As a food manufacturer, you execute effective routine cleaning practices at the end of every production run… then why would you still require periodic cleaning of your equipment or facility’s infrastructure?
In recent years, numerous food manufacturers have discovered that effective routine cleaning practices on food processing equipment are not enough to ensure long-term consistent hygienic conditions. This is often a result of hygienic design challenges. Hidden niches make complete soil removal difficult resulting in harborage areas for microorganisms deep inside food handling equipment. Eventually this will negatively affect product shelf life due to high levels of microbiological growth or can result in a recall, or worse, in a food safety outbreak.
Likewise, beyond visual cleanliness levels, many facilities do not know if all infrastructure surfaces within their food manufacturing rooms are cleaned to a microbiological level at the correct frequency. Areas like HVAC systems, drip pans, overheads, and upper walls are examples of infrastructure surfaces not routinely cleaned. On top of that, some food manufacturers do not have robust environmental verification practices in place for some of these environmental surfaces. That can create a false sense of environmental control. In reality, leftover soil residues in your infrastructure will eventually affect the finished product shelf life, and raise the risk of a food safety issue, which occurs once the organism is allowed to set up long-term residence and further proliferate within equipment, GMP environments, and/or finished product.
So, that raises the question, beyond routine cleaning, what can food manufacturers do to avoid these risks?
The answer is taking a proactive approach to periodic cleaning. This requires preventive assessments of which equipment and infrastructure items require periodic deep cleaning as well as good documentation of periodic cleaning tasks in the MSS (Master Sanitation Schedule). This article covers how food manufactures can benefit from effective and efficient periodic cleaning in their facilities by using:
- A preventive assessments process for periodic cleaning needs
- Four goals for effective preventive assessments
Preventive Assessment Process
In an ideal world, we would always choose to “design out” any equipment or infrastructure cleaning challenges. However, reality is that sometimes you have to work with legacy equipment and dated manufacturing environments. Even with new equipment or infrastructures, we will find ourselves confronted with less-than-optimal hygienic designs. When that happens, we need to make sure we manage the risks we know exist.
Preventing and managing product quality and food safety risks is possible. However, it will take significant time and resource commitments. Instead of reacting to issues, the objective is to use preventive Master Sanitation Schedule (MSS), Periodical Equipment Cleaning (PEC), and Periodic Infrastructure Cleaning (PIC) assessments to determine the exact needs for periodic cleaning in your facility. Preventive assessments will help food manufacturers to avoid food safety and quality risks.
The preventive assessment process needs to go well beyond equipment disassembly for routine cleaning, inspection, and cleanliness verification testing (like APC, ATP, Allergen, and Pathogen). The target is to find potential microbiological harborage areas, before the hidden micro growth or biofilms affect the overall hygienic health of a food manufacturing (GMP) room, processing equipment, or the finished food product.
During the preventive assessment broaden your observations to ensure assembled equipment and environmental surfaces, located above or near exposed product contact zones, do not promote contamination risk from accumulated residues or foreign material hazards. Finally, also take into account other process needs, like pest control, safety-dust control, and regulatory / internal company requirements. Any of these may influence the necessity of performing preventive assessments.
Preventive Assessment Goals
When executing a MSS preventive assessment in your facility, always keep these four objectives in mind.
- Set a base line
First, when using a preventive assessment approach, the goal is to determine if current program’s periodic cleaning as well as Preventive Maintenance (PM’s) tasks are performed effectively and at sufficient frequency to prevent known process risks from occurring. Assessors should ask questions like: Are all current periodical cleaning practices (PEC and PIC) captured within the MSS? Are all current practices captured within SSOP’s, maintenance SOP’s, and related work order systems? Are the routine and periodic disassembly and cleaning practices sufficient to maintain microbiological control? That way, the assessment process provides the plant with a clear understanding of the current MSS and PM programs.
- Identify gaps
Secondly, the preventive assessment aims to find any other equipment or infrastructure gaps. Based on observed hygienic design attributes and current practices, the preventive assessment approach identifies and documents gaps that require further investigation.
The third assessment goal is validation. This is really the foundation of the entire preventive program. Currently recognized and newly discovered Periodical Equipment Cleaning (PEC) tasks need to be validated using microbiological testing. Validation will help you establish a deep cleaning frequency, or verify if the current PEC frequency effectively manages all identified hygienic design challenges and microbiological risks. Organoleptic (sight, smell, and touch) inspection indicators should be used along with microbiological testing to help validate PEC frequencies. The same applies to infrastructure; you should consider an identical proactive approach, using the same assessment tools, for defining and verifying Periodical Infrastructure Cleaning (PIC) needs.
- Consider manufacturing impact
Finally, when defining and verifying PEC, PIC, and PM frequencies it is important to understand the impact to manufacturing. You need to find the right balance between maintaining the necessary preventive controls and supporting the business, i.e. production through-puts. Always be mindful of the cost of executing PEC, PIC and PM tasks. Extra production downtime will be required in some cases when running large and complex PEC and PIC related programs. On top of that, complex periodical PM’s can place a strain on the necessary specialized resources required to maintain the program. Partnerships between maintenance and sanitation can reduce the amount of downtime required for PEC tasks and PM’s when completed during the same scheduled downtime.
In conclusion, in many cases plants use MSS assessments during reactive microbiological investigations to aid in locating pathogen, spoilage, and out of specification bacteria counts. However, its real value is measured in its preventive nature. A preventive MSS assessment helps to 1) locate hygienic design challenges, 2) ensure currently established cleaning tasks and frequencies are accurately performed, and 3) at sufficient frequency to manage the risk and prevent reactive “special situations”.
The preventive assessment process is one of the primary tools and first steps employed within the food manufacturing industry to sustain consistent food safety and product shelf life results. With a preventive approach, the MSS assessment will guide you in setting correct and validated PEC, PIC and PM tasks and frequencies to optimally support your business while at the same time ensuring safe and high-quality finished goods.
Always keep in mind though, “designing out” equipment and infrastructure cleaning challenges is the ultimate goal, versus maintaining difficult to sustain designs.