Cleaning and Sanitizing Basics for Food Plants

Food processing facilities turn out many products that nourish and feed our human communities; however, they also provide an attractive environment to encourage the growth of potentially harmful microbiological communities. How does your operation address these risks? Blue broom sweeping oats food processing food safetyThrough recent visits to production environments, we know how much effort goes into building sanitation programs that maintain hygienic conditions to protect the health of the intended human consumers. We’re also familiar with the complex codes and regulations, such as FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) and CFR Title 21: Food and Drugs, that exist to address the importance of proper food safety standards in food plants. Now more than ever, it’s important to know where to start when it comes to food safety.

Cleaning and sanitizing certainly go together, but are separate processes that achieve different outcomes. A GMP Training Module from the Cornell Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management offers great definitions of cleaning and sanitizing. Basically, cleaning involves the removal of dirt, residue, and debris from the surface of bench tops, equipment, floors, and other surfaces in a food plant, and is performed prior to a sanitizing process. An effective sanitizing program is designed to reduce the number of pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and molds on a cleaned surface to acceptable levels through thermal or chemical means.

Cleaning and sanitizing procedures are unique to each food processing facility, and there’s no template. We have come to learn that building design, temperature, humidity, and oxygen content all factor in when considering a sanitation program. Also, the type of equipment present and the type of debris and microbiological risks involved will influence the program and affect the frequency and the type of cleaning and sanitizing procedures necessary. We’ve observed that many successful food processors designate a food safety team to determine the appropriate methods to maintain a hygienic environment for production. We’d like to hear about your sanitation program and experiences you’ve had at your facility.

The object of a cleaning process is to capture and remove food soils and then wash them away. Thorough cleaning of an area supports the integrity of an effective sanitizing process, and cleaning comes before sanitizing in every program. A soap- or detergent-based cleaning compound helps to emulsify fats and suspend undesired particulates in order to properly remove them from the area being cleaned. Cleaning compounds can neutralize many sanitizing agents, so they also must be completely rinsed before proceeding. This kind of information is typically readily available from your chemical supplier, so it’s a good idea to work with one who can provide you the knowledge and documentation you need relative to chemicals used in your program.

An effective sanitizing procedure is another piece of the puzzle in maintaining a hygienic environment for food processing. Microbiological risks are not controlled through good cleaning procedures alone. Your facility’s food safety team may rely on a variety of methods to ensure that the overall sanitation program achieves the desired reduction of microbial populations.

Cleaning and sanitizing programs are a critical part of every food processing operation. Our experience has taught us that designating one employee to be responsible for the oversight of food safety efforts is a good approach, and supporting that person with a team is even better. We’d like to hear about your sanitation program and the ways your food operation is going above and beyond for food safety. If you’re a new employee at your plant, or you’re just starting to learn about cleaning and sanitizing, download our basic checklist of factors to consider for cleaning and sanitizing. And tell us about your experience with sanitation: what does the process look like at your facility? What methods have you found useful?

10 Things To Know About Color-Coding: Use Complete Implementation

We’ve come to the final post in our series of 10 things to know when starting or revising a color-coding program. You may have already determined that color-coding is the solution for your facility’s food safety needs. If not, take a look at our previous blog posts in this series, and perhaps you will find some things you have not yet considered.

Vikan Hygienic Zone Planner Application for color-codingThe final key to the success of a color-coding program is ensuring that it is completely integrated into the facility. If you have decided to take the plunge and start a color-coding program, or if you think yours needs some tweaking, remember that even a good color-coding program can be problematic if it is not completely applied. Ensuring complete implementation will improve internal adoption.

Doing something halfway is never a good idea, and the same holds true for color-coding. When a color-coding program is implemented in pieces, the chances of success start to deteriorate. On the surface, it might seem easier to slowly bring in color-coding into your facility; but in the long run, it will be better for everyone to roll the program out all at once. Incomplete implementation might seem desirable due to a limited budget, time constraints, or lack of manpower. No matter what the reason, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and go all the way. Go big, or go home, as they say. Once it is a part of everyday life at the facility, a color-coding program will be one more asset that you have at your disposal.

If you read our last post, you know that communication plays an integral part of starting a color-coding program. Communication and complete implementation of the color-coding program go hand in hand. By communicating with every employee and team member, complete execution of the color-coding system will be that much more successful.

One issue that might prevent a complete roll-out of a color-coding program is budget concerns. This is a valid issue, and one likely to be shared by many operations. However, because a successfully applied color-coding program can help decrease the chance of cross-contamination, and therefore recalls, it could save money in the long-term. Color-coding a food processing facility is an investment. Just like any investment, there are start-up costs—but the end result will be well worth the money put into it.

In addition to any budget concerns, lack of time and manpower can also be issues standing in the way of introducing a color-coding system into your facility. Every food processing facility, from the smallest to the largest outfits, can benefit from a color-coding program. If time is an issue for you, ask us for help. Remco and Vikan have tools that can help you quickly identify zones and plan the entire program for your facility. We’re here to assist you with the process.

10 Things to Know About Color-Coding: Breaks Down Language Barriers

The environment in a food processing facility can be a chaotic place. This is compounded when you bring multiple languages into the mix. Trying to keep everything organized and streamlined can at times be a daunting task. Having a color-coding program in place can help eliminate some of the confusion that can arise from a language barrier.

Color-coded storage wall bracket with rubber clipsWhether you have one employee that speaks another language, or 500, color-coding can help to keep efficiency high. Because colors are universal, no matter what language someone speaks, they are going to be able to tell one color from another. Red is red, even if the word itself is different.

If red is for the raw zone, and someone, who speaks a language that the majority of employees do not, sees a red tool in the blue zone, which is for processed product, they know immediately that something is not right, and can then take appropriate actions. However, if no color-coding program is in place, and say, for instance, the method of communication is to have labels on the tools stating what zone they belong in, that employee might not know for sure if that tool is supposed to be there or not. With this kind of system, any time spent confused is a loss of work, or worse yet, a cross-contamination hazard. Better to have a proper system in place to begin with, so the problem can be fixed as soon as possible.

But, before you can go putting colors into a facility all willy-nilly, expecting employees to follow along, there must be good documentation and communication of zones. This goes for all people, no matter the language. There must be signage and internal communication that clearly states what these different colors mean, and what the appropriate steps are when something goes wrong, in different languages, if necessary. Once everyone is on the same page, your color-coding system will work that much easier.

What about those who can’t see colors, you might ask? Color blindness can affect about 8% of men and .05% of women. Depending on what kind of color blindness your employee has, choosing colors that have a high contrast might be a solution. Every situation is different, and the most important thing is to know your employees’ needs and how to best meet them.

Having a color-coding program in place can help to limit the language confusion found in food processing facilities. Less confusion means safer practices, and this means better food safety. This can add up to fewer recalls, which saves money.

If you would like to find out more about color-coding products, download our catalog for more information!

10 Things to Know About Color-Coding: Guidelines and Best Practices

While the FDA does not currently have any standard set rules to follow when it comes to implementing a color-coding program, there are some common best practices that you can follow to get the most out of color-coding the facility.

Here are some ideas to help you design an effective color-coding program:

Keep your color-coding system simple– Limiting the number of colors you use will go a long way in simplifying the process. Too many times, people get bogged down with the idea that every line and every single process has to have a different color. This is not the case. Try to have a different color only when cross-contamination is a concern at a critical control point in the process. Those points where control is not needed could potentially use the same color since cross-contamination is not a threat. The more colors in the mix, the more confusing it becomes, and the less effective it will be.

Pick logical colors for each area-Making the transition to a color-coding system needs to be as seamless as possible. In order to keep confusion low, when stepping into this system, try to pick colors that make the most sense in each area. For example, certain colors might make sense for certain areas in your food processing facility, such as red for raw meat, or yellow for wheat. Do what is most logical for your facility. Also, make sure that it makes sense to both managers and employees. If everyone is on the same page, the transition will run more smoothly.

Color-coded cheese processing facility

Avoid complicated color assignments-Having customized tools, like a different colored handle than the broom, might seem like a great idea to help differentiate zones. However, it does lead to confusion.  If you mix and match handles and brushes the end result might be chaos. Say you have a red broom with a green handle (Merry Christmas?). Now, you have the problem of trying to figure out if it goes in the green zone or the red zone. Save everyone the confusion, and stick to one color per zone. Instant recognition is the key to keeping confusion to a minimum. You should be able to look quickly and determine which zone is which.

Roll out the color-coding program all at one time– This goes back to avoiding confusion. If you try to incorporate the new system in with the old one, people are just going to be confused. It’s best to start the program all at once. It might be more difficult in the beginning, but it will be worth it in the end. Also, having a definite end date to the old program and a definite start date for the new system will make the transition even smoother.

Good communication is key– Having everyone on the same page will help with starting your color-coding program. A good practice is to first discuss the changes with shift managers, then roll it out to the employees. The managers should have a good understanding of the new system so they can address any questions or concerns the employees might have. Offering a cheat sheet to employees that explains the color zones will be tremendously helpful in overall adoption of the program.

Reinforce the color-coding with good signage-When starting a color-coding program, you don’t want any ambiguity in how it’s perceived. Make it absolutely clear what the program is, and when it is starting. The best thing to do is label every point in the process, in multiple languages if necessary.

Be sure your tools and storage areas match– Be sure the tools are stored in the same area where they are used to avoid confusion, cross-contamination, and equipment loss.  If the red tools are stored on a red bracket or red shelf, it is easy to see exactly where that tool should go when it isn’t in use. Having an organized storage area will be very helpful in maintaining the integrity of the color-coding system.

Follow through– Utilize the same documentation at the point of use, with the purchasing department and with the quality manager so everyone is on the same page. Making sure all loose ends are tied up will help exponentially to the success of the color-coding program. If the program is successful, your facility will be much safer.

To help organize your color-coding program, check out our worksheet!