Food processing plants have to maintain the upmost standards when properly handling food products for consumers. Anything from airborne debris to facility moisture can form harmful bacteria that could ultimately affect the end product.
There are ways to prevent contamination and cross contamination in processing facilities. Here are five tips to keep food facilities safe:
1. Keep ramps and carts clean
The majority of methods to keeping a food processing facility safe are through sanitation. Every food facility operations manager wants to keep their plant as safe as possible from contamination, but sometimes it's easy to forget or not know which parts are most necessary to clean.
Pat Hottel, technical director for McCloud Services, a leader in pest management solutions, explained that ramps used to move carts with organic and nonorganic products need to be properly cleaned and dried to prevent excess moisture.
This also applies to carts and rampways that enter and exit the freezer as well. According to the Australian Department of Health, bacteria are simply dormant when food items are frozen. When items are refrigerated, they are only paused for a few days or weeks before they grow bacteria.
However, in freezing conditions, food processing facilities have to still clean freezer areas to kill bacteria since chemicals and heat are the only two methods to removing bacteria growth.
2. Color code brushes and buckets
To prevent cross contamination, brushes and buckets used in food processing facilities should be color coded to make it easier for clean up, a sanitation operating procedure report from Penn State Berkey Creamery stated.
One color should be used to clean pasteurized food contact surfaces, while another should be used to clean nonfood contact surfaces. Additionally, the creamery said a third color should be used to clean surfaces with raw milk products and the last color should only be applied for floor drain cleaning.
This changes per food item at each plant, but bucket and brush protocols should be very similar.
3. Clean all equipment and machinery
This might seem like a no-brainer for food processing plant operators, but all equipment and machinery must be cleaned to prevent contamination, Food Quality and Safety reported. Refrigeration equipment, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, contact surfaces, drains, plant equipment, and shell and tube heat exchangers need to be properly cleaned to prevent outbreaks.
Using stainless steel shell and tube heat exchangers and other equipment helps protect against bacterial contamination because the alloy can handle intense cleaners and daily cleanings. Stainless steel equipment is easily cleaned and it will last much longer than other metal equipment products.
4. Ensure workers are healthy
Food handling in processing facilities requires a lot of human interaction with items that could get contaminated if someone were sick or infected, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported. Additionally, food handling employees should not be at work if they are sick, vomiting, have diarrhea or are showing symptoms of a sore throat or fever.
When workers are healthy and safe around food products, the chance of contamination is further limited. Just like food processing equipment, employees must keep sanitized by washing their hands and wearing clean clothes.
5. Make sure products are heated with appropriate equipment
One of the biggest problems food processing facilities have with contamination issues is properly heating food products to the right temperature, the PSU report stated. Facilities need the right shell and tube heat exchanger to heat products to adequately kill the bacteria.
Many operators believe any heat exchanger will do the job, but there are specific variables such as the type of product, the heating requirements and the amount of products being made, that all factor into the equipment size. Speaking with a heat exchanger professional could get a processing plant on the right track.