ABC’s of Manual Cleaning Part IV: Where and When to Manual Clean?

Part IV

Part three briefly explained how to implement a typical manual cleaning process. In this part, we will explain the basics of how to identify the locations or areas that require cleaning, and how to determine how often they’ll need cleaning. These steps are very important for the establishment of the consistently sanitary environment required for safe food production.

Keeping your master cleaning schedule up to date

Every possible area, spot, or location that could potentially create an unsanitary or unhygienic food production environment if left uncleaned should be systematically accounted for. This denotes the concept of risk-based cleaning.

Generally, a typical cleaning schedule is used to document the provision of effective facility, fixture, equipment, tool, utensil, clothing, amenity, and external area cleaning. An illustration of the elements is provided below:

Any changes to the schedule should be clearly justified and be reflected in the procedures, training programs, and reviews.

 Revisiting the ‘level of clean’ for environmental surfaces

It is essential to verify whether cleaning has been carried out effectively, and normally, the ‘Level of Clean’ of an environmental surface falls under one or more of the following classifications:

  • Sanitary: The surface must be free of pathogens. In the interest of public health, the FDA sets a zero-tolerance level for foodborne illness causing microorganisms. Micro-swabbing accompanied by testing the surfaces is generally conducted.
  • Micro-clean: Apart from keeping surfaces pathogen-free, spoilage organisms should also be significantly reduced. This not only enhances food quality, but also improves the hygienic condition of the environment.
  • Allergen-clean: This involves cleaning surfaces to remove allergens. Rapid detection allergen test kits are available to verify the presence or absence of specific allergens on the surface after cleaning.
  • Quality-clean: Here, surfaces are cleaned to remove debris, dirt, or soils from the surface, which may affect product quality. Post-cleaning verification using ATP rapid detection swab is common. Acceptable ATP thresholds need to be established and records maintained for inspection by auditors as evidence of assuring a quality-clean.

It is not generally acceptable to conduct “as-needed” or “emergency cleaning”. Instead, scheduled cleaning of food contact (FCS) and non-food contact surfaces (NFCS) should be the norm, with FCS (e.g. equipment surfaces) being regularly cleaned and sanitized before and after use. Equally important is cleaning NFCS (e.g. drains, ceiling fixtures, wall junctions, equipment bearings, etc.) since contaminants can easily transfer from these areas to food and food contact surfaces.

For the control of pathogens, like Listeria monocytogenes, a site can adopt a Seek and Destroy approach that has been reflected in the FDA Listeria Guidance for RTE Foods. Here, the goal is to find Listeria in locations where you’d least expect to find them and use appropriate controls, like deep cleaning, scrubbing, and biofilm removal strategies, to eradicate any micro-harborage areas.


Creating your Manual Cleaning Plan

Cleaning is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach, as different locations may require the use of specialized tools, as illustrated below:

What’s next?

To get the best outcomes from manual cleaning, allocating responsibilities and accounting for the effectiveness and efficiency of the tasks is crucial. In our next blog, we’ll focus on understanding the people or departments responsible for planning, conducting, reviewing, and maintaining cleaning programs and tasks.

Selected References:

  • Remco (2020). The Role of Manual Cleaning in Biofilm Prevention and Removal. Whitepaper Link:
  • S. Food and Drug Administration. (2017). Draft guidance for industry: control of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods. Fed. Registrar, 82, 4803-4805.