OLE DOSLAND, QA & Food Safety Consultant and Trainer, DOZ Enterprises

Many food plants are large and complex, especially from the perspective of insects and bacteria. Sanitation and cleaning practices are important to meet customer, regulatory, and company expectations of no insects or bacteria. What is a practical and systematic solution?

Food plants with poor sanitation increase the risk of contaminated products, so the plant and its equipment, tools, utensils, etc. should be cleaned and sanitized on a schedule. A master cleaning schedule (MCS) will help achieve the right amount of cleaning.

Cleaning is a way to rid an area or surface of soil, impurities, and extraneous matter to a desired level at a desired time. An MCS is a planned map to accomplish a desired level of clean at desired times. Cleaning frequency depends on the potential contamination type. Most hourly, shift, or daily tasks are basic cleaning and would overwhelm an MCS. Better options for deeper important tasks are weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, and annual frequency. Good cleaning sets up a sanitizer’s effectiveness.

Sanitizing is the process of reducing the number of micro-organisms on a properly cleaned surface to a safe level. A surface must be clean to obtain close contact between a sanitizer and a surface. The Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure (SSOP) is designed to accomplish a desired level of clean at the MCS’ assigned time. But does the P in SSOP mean procedure, policy, plan, or practices? It technically stands for procedure, but could refer to all four. A procedure is a series of ordered steps (the how); a policy states the goals (the why); a plan focuses on the method (the intent); and practices are for employees (the work).

No matter which is used, the SSOP should connect with the MCS frequency to provide a procedure for a desired action to achieve a desired level of clean. The SSOP might describe when, why, where, what, and how to clean; what to clean and sanitize with; sanitizer contact time; mixing instructions; tools; verification action; etc. An SSOP is a series of steps ensuring proper, consistent cleaning of a surface and a result of intelligent effort.

What is a desired level of clean at a desired time? It is the level that prevents contamination from occurring at any time. More cleaning requires more time which requires more cleaning hours, compounds, and tools. All this, along with production downtime, can be costly. Effective cleaning is a balancing act to prevent contamination with the right amount of cleaning at the right time to combat.

A sanitarian or food safety leader should be in charge of writing and updating the cleaning procedures, policies, plans, and practices. Effectiveness can be evaluated in a combination of ways (chemical, organoleptic, microbiological) to verify a desired level of clean at a desired time. The MCS and SSOPs must be connected properly for cleaning to be effective at the right cost.

Effective sanitation and cleaning cannot be achieved without company commitment and management support. The MCS and SSOPs are written with a purpose. The schedule, policies, procedures, and practices must be followed or the facility will face higher risk and consequences. Sanitation is a HACCP pre-requisite for a reason.

For effective cleaning and sanitation: develop a robust environmental program using an indicator-organism monitoring in each of the four zones; size each tool for optimal cleaning and efficiency; label and color code all tools, keeping them in assigned areas; use alcohol as a sanitizing agent; rotate sanitizers; train employees and keep practices updated; and keep the plant dry, even the wet zones.

A clean building is a longer lasting building and a clean plant reflects a food industry leader. Having good sanitation and cleaning practices is a practical and systematic solution to producing safe, wholesome food in any size food plant.