Hand to Hand Combat: The Hygiene Equation
Source of Article: http://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2008/409.html
By Dave Fusaro,
Editor in Chief
Recent food scares remind
processors: Pay attention to the basics of personnel hygiene.
It seems there’s always
something coming down the food contamination pike. Just as the public
begins to forget E. coli in ground beef there’s salmonella in peanut
butter. As the salmonella concerns fade, listeria
turns up in deli meat.
All are good
reasons for the increased focus on sanitation of all types in food and
beverage plants. Along with the washdowns,
clean-in-place systems and hazards analysis and critical control points
(HACCP) programs, there is renewed emphasis on one of the basics of plant
sanitation: personal hygiene.
washing to boot scrubbing to clean uniforms, there are simple and largely
individual efforts that food plant employees can make to ensure a safe food
supply – and the continued success of their plant and their company.
Canadians died this past summer from listeria
traced back to a Maple Leaf Foods deli meat plant in Toronto. How the listeria
got into two of the plant’s slicing machines may never be fully understood,
but spreading it by human contact is certainly a possibility. As of late
October, the plant still had not reopened, despite test runs of food.
While listeria can be found in many, maybe most, plants if
you look hard enough, it should never get above floor level. But, “It can
be brought in or moved from one area to another on shoes or boots,”
explains Michele Colbert, vice president of sales and marketing for Meritech Inc. (www.meritech.com), Golden, Colo.
“Listeria can grow in the moisture on floors and in drains. Walking through
puddles of water can spread it all over the plant.”
As a result, Meritech is seeing great interest in boot sanitizing
systems. “Even just a year or two ago, some plants didn’t do this at all,”
continues Colbert. “Now, many are at least making people walk through foam
sanitizers in entrances from one area to another. The really concerned ones
are installing automated boot scrubbing systems, which ensure a sufficient
amount of cleaning and sanitizing.”
says, many food plants have not sufficiently addressed the contamination
potential of footwear.
washing is another issue. Hand washing has been a requirement forever. But
making sure employees do it and do it right,
that’s another issue.
Meritech suggests a six-point program:
1. Soap: Antimicrobial soaps should be available at all wash
stations. Closed dispensers and automatic systems are recommended to
prevent the spread of infection. Counters are necessary to track handwash performance.
2. Water: Temperature should be not too hot, not too cold:
ideally around 100 degrees, to assist in both pathogen removal and employee
3. Towels: Single-use paper towels or an automated paper towel
dispenser improve cleanliness by adding friction and thoroughly drying
hands. Blow dryers have a tendency to leave hands damp, if they are used at
4. Sanitizer: Instant hand sanitizers or wipes should be used
when handwashing is not immediately available.
They should provide residual protection, ideally for several hours, to continue
killing pathogens after the wash.
5. Schedules and Guidelines: Handwash
guidelines should be established based on health department and/or HACCP
6. Time and Convenience: Handwash
stations should be conveniently located throughout the facility. In plants,
multiple handwashing stations should be installed
at the entrance of the plant and in areas to prevent cross contamination.
Meritech has a number of hand washing
systems, from traditional stations to highly automated – and audited –
ones. In the company’s CleanTech systems,
employees insert their hands into separate cylinders simultaneously. Twelve
seconds in this automated wash yields hands as clean as those that undergo
30 seconds of manual hand washing – if the manual hand washing is done
of the system are less use of chemicals and water (75 percent less water)
and faster processing of employees. Multiply that 18-second time reduction
by a couple hundred workers and the manpower savings add up. “Plus, you
know it’s done right,” Colbert emphasizes.
Meritech also has a walk-through hand and boot
wash system, a 6-ft.-long series of automated stations that sanitize hands
and boots in nonstop fashion. It can process 25 people a minute.
International (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation) has the
perspective of seeing best practices in many U.S. food plants … and many
overseas. The level of employee hygiene in foreign plants may surprise some
American food employees.
“I’ve been in
Asian plants where it takes 15 minutes to get from the front door to the
production floor because of all the safety and hygiene steps,” says Tom
Chestnut, vice president of food safety and quality at NSF (www.nsf.org), Ann Arbor, Mich.
In addition to
jewelry removal, outerwear, hair nets, boots and hats – standards even in
American plants – many require full or partial face masks. Often there are
several hand wash stations, all monitored by quality assurance employees.
There may be hand dip stations – before and after the application of vinyl
“It’s not uncommon to hear a bell or alarm go off hourly, signaling it’s time for all
employees to wash their hands again,” Chestnut says.
While he’s yet
to hear hourly hand-washing bells in U.S. plants, Chestnut admits
most domestic food and beverage plants employ a sufficiently high level of
personnel hygiene. But that’s no reason to be less vigilant. And there
remain some domestic plants that could stand improvement.
even if a worker goes through all the steps above then slips and stops his
fall by touching the floor, all bets are off,” Chestnut continues. Which leads to the most important point: education and
admit, you can design the best hygiene systems and machines and make all
the rules you want, but they’re for naught if employees do not use them
properly. And employees must develop a sense of self that helps them
recognize if they’ve done anything to compromise their hygiene. And the
conscience to immediately rectify the situation.
Rather than ask
plant managers and supervisors to train and motivate employees in
sanitation procedures, many processors turn to experts such as NSF, the
American Institute of Baking, Silliker
Laboratories or associated product vendors.
and other supplied articles of clothing provide important safeguards in the
HACCP program … but only if they’re handled by the food processor and its
employees as carefully as they are by the service that delivers them.
Aramark Corp. (www.aramark.com),
Burbank, Calif., follows rigorous processes for
cleaning garments, as do other uniform services. What concerns Jim Holton,
senior national account executive for food processing, is what happens
after the uniforms are dropped off at your plant.
critical control points. Are there steps in the dressing procedure that
compromise safety?” he asks. “Our uniforms are delivered hygienically clean
and wrapped in plastic. But are they stored and handled in a way that keeps
are requiring employees to change on-site. That ensures no outside problems
are brought into the plant. Many plants are getting boot programs to
further ensure safety. “Anytime you allow in things from outside the plant,
there’s a risk,” Holton says.
are dedicating locker rooms for uniforms only. No outside clothing allowed.
That prevents cross-contamination with other clothing,” says Holton. “We’re
also concerned with where our uniforms are stored. That area should be
clean, secure and segregated also.
“Most of the
new food plants are building these safeguards in with fabulous locker rooms
and plenty of storage space,” he adds.
that Aramark representatives do not just pick up
and deliver uniforms. Their process is consultative, and they first do a needs analysis with the plant’s food safety experts.
That process is repeated quarterly.