With the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery planning, the basics of food safety have become even more critical. Because of this, there has been an increased awareness and frequency of sanitation practices with emphasis on critical control points, said Perfex Marketing Director Michael Dougherty.

As we continue fighting the virus during the gradual reopening of businesses and into the post-pandemic era, whenever that may be, enhanced cleaning and sanitation will continue to be critical.

With scientific studies showing that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may remain viable for two to three days on solid contact surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel, the pandemic generated an enhanced focus on deep cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces — in addition to the regular cleaning and sanitation of food-contact and non-food contact surfaces, said Remco Education and Technical Support Manager Amit Kheradia. “The objective of the additional requirement has been more toward preventing potential spread of COVID-19 among the employees within a food facility.”

Biomist Vice President Robert Cook has seen a significant increase in demand for sanitation products and their use in areas not previously considered. “Processors are taking systems off the floor to zones 3 and 4,” he said. They are purchasing systems not only to enhance sanitation throughout the facility, but to show employees that they are doing everything they can to protect them.

While cleaning and sanitation have been increased around the world because of the pandemic, it is an area which, though enhanced, is nothing new to the food industry. As Cook said, “The food industry gets it.”

With quality professionals with expertise in microbiology and control processes, the industry understands how to keep environments safe. Interestingly, however, Cook’s experience has shown that the health care industry has been much slower to pick up on it. He sees this, at least in part, due to the federal regulators, FDA and USDA, who “can snap their fingers and shut down a food facility,” so the facilities have to have quality assurance in place. “They can’t shut down a hospital,” he said.

There is a new approach to enhanced sanitation through the whole facility, not just critical areas, as well as increased education to employees on hand hygiene, and sanitation of high-touch surfaces. “I think this is the new norm,” Cook said. “Everyone is now aware and I can’t see this attitude going backward, though it may reduce some.”

Kheradia also sees the enhancements as continuing. “There will be a continued emphasis on strengthening standards- mandated business continuity plans to manage such pandemic-like situations in order to prepare for closure, reorganization through sanitation, and other restructuring programs,” he said.

Dougherty also sees it as continuing “to some extent,” he said, adding, “We believe manufacturing facilities will be under more scrutiny to adhere to strict regulations and cleaning protocols.” But whether during or after a situation, the basics of cleaning and sanitation remain the same, and training of new sanitation team members, as well as ongoing re-training of all, is important.

Besides the routine cleaning and disinfection of surfaces, it is critical to ensure attention is paid to the “nooks and crannies” in the food processing facility. These areas are those that are hard to reach and hard to clean, but can harbor bacteria. They would include areas such as in corners, under workstations, and behind machinery, as well as in equipment gaskets, hollow tubes and supports, rough welds, dead-ends, joints, and crevices, etc. “Germs hide in cracks and crevices because they can’t be reached as easily,” Cook said.

Because of this, Dougherty said, “If not cleaned properly, bacteria will grow and eventually propagate surrounding areas.”

Whether during or after a situation, the basics of cleaning and sanitation remain the same, and training of new sanitation team members, as well as ongoing re-training of all, is important.
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As we continue fighting the virus during the gradual reopening of businesses and into the post-pandemic era, whenever that may be, enhanced cleaning and sanitation will continue to be critical. But that, Kheradia said, is just one of the essential requirements to be followed. Other risk-based operational protocols should include:

  • Conduct a risk-assessment of how frequently high-touch surfaces need to be routinely cleaned and disinfected. Avoid recontamination of these surfaces as much as possible.
  • Ensure that contractors and visitors are aware of the enhanced hygiene and sanitation protocol.
  • Always clean properly, removing debris and organic matter, before disinfecting the surface.
  • Use EPA-approved disinfectants, qualified under its emerging viral pathogen program for use against SARS-CoV-2, and follow the supplier’s instructions for storage, preparation, and use.
  • As a best practice, use hygienically designed cleaning tools that can be decontaminated easily after use.

With the advent of COVID-19, Cook said, “A giant wave hit us.” While that wave carried with it disruption and even destruction, it also has brought a new wave of awareness and understanding of the importance of sanitation and protection from disease.

It is a wave that will recede but will leave a residual in its wake. As Cook said, “The whole world just stepped into my world.”

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net.