Salmonella in Raw Poultry – From Processing to Purchasing

According to the CDC, an estimated 1.2 million Americans a year get sick from Salmonella infections. Of these, around 23,000 are hospitalized and approximately 450 people die. While there have been innovations around whole chicken processing that have led to reductions in bacteria, around 1.5% of carcasses still test positive for Salmonella at processing plants. Additionally, chicken parts (such as a package of raw chicken breasts), don’t even have USDA-FSIS performance standards established as yet.

With due diligence from processors and consumers on safe poultry handling practices, rates of foodborne illness from Salmonella can be reduced.

Stopping Salmonella from Reaching Grocery Stores

Processors must take on the burden of reducing Salmonella’s presence in raw poultry while government programs continue to educate consumers on proper handling and cooking practices. There are a couple of steps that food processors can take to reduce the chances of Salmonella cross-contaminating their products:

Implement zoning and color-coding

Hygienic zoning, when supported by color-coding, helps reduce the spread of contamination at critical points in a processing environment. Each processing step can be assigned a different color, which keeps tools used on pre-cleaned chicken away from those used on ready-to-package poultry. Workers’ protective clothing can also be separated depending on the zone they’re used in. Color-coding can also be used to keep the cleaning brushes that are used on food-contact surfaces from being mixed up with those used on drains or floors. Moreover, tool racks and shadow boards can separate tools from each other even when they’re being stored. With many companies offering products in 9-12 colors, there are enough choices to add color-coded support to almost any hygienic zoning plan.

Use hygienically designed tools.

Hygienically designed tools are normally made of FDA compliant materials and are less likely to support the survival, growth, and spread of pathogens like Salmonella. They are generally free of cracks and crevices (that could allow bacteria to hide and multiply in), and have rounded corners and smooth surfaces that make them easy to clean and dry. Tools that are easier to clean are more likely to be cleaned more often and more thoroughly. Any tool that has multiple pieces should be able to be separated easily for cleaning.

Keep poultry at acceptable temperatures.

One of the best ways to control Salmonella contamination is by keeping poultry at temperatures under 39° F. When poultry is held below this danger point, bacteria growth is slowed. In the range between 40-140° F, bacteria flourishes, which may lead to high amounts of Salmonella that can, in turn, cause consumer illnesses and public outbreaks.

Consumer and Retailer Behavior

Although over half of Americans say they believe that preparing food at home is safer than eating out, a study has found that consumers don’t always treat raw poultry with foodborne illness prevention in mind, nor do retailers. The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) collaborated on a study that found:

  • Only 18% of stores had plastic bags in the meat and poultry sections. In those stores, only 25% of shoppers used them.
  • 87% of shoppers touched their cart’s handle after handling raw poultry.
  • 84% of shoppers placed their poultry near other food items in the cart, and 56% of them placed it such that it directly touched their other food items.

It’s clear that consumers and retailers need better education on safe poultry practices since processors can’t completely eliminate all harmful bacteria from uncooked poultry. FMI and PSFE are working with FightBac.org on their “Don’t Wing It” campaign to help increase consumer awareness of foodborne illness and on how to prevent it.

The Don’t Wing It campaign promotes:

  • Not directly touching raw poultry in the store and using provided plastic bags to store the item.
  • Using hand sanitizer and a disinfecting wipe for cleaning shopping cart handles before use.
  • At home, placing poultry immediately into the freezer and using the refrigerator to thaw it to prevent the poultry’s juices from contaminating other products. 
  • Cooking raw poultry to an internal temperature of at least 165° F.

It’s important to note that raw poultry processing can’t eliminate all probable harmful bacteria. Consumers therefore need to learn how to safely handle packages of poultry during shopping, storing, and cooking. However, there are also a few ways poultry processors can help in reducing the spread of Salmonella, such as the use of color-coding, using hygienically designed tools, and keeping poultry at safe temperatures. Therefore, processors as well as consumers and retailers have significant roles in reducing the overall rates of foodborne illnesses.

Food Safety Culture – Color-Coding for the Color-Blind

Food production facilities often rely on color coding their tools and workstations to create zones of control. These zones can designate areas where allergens are used to prevent cross-contact incidents, separate raw – from finished products to avoid cross-contamination issues, or visually represent different shifts to account for concerning potential direct-contamination trends. Color coding is generally easy to understand and provides a universal language for people of all levels of literacy -and – language background.

However, for 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women, some colors may be difficult or impossible to discern. Color-blindness comes in many forms, but the most common type is partial color-blindness, where the person can’t distinguish between a couple or a few colors. Of those, the two forms of red/green color-blindness: deuteranopia (reduced sensitivity to red light) and protanopia (reduced sensitivity to green light), occur most frequently. That doesn’t imply color coding as a zoning solution doesn’t work for color-blind employees, but it does mean that colors should be chosen carefully to avoid the most common color-blindness pairings.
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5S in the Food Industry

Color-coded tools promote 5S programs

Sort, straighten, shine, standardize, and sustain. These five principles comprise the 5S lean manufacturing method that originated in Japan. While 5S can help any organization, the principles contained in the alliterative method should especially appeal to those in food processing for its ability to promote food safety through a clean, safe, and organized workplace.

5S principles are based on the idea that a well organized and clean workplace increases employee satisfaction, promotes worker safety, and decreases product waste. 5S relies on everything having its own place that’s easily identifiable. Like color-coding, 5S uses the idea of a “visual factory” that lets workers know at a glance where tools are and where they should be put back after they’re cleaning.

Sort

For the sort step, work areas should be cleared of things that aren’t needed daily. Discard junk that’s broken or simply not needed, along with broken tools. Items that are needed, but only on an infrequent basis, should be moved to storage. If an item is misplaced or stored illogically, it should be moved to a more convenient location.

Sorting can help minimize chances of cross-contamination and cross-contact by sorting food-contact and non-food-contact items apart from each other.
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New-Employee-Proof Your Safety Plan with Color-Coding

blue workstation

In the food processing industry, like many factory-based jobs, employee turnover is high. When you’re seeing a turnover rate of about 35% yearly, how do you train your staff to follow important safety plans? When you’re in an industry where a simple mistake by a single employee could result in thousands of people getting sick, how do you ensure HACCP compliance?

For many, color-coding has become the easiest answer. Color-coding offers a simple solution to an otherwise complex problem. Even the newest employee can quickly learn that red products belong with the raw product, and white goes with the finished.

Here are our top 5 tips to using color-coding to ensure all of your employees follow CGMPs.

    1. Set up cleaning stations

      Cleaning stations serve as a visual reminder that everything has its place. Put a sign over a station filled with blue tools to remind everyone that those tools are used to clean floors in the packing area, and another sign over a pink wall bracket to tell employees that those tools are used in receiving. Cleaning stations also remind employees to hang tools back up once they’ve been cleaned.

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Selling Your Organization on Color-Coding

Color Coded Tool Set

Color-coding benefits everyone from the company CEO to individual workers. Selling your organization on color-coding is as easy as learning what appeals to each position, and presenting the benefits. Whether you’re a plant safety officer or a salesperson at a distribution company, here’s what you need to know to gain organizational buy-in.

Plant Owners – Minimize risk and product waste

Plant owners carry the responsibility of running a safe processing facility on their shoulders. Color-coding can increase the safety of day-to-day operations, somewhat lessening that burden. In the event of charges being carried against a facility, owners/operators must provide a due diligence defense if their product causes illness or death. Color-coding is a proven, standard method to prevent cross-contamination and is widely accepted by standards organizations. BRC v.7 (2015) requires BRC registered companies to use either color-coding or tools that are “visually distinctive” in high-risk areas. Color-coding is a significant step towards being able to show auditors that a company is doing their part to minimize risk and promote food safety.
If color-coding is helpful in minimizing the chances of cross-contamination, it’s essential to minimizing the impact of a foreign body recall due to a piece of a tool breaking off and contaminating the product. If zoning is done by areas, or even shifts, the color of the chipped tool or plastic glove can pinpoint where (and possibly when) the contamination happened, which results in less product needing to be pulled off of shelves.

Middle Management – Simplify training and pinpoint issues

Color-coded tool stations can significantly reduce the amount of time that must be spent training each employee. Instead of a complicated system where certain tools are only left certain places, the stations are immediately obvious to even the newest employees. Food processing facilities typically see a high amount of turnover, making brevity in training time even more valuable. Simplify the entire process by having total color tools for different purposes.

Tool stations also promote a culture of responsibility since it’s easy to see if someone didn’t bother to put a tool back in the right place. Having a place for each tool, and having each tool be zoned keeps the factory running smoothly and safely. If a tool is missing, finding it is as simple as asking the shift workers it’s color-coded to. Retraining is also easier if it’s immediately apparent when an employee is using the wrong tool for a job.

Employees – Uncomplicate HACCP regulations

Training represents time and money to company executives. To employees, it’s time they’re not working toward production goals. Most workers appreciate a streamlined process that doesn’t require them to remember which station they went to for a tool. Color-coded stations also mean brooms aren’t propped against walls and buckets aren’t sitting in random places, all waiting to trip an employee who’s not paying enough attention.

Investing in a fully color-coded system shows a commitment to food safety that won’t go unnoticed by employees. The shift of a company culture to one that deeply cares about the safety of its products will help employees feel good about their work, which, in turn, can make them better workers.

Getting organizational buy-in is a necessary part of adding color-coding to a company. Without it, the process may not be implemented correctly, if at all. However, once color-coding becomes part of the corporate culture, it can streamline operations and training, as well as reduce risk.

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

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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Remco’s Contribution to Food Safety

Remco has always had a commitment to provide high-quality cleaning and material handling tools to the food processing industry. We also believe that we have a responsibility to be knowledgeable at an expert level about food safety regulatory issues. We understand the importance of educating our customers and users of our products on industry regulations and hot topics in the world of food processing. We feel that this is our role in food safety. In honor of September being Food Safety Month, we want to take a little time to talk about what we bring to the food safety “table.”

Food safety is important to protect the health of people

Food safety is important to protect the health of peopleOur objective is to provide high quality, hygienic cleaning and material handling products to food processors. We believe that if you use quality tools and informed strategies, you will get quality results. In addition to the products Remco manufactures, we also are the Exclusive Vikan® Partner in the U.S. Vikan is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of maximum hygiene cleaning tools, and thrives on advancing hygienic cleaning through innovative, quality products.

Vikan has recently released the EDGE line, an improved line of tools specifically designed to increase hygiene. The angles on the new EDGE brush blocks are designed so liquid doesn’t remain on surfaces and invite the growth of microorganisms. This is just one example of how Vikan goes above and beyond what is considered adequate in this industry. Just as it is important to practice good hygiene when handling food, it is important to ensure your cleaning tools are hygienically designed. The ability to effectively clean your cleaning tools is sometimes overlooked, but it is a very important consideration to keep in mind.

One other contribution that Remco brings to the food processing world is our expertise about color-coding. Our goal is to provide food processors with the resources they need to build and maintain successful color-coding programs. Understanding and implementing a color-coding program can sometimes be difficult, and we see it as our responsibility to help everyone make the most out of this valuable food safety method.

The use of color-coding can help reduce the risk of cross-communication by helping to identify critical zones. Reducing the risk of cross-contamination helps to cut down on the potential for recalls. Avoiding recalls is good not only for the bottom line but for the brand’s public image. Color-coding is a great addition to your HACCP or 5S program, and Remco feels strongly that it has a place in just about every food processing operation.

It would be very easy to rest on our laurels, and simply provide high-quality products and color-coding advice, but we don’t stop there. We are committed to providing educational information on important topics in the food processing world, even if those topics are not directly related to our products. The food processing industry is constantly evolving and changing, and we are dedicated to being informed on current issues and providing quality, unbiased information. We aim to serve as an expert resource for important issues affecting the entire food processing industry, and we want to be your partner in improving food safety.

Our kit can help you determine how color-coding fits into your food processing operation.

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.