The Importance of Hand Washing in the Food Industry

Hygienic nail brush being used in hand washing
Handwashing in the food industry is one of the first lines of defense in food safety. Along with being a consumer health risk, inadequate personal hygiene can lead to costly and reputation-destroying recalls. However, it’s not just the responsibility of individual employees to ensure proper handwashing procedures are followed. Managers must cultivate a culture of food safety where taking time-off from lines to wash up is encouraged. Facilities also must be equipped with adequate hand washing stations.

Not only will setting the scene and creating the culture for effective handwashing help protect consumers, it will also help protect your business.

When to Wash

Employees knowing when to wash their hands is just as important as knowing how to properly wash them. High-visibility signs posted around the facility can teach and remind employees about handwashing. 

Signs posted around the facility make for great reminders, but the topic should also be covered in training seminars. Don’t forget to translate instructions in whatever languages required to communicate with all of your employees.

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How is HARPC Different From HACCP?

How is HARPC Different From HACCP

HACCP and HARPC share more than just four letters. They’re both food safety standards based on prevention, but they do differ on execution. Their differences and their similarities aren’t as important as the way they fit together for most food processors, though. A HARPC plan shouldn’t be considered as a replacement, but as a necessary upgrade to the conventional HACCP plan. Understanding how the systems fit together is the first step toward implementing both.

HACCP

HARPC

(1) Is the preventative approach based on a standard, guideline or a set of laws?
Based on a guideline recommended by CODEX and NACMCF Based on FSMA act and principally, the Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food
(2) What food safety risks are considered using the preventative approach?
Conventional – Biological, Chemical, and Physical Beyond the conventional risks for actual and potential food safety hazards
(3) What is the goal of the preventative approach?
To prevent, eliminate (or) reduce hazards to a safe level (in that priority) Preventive controls that prevent or significantly minimize “known or reasonably foreseeable” risks
(4) Who is primarily responsible for the development and maintenance of the preventive plan?
Primarily, a competent HACCP coordinator with assistance from multidisciplinary team Trained Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) as described in the FSMA Act
(5) At what frequency is the preventive plan being reviewed by the facility?
At least once a year, or when required At least once in 3 years, or when required
(6) The plan is mandatory for what type of establishments?
For FDA and USDA mandated establishments, or when required for certification purposes For all establishments along the food supply chain that serve U.S. consumers, unless exempted
(7) The plan is excluded or exempted for what type of establishments?
Unless mandated or required for certification, HACCP is voluntary, and GMPs are mandatory Exemption list is provided by FDA, but this does not exempt facilities from following at least CGMPs
(8) Who is the interested party here? For whom is the plan for?
Stakeholders: auditors, inspectors, and customers The FDA
(9) What is the documented approach for making the preventive plan?
12 Steps of HACCP (includes 7 Principles) 7 Steps of Developing a HARPC Plan

HARPC as an Upgrade to HACCP

HACCP, or Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, is already widely used due to requirements from retailers, auditing standards, and inspectors, though the USDA and the FDA only mandate it for meat, seafood, and juice products. As a global standard conceptualized the 1960s, HACCP has been continually developed and updated. HACCP requires a multi-disciplinary team for implementation and follows prescriptive steps.

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Common Food Industry Cleaning Problems Solved

Long pipe brush fits color-coding plans

The goal of any good sanitation plan is to minimize cross-contamination and cross-contact through better hygiene and cleaning practices. But—what happens when workers can’t feasibly reach that tall ceiling fixture or get a brush to follow the curves of a spiraling pipe? If employees don’t have the right tools for the job, they’ll end up improvising sub-par solutions, or—even worse—they just won’t clean that area.

Here are some examples of specialty tools solving common cleaning problems in food processing plants:

High walls

Standard handles just aren’t going to reach all the way up a factory’s walls. Use a telescopic handle to clean walls top-to-bottom. Because they’ll need to be adjusted many times, handles should be easy to extend and shorten. Ideally, they should also be hollow to minimize weight for worker comfort and to make the handles easier to control at longer lengths.

Ceiling and pipe condensation

Sometimes handled by makeshift tools like a sock on a telescopic pole, cleaning condensation is vital to food safety and deserves its own tool. Condensation dripping into food or processing equipment can lead to microbial cross-contamination and a costly recall. Use a condensation squeegee to prevent drops from forming and falling into products. A condensation squeegee catches and drains water from overhead into either tubing or bottles to keep products safe.

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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 the 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”

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.
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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.
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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.

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 severe strains such as Ebola virus and Marburg virus.

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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 the 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.

The Birth of Food Safety, the FDA and CGMPs

Remco Products Inc.

Lately, we’ve been talking about Current food Good Manufacturing Practices—CGMPs for short—because they are the set of regulations that apply to just about every food processor not regulated by the USDA. CGMPs have also been getting quite a bit of press lately since we may see an update as a result of FSMA. We released an earlier blog article and a white paper on the topic for those who want to learn more.

But did you know that many of the regulations that guide the production of today’s food were largely spawned by the works of investigative journalists? These journalists were referred to as “muckrakers,” and they exposed government and business corruption.

food safety and 1900s meatpackingOne of the most well-known of these journalists was Upton Sinclair, who spent seven weeks working undercover in the Chicago meatpacking district on a research mission to expose the injustices and hazardous working conditions faced by meat industry workers. In Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, his vivid descriptions of the unsanitary practices of the meatpacking industry captured the attention of the American public and President Theodore Roosevelt.

After reading The Jungle, Roosevelt sent a pair of advisors to assess the truthfulness of the novel’s depictions—and their report swayed the President to believe that Sinclair had provided an accurate representation. Shortly after Sinclair’s works became widespread, the Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act were passed in 1906. The passage of these regulations marked a turning point in federal food safety and was the beginning of what we know today as the FDA.

Although Sinclair had hoped that his accounts would improve working conditions for America’s poor laborers, he ended up making a huge and lasting impact on food safety. He was later quoted as saying, “I aimed for the public’s heart, and by accident hit it in the stomach.”

The early regulations were more specific about the standards for pharmaceuticals and accurate product labeling, and policies regarding food were much more ambiguous. Over the next 30 years, gaps in the protections provided to consumers by these regulations were exposed by a new generation of investigative journalists. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, received enthusiastically by an American public that had witnessed one too many food and drug safety disasters. This was the first law that mandated legally enforceable food standards, and CGMPs for food were officially established later on in 1969.

No one can deny that we have come a long, long way for food safety since the days written about by Upton Sinclair. But we may soon see another era of modernization of our food safety regulations. Do you think that the updates proposed by FSMA go far enough in preventing the production of unsafe foods? Are there holes in today’s laws you think should be considered? Tell us your thoughts.