Food Surface Sanitation

Of paramount importance in food manufacture is the freedom of microbial (spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms) and foreign body contamination in the final product. Such contamination may arise from the constituent raw materials or the processing environment, which includes food contact surfaces, the air, people, and pests. Failure to control these factors may lead to product recalls, loss of sales or profits, adverse publicity, and, if regulatory requirements have been infringed, fines, sanctions, or ultimately site closure or loss of production/export license. For example, incomplete sanitation of a meat grinder was responsible for a large outbreak of Salmonella typhirium infected from ingestion of ground beef (1). Many food service operations are integrating hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) along with sanitation to ensure food safety (2).

The sanitation of surfaces, when undertaken correctly, is cost effective, easy to manage, and, if diligently applied, can reduce the risk of microbial or foreign body contamination of product. When incidents of such contamination occur, it is often not easy to trace and rectify the exact source and as surface sanitation is relatively cheap, it can provide management with a good tool to reduce this risk. In this context, surface sanitation:

1. Removes microorganisms, or material conducive to microbial growth. This reduces the chance of contamination by pathogens and extends the shelf life of some products.

2. Removes materials that could lead to foreign body contamination or could provide food or shelter for pests.

Surface sanitation is also implemented in food processing to provide a wide range of additional benefits including:

1. Reduces waste and improves the appearance and quality of product by removing product left on lines that may deteriorate and reenter subsequent production runs.

2. Increases process performance in some areas (eg, plate and scrape surface heat exchangers).

3. Extends the life of, and prevents damage to, equipment and services.

4. Provides a safe and clean working environment for employees and thus increases morale and productivity.

5. Presents a favorable image to customers and the public.

In this article, food surfaces are defined as both food contact and environmental surfaces. Environmental surfaces are included as, although they are not in direct contact with the product, contamination may be transferred from them to the product by people, pests, the air, or cleaning procedures. Only hard surfaces are considered eg, equipment, floors, walls, and utensils as other surfaces, eg, protective clothing or skin, would be traditionally dealt with under personal hygiene.

It is further assumed that the surfaces addressed have been designed hygienically. Poor hygienic design will restrict the efficiency of even the most effective cleaning procedure and may vitiate any subsequent disinfection programs. The principles of hygienic design are comprehensively described elsewhere (3-5). The basic hygiene design of equipment for open food processing has been reviewed recently (6).

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