How to Keep Cleaning Tools from Becoming Vectors of Contamination

Recently, the FDA issued a warning letter to a food manufacturing facility. One of the critical inspectional violations pointed to the improper use and storage of an unclean broom that spread Listeria monocytogenes from a wet cooler passageway to a ready-to-eat (RTE) production room.(1) Environmental swabbing and microbiological whole genome sequence testing implicated the broom in spreading the bacteria. This is a timely example of how cleaning equipment can be vectors of cross-contamination in plants if tools are inappropriately selected, used, cleaned, stored, or maintained.

According to the CDC, Listeria monocytogenes causes about 1,600 foodborne illness hospitalizations and 260 deaths in the U.S. every year, and of late, a significant number of outbreaks have been associated with inadequate environmental sanitation regimes within RTE deli establishments. These harmful micro-organisms, if not controlled, may eventually persist as biofilms (on common environmental surfaces, such as tools, utensils, and equipment) which could become difficult to eradicate through regular cleaning and sanitization.(2) Other examples of biofilm-producing pathogens of public health importance include Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7.

Moreover, cleaning tool surfaces can also become carriers of key food safety hazards such as allergens and foreign materials. Hence avoiding or minimizing contamination incidents require a proactive, integrated sanitation approach – this may include the following strategies:

  1. Implement a risk-based hygienic zoning program – It’s worthwhile to divide the facility into manageable areas and to separate processes based on risk. With zoning protocols, tools used at raw product cooler storage areas can be separated from tools employed in the RTE production room. Such an approach may be effectively combined with the 5S [Sorting, Setting-in-order, Shining, Standardizing, and Sustaining the tool management system] (3) and color-coding programs (4) to control cross-contamination incidents in plants.
  2. Select high-quality, durable, color-coded tools – Remco provides a range of sanitation tools – such as brushes, brooms, squeegees etc. – for cleaning food-contact and non-food contact surfaces within an area. Tool selection is important in the fight against cross-contamination. For example, black pipe brushes that can withstand harsh chemicals are normally allocated for drains, while, a high-temperature resistant tool of another distinguishable color may be used to clean hot surfaces of baking ovens. Our range of tools is available at: https://remcoproducts.com/products/.
  3. Ensure effective tool decontamination – Tools must be cleaned and sanitized (as appropriate), at least before and after use, and usually at frequencies in-between high-risk operations, as safely and securely, in order to avoid any potential contamination. Tool decontamination using water generally involves effective soil removal from the surface and involves the validation and verification of key parameters like – contact Time, mechanical Action, Chemical concentration, washing Temperature, the use of trained and competent Employees, and appropriate Resources and sanitation aids. (2,5)
  4. Follow proper tool storage, care, and replacement procedures – Cleaned tools should be stored properly on racks with heads down that are off the floor and distant from other tool handles. The tools should be placed in a single row so that condensate from the tool above does not drip and contaminate the tool below. Tools, as environmental surfaces, must be routinely checked and preferably monitored through visual inspection, ATP testing, microbial swabbing and testing, etc. Any damaged, worn-out tool should immediately be disposed and replaced with new conforming tools. (5)
  5. Recommend hygienically-designed tools – A 1990 UK government-funded study showed that 47% of the cleaning equipment sampled was found positive for Listeria monocytogenes, which reinforces the premise that tools are possible vectors of contamination. One of the valid recommendations is to have tools that are free of contamination traps, have a smooth surface, are of one-piece construction, and most importantly, are easily cleanable, inspectable, and maintainable.(6) Hygienically designed tools like the UST Vikan brushes and Ultra-Hygiene Squeegee range of hygienic-design construction are highly recommended for high-risk areas such as the RTE processing rooms.

Remco can help you with the proper selection, storage, care, and maintenance of tools and equipment that are required to effectively clean surfaces and avoid contamination incidences in food plants. For more information about our products and solutions, click here.

References:

  1. Food Safety News on food companies warned over violations –https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2020/11/two-california-food-companies-warned-over-violations/
  2. The role of manual cleaning in biofilm prevention and removal –https://go.remcoproducts.com/biofilms
  3. 5S in the food industry – https://remcoproducts.com/5s-in-the-food-industry/
  4. Color-coding toolkit for food processing facilities –https://remcoproducts.com/toolkit/
  5. Optimizing food safety through good cleaning tool maintenance –https://remcoproducts.com/cleaning-tool-maintenance/
  6. The hygienic design of food industry brush-ware: the good, bad and the ugly – https://remcoproducts.com/ust-white-paper/

 

Benefits of Corporate Standardization

Corporate standardization is an effective tool for streamlining sanitation programs across multiple production facilities. Over the past several months, Remco has been working with several large food manufacturers to implement standardization programs. Throughout the process, Remco and end users identified a number of benefits to the program. The biggest benefit… simplified processes.

Hygiene programs tend to work best when simplicity is the primary consideration. Here are some of the top simplifiers of Remco’s corporate standardization plans:

  • Procurement

    Standardizing tools means spending less of your valuable time searching for compliant products when adding a new tool or replacing existing tools. Standardizing with a single supplier means managing fewer P.Os. and SKUs in the procurement process.

  • Audits (internal/external)

    Internal and external auditors will see one consistent process with understandable documentation for across multiple locations.

  • Best Practices

    Consolidate knowledge across multiple facilities, building collaboration and improving quality.

  • Training Cost Savings

    Enables a corporate-wide training department while limiting the time and money spent developing ad hoc programs at individual locations

  • Employee Mobility

    Move labor force between facilities without jeopardizing the understanding of your food safety program

In addition to simplifying processes, corporate standardization can benefit end users in several additional areas. Remco assists in equipment selection, visual management, tool documentation, and program implementation.

Equipment selection can be a challenging part of the standardization process. There are multiple suppliers selling many tools of varying quality. But, if you are implementing a color-coding plan, HACCP compliance requires more than simply having brushes and tools of the same color. We take into consideration requirements that tools be food safe, hygienically designed and purpose built.

Visual management is another area where we have been able to help end-users. Color-coding programs, proper signage, and appropriate labeling are all issues we consider.

One of the most important aspects of a corporate standardization program is the documentation supporting tool compliance with the FDA’s 21 CFR guidance. Remco has documentation ready for every piece of compliant equipment that we supply. We often provide detailed and well-organized sets of documentation to end users.

Finally, when it comes to implementing standardization programs, we have found great success in offering wide-ranging flexibility to end users. We keep a ready stock of items in our warehouse that can be shipped directly to end users. This allows our distributors to quickly fulfill large stocking orders without routing shipments through their shipping centers. In short, this means quicker turnaround times and fewer partial shipments.

If you have questions about corporate standardization, please contact Rob Middendorf
rmiddendorf@remcoproducts.com

The Growing Importance of Hygienic Design

Hygienic design of tools and equipment is essential for improving food safety in production facilities, and many people within the industry are arriving at this consensus together. The challenges facing those responsible for food safety are seemingly endless, and companies shouldn’t have to worry about compounding risks with poorly designed cleaning tools.

This past summer I had the privilege of witnessing the consensus building surrounding hygienic design at two different conferences. In March, the 3-A Sanitary Standards Group tackle the challenges of the hygienic and sanitary design of equipment. With the ever-increasing complexity and volume of food production, sanitation is becoming more and more daunting. Currently, the standards created by 3-A apply primarily to large equipment, but the organization also recognizes the potential benefits of applying standards to things like hand tools.

In August, I attended the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) annual conference. The IAFP conference has grown significantly in size and influence over the last few years. Much like 3-A members, IAFP members were talking about hygienic design throughout several Professional Development Groups and across many general sessions.

Deb Smith, Vikan’s Global Hygiene Specialist, spoke to the Food Sanitation and Hygiene PDG on the science of hygienic design applied to cleaning tools. Her talk garnered great interest among attendees both inside and outside the group. It’s obvious the industry is recognizing the importance of hygienic design throughout the cleaning process. Deb is also presenting a webinar covering the same topic on October 6th. You can register here: http://info.foodprocessing.com/1610_remco_webcast_mnt. If you can’t make the live event, your registration will allow you to view an on-demand version for up to one year.

At Remco, our goal is simplifying the challenges faced by food safety professionals. We do this by collaborating with Vikan on many levels. In addition to supplying a full line of hygienic material handling and cleaning tools, we also providing webinars, white papers, training, and consulting. Through these practices, I believe we advance hygienic design and simplify your challenges.