Douglas Craven, corporate manager of sanitation for Hormel Foods, told FoodProductionDaily the cleanliness of a food facility should be of concern to all employees at a food producer, not just the people with “sanitation” or “safety” in their titles.
“If you’re in the food business, you’re in the cleaning business,” he said.
A crucial challenge, Craven said, is making sure procedures are not just in place, but that they are followed consistently.
“You could show a list or a binder full of sanitation procedures and tell everyone that walks through your plant, ‘This is what we to do get clean,’” he said. “How do we make sure we’re always doing everything we’re supposed to in order to get clean?”
Craven said sanitation is a controlled process that needs specific, written procedures, followed properly. He added sanitation procedures need to be customized according to each facility’s specific needs.
Hormel Foods, Craven told FPD, has more than 40 food production plants in the US. While each follows a basic corporate sanitation framework, each facility has a tailored sanitation program, based on the products it produces, materials used, equipment in place, local climate, and more.
Additionally, suppliers offering cleaning chemicals and products have sanitation guides that come with their products. However, such guides are far too “generic” to serve as an operational guide for food operations, Craven said.
An important part of a food firm’s sanitation routine is the “pre-op” inspection, performed by a qualified staffer just before a production line is started up for a shift. Craven said the step, required by Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), needs to be more than a cursory peek at machines.
“It isn’t just a glance—you can’t see pathogens like Listeria, obviously, but you can certainly look for conditions that could foster bacteria,” he said.
Craven advised staff conducting pre-op inspections do so armed with a flashlight to better spot problem areas, such as visible dirt, food residue, wet areas, un-rinsed cleaning agents or other unwanted elements.
When performance of sanitation personnel is monitored and found wanting, Craven said, the shortfall frequently is recorded with vague statements like “informed sanitation employee and retrained.” However, he said, frequent recording of such missteps likely indicates a more serious fault in the process, and employees making repeat offenses require more specific corrective action, with subsequent follow up to ensure they have truly seen the light.
Commitment to safety
Finally, Craven advised the goal of FSMA and other government regulations is truly to improve the safety of the country’s food supply, not to make food producers jump through unnecessary hoops.
“Really, regulators are not just doing it to make our lives miserable,” he said.
Craven spoke to FPD at the Food Safety Summit, an annual conference and exposition focusing on current safety concerns and emerging technologies. The event is taking place in Baltimore, US, April 8-10.