Originally published as a National Pork Board/American Meat Science Association Fact Sheet.
Author: William Benjy Mikel, University of Kentucky
Reviewer: Mindy Brashear, Texas Tech University
The importance of food safety and sanitation as it relates to your economic survivability is paramount. It just takes a review of how a few of the industry giants have been humbled by recent product recalls to understand the necessity of proper attention to sanitation. Sanitation, although normally an afterthought or a job relegated to someone lower down the employee chain, can be the difference in not only survival but profitability. Below are some important aspects of sanitation to consider in order to sustain your profitability and reputation.
From the very beginning a commitment to sanitation is a must, beginning with construction of the facility for ease of sanitation through the development of a properly maintained plant sanitation program Next, the proper equipment must be available to employees to ensure successful completion of their sanitation objectives. In addition, dedication of appropriate time within the work day is necessary for a functional sanitation program to succeed. Continual training is vital to educate employees in the basics of proper sanitation. Finally, employee morale in lower tier positions, as sanitation normally is classified, is vital for success. Without complete dedication to these objectives, any program, no matter how well founded, is doomed to failure. Although the primary purpose of a sanitation program is to improve the safety of the food supply, many times it takes an unpleasant event to push the food safety program in the right direction. This may be regulatory action, or the situation may be less visible with a gradual deterioration of a once spotless plant to one where only minimal efforts are made to maintain a sanitary environment. This decline commonly occurs over an extended period of time.
While everyone knows that sanitation has a definite cost in term of time and expense, usually the opposite side of the coin, or lack of proper sanitation, has a much higher liability. Many of the food industry’s most successful sanitation programs are motivated by economic reality that consumers simply will not tolerate visible contaminants in their food products. The recent public outcry over the many recalls from well known and trusted companies has led most food processors to re-consider their dedication to sanitation and food safety.
Recent estimates indicate that several million individuals develop food borne illness each year (CDC, 2001). Although many cases are not reported, according to records from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) approximately 97% of the cases that are reported have been traced to mishandling beyond the processing plant. While this may indicate that the processing industry is doing a good job with sanitation, there is always the potential for mishap and the need to improve on general food safety practices. This, combined with the public’s perception that meat processors are to blame for mishandling, dictates the necessity for the best sanitation program possible. It is important for all food processing employees, regardless of their assigned duties, to realize the importance of their actions when producing food products. Their understanding of the basic concepts of sanitation and bacterial growth will be vital in the production of a safe food supply.
The rate of bacterial growth depends on many factors or environmental conditions in which the growth occurs. The following are important factors affecting bacterial growth:
The application of proper sanitation techniques is important in maintaining food safety. Poor sanitation practices can contribute to outbreaks of food borne illnesses. The ultimate consequences of poor sanitation may be severe in terms of loss of sales, damaged product reputation and consumer confidence, adverse publicity, and sometimes legal action. Every establishment must start with a written food safety plan that may be implemented into a documented food safety program. Essential elements of a food safety program must contain; current good manufacturing practices (cGMPs), sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs), and a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Program along with a tried and true recall program. In addition, other programs such as pest control, employee training and supplier certification programs complete a competent food safety program. The following sanitation guidelines are recommended for a generic slaughter/processing plant. While equipment and plant layout may vary, general methods may be drawn from these suggestions.
All portions of the operation must be thoroughly cleaned then sanitized. Cleaning is the removal of all organic material (ie. dirt, manure, meat scraps, etc.). A facility and/or piece of equipment must be completely cleaned or it will be impossible to sanitize. All buildings, fixtures, and other physical facilities of the plant should be maintained in a sanitary condition and shall be kept in repair sufficient to prevent food from becoming adulterated within the meaning of the act. Cleaning and sanitizing of utensils and equipment shall be conducted in a manner that protects against contamination of food, food-contact surfaces, or food packaging materials. Cleaning compounds and sanitizing agents used in cleaning and sanitizing procedures shall be free from undesirable microorganisms and shall be safe and adequate under the conditions of use.
Effective measures should be taken to exclude pests from the processing areas and to protect against the contamination of food on the premises by pests. The use of insecticides or rodenticides is permitted only under precautions and restrictions that will protect against contamination of food, food-contact surfaces, or food packaging materials.
All food-contact surfaces, including utensils and food-contact surfaces of equipment, should be cleaned as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food. Where equipment and utensils are used in a continuous production operation, the utensils and food-contact surfaces of the equipment shall be cleaned and sanitized as necessary. Non-food-contact surfaces of equipment used in the operation of food plants should be cleaned as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food.
All plant equipment should be designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained. Each piece of equipment should be installed and maintained as to facilitate the cleaning of the equipment and adjacent space. Foodcontact surfaces shall be maintained to protect food from being contaminated by any source, including unlawful indirect food additives.
Only employees who appear healthy should be allowed to work in food contact areas. Any person who is known to have, or appears to have, an illness, open lesion, including boils, sores, or infected wounds, or any other possible source of microbial contamination by which there is a reasonable possibility of food, foodcontact surfaces, or food-packaging materials becoming contaminated, should be excluded from any operations which may be expected to result in such contamination until the condition is corrected.
It is important that the exterior surroundings of the plant be kept in a sanitary manner to protect against possible contamination due to rodent infestation. Proper storage of equipment, removal of litter and waste, and cutting of weeds and grass within the immediate vicinity of the plant buildings or structures that may constitute a breeding place, or harborage for pests is necessary. Roads, yards, and parking lots should be maintained so that they do not constitute a source of contamination in areas where food is exposed. Adequately draining areas that may contribute contamination to food by seepage, foot-borne filth, or providing a breeding place for pests is necessary. Plants must operate systems for waste treatment and disposal in an adequate manner so that they do not constitute a source of contamination in areas where food is exposed. Unloading facilities and holding pens for animals should be constructed of such materials so that they do not harbor bacteria. Concrete paddocks with metal railings versus dirt pens are preferred for cleaning reasons.
Sanitation in ready-to-eat areas of meat processing plants is vital to minimize the possible contamination of such products with harmful bacteria (eg. Listeria monocytogenes). The use of proper sanitation methods in these areas is the backbone of an effective Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program in ensuring the safest food product possible. A strict, and comprehensive, sanitation program must be in place with the necessary safeguards to avoid a potential business-ending food borne illness outbreak. All equipment, as well as, the environment should be routinely sanitized and followed by environmental and product testing to verify effectiveness.
Verification is the use of methods, procedures, or tests in addition to those used in monitoring to determine if the operation is in compliance with the written plan (SSOPs). This will indicate whether the sanitation program is addressing the needs of the plant and if it needs modification. Supplemental tests and reviews of records are used to determine whether the sanitation program is functioning as planned in an effective and efficient method. These tests may include environmental testing of the equipment as well as the plant infrastructure. Also, a review of records and the correlation to USDA-FSIS issued “NRs” is a useful method to track sanitation diligence. Verification is long term and does not always call for immediate changes, however, it may necessitate some modification of the existing sanitation program to ensure a safe finished product.
In the meat industry there are mainly four type of sanitizers used; Hot water, Chlorine, Iodophors, and Quaternary Ammonia (Quat). Each has there own advantages and disadvantages and is best used under a rotation system to avoid resistance buildup. The recommended usage levels and areas of application are given in the table below. However, it is recommended that you discuss your specific needs with your chemical supplier or sanitation contractor.
All floors, walls and equipment should be visually inspected for any contamination. If needed, the general cleaning and sanitizing procedures are implemented. Boot dip mats filled with hot water and bleach are placed in front of doors.
Carcass dressing will be performed under sanitary conditions and in a manner to prevent contamination of the carcass.
After the end of each slaughter, all floors, walls and equipment are properly cleaned and sanitized according to general or specific procedures. Specific cleaning and sanitizing instructions:
All floors, walls and equipment will be visually inspected for any contamination. If needed, the general cleaning and sanitizing procedures are implemented. Condensation is wiped from rails and oil is applied.
All fabricating and processing will be performed under sanitary conditions and in a manner to prevent contamination of any product.
After fabricating and processing, all floors, walls, and equipment (including tables) will be properly cleaned and sanitized according to specific procedures. Specific cleaning and sanitizing instructions:
All floors, walls and equipment are visually inspected for any contamination. If needed, the general cleaning and sanitizing procedures are implemented.
All further processing and smoking will be performed under sanitary conditions and in a manner to prevent contamination of any further processed meat product.
After processing, all floors, walls, and equipment (including smokehouse and racks) are properly cleaned and sanitized according to general or specific procedures.
Check Weekly and Perform as Needed:
Check Weekly and Perform as Needed:
Check Weekly and Perform as Needed: