hazards in food at a minimum.

So how does a food processor control hazards? A good basic step is to develop a written food safety plan built around the CGMPs outlined by the FDA. These guidelines were created to assist processors in recognizing and controlling hazards. Processors can take due diligence a step further by building a HACCP plan. The first principle of HACCP is conducting a hazard analysis. Following HACCP principles is a thorough and systematic method of approaching quality control. HACCP planning guides processors in identifying and evaluating hazards and critical control points, and establishing a program to monitor, correct, verify and track any potential safety or quality hazards in the food production process. CGMPs can be used on their own or in conjunction with HACCP principles to keep hazards in check.

As the song goes, “we’re only human,” which is exactly why hazards can happen and controls are considered necessary to help minimize the risks of breaches in food safety. Through our experiences with various food producers over the years, we understand food safety is a subject that’s not taken lightly. At the minimum, any company producing food should have someone on staff who understands what constitutes a hazard that requires some effort to control. We continue to want to learn more about how different food producers are minimizing their risks. How does your company control hazards? What’s worked and what hasn’t? We’d appreciate hearing from you. Tell us your thoughts. And for more information on hazards and controls, check out our white paper Understanding GMPs.

What the Government Shutdown Means for Food Safety

As most of you know, our government went into a shutdown last Tuesday. What does that mean for the food industry? The FDA has said that they are maintaining 55% of their almost 15,000 person staff. But since food safety inspectors are considered nonessential, almost half aren’t working during this shutdown. What’s left of the staff will handle emergencies, high-risk recalls, and investigations. On the other hand, most of the meat inspectors for the USDA will continue to work, at least for the time being. But, since the FDA is responsible for about 80% of the food supply, and about a 1/5 of our food supply comes from overseas, we could have a situation on our hands if this shutdown lasts for much longer. The longer food processors go without inspections, the higher the chance of an outbreak. And, the CDC, which monitors foodborne illnesses, also has furloughed employees, only operating at 32%.

family picnic with processed foodEven these agencies’ social media accounts are feeling the hit. Considering that many people get news of recalls, food related illnesses, and other industry news from social media, the public may become more concerned if the shutdown goes on for a while. Also, according to Food Safety News, those furloughed employees aren’t even allowed to check their work email. Here’s what some of agencies tweeted shortly after news of the shutdown:

USDA Food Safety @USDAFoodSafety- “Due to the lapse in federal government funding this channel will not be updated until the federal government reopens.”

U.S. FDA @US_FDA- “We’re sorry, but we will not be tweeting or responding to @ replies during the government shutdown. We’ll be back as soon as possible!”

CDC @CDCgov- “We’re sorry, but we will not be tweeting or responding to @ replies during the government shutdown. We’ll be back as soon as possible!”

Even though there might not be FDA inspections happening right now, we still know that food safety is in full force. That’s because all the hard work related to food safety happens inside the food production facility. Many food processors have and will continue to be their own food safety inspectors. And these companies will be ready for inspections when they resume, as they were before the shutdown happened. It’s these companies that prove that food safety goes beyond the regulations and inspections. Because, isn’t it the right thing to, not just for us, but for our children’s safety? It’s definitely something to think about.