Keep Cleaning Tools from Becoming Vectors of Contamination
The FDA issued a warning letter to a food manufacturing facility. One of the critical inspectional violations pointed to the improper use and storage of an unclean broom that spread Listeria monocytogenes from a wet cooler passageway to a ready-to-eat (RTE) production room. Environmental swabbing and microbiological whole genome sequence testing implicated the broom in spreading the bacteria. This is a timely example of how cleaning equipment can be vectors of cross-contamination in plants if tools are inappropriately selected, used, cleaned, stored, or maintained.
According to the CDC, Listeria monocytogenes causes about 1,600 foodborne illness hospitalizations and 260 deaths in the U.S. every year, and of late, a significant number of outbreaks have been associated with inadequate environmental sanitation regimes within RTE deli establishments. These harmful micro-organisms, if not controlled, may eventually persist as biofilms (on common environmental surfaces, such as tools, utensils, and equipment) which could become difficult to eradicate through regular cleaning and sanitization. Other examples of biofilm-producing pathogens of public health importance include Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7.
Moreover, cleaning tool surfaces can also become carriers of key food safety hazards such as allergens and foreign materials. Hence avoiding or minimizing contamination incidents require a proactive, integrated sanitation approach – this may include the following strategies:
- Implement a risk-based hygienic zoning program – It’s worthwhile to divide the facility into manageable areas and to separate processes based on risk. With zoning protocols, tools used at raw product cooler storage areas can be separated from tools employed in the RTE production room. Such an approach may be effectively combined with the 5S [Sorting, Setting-in-order, Shining, Standardizing, and Sustaining the tool management system] and color-coding programs to control cross-contamination incidents in plants.
- Select high-quality, durable, color-coded tools – Remco provides a range of sanitation tools – such as brushes, brooms, squeegees etc. – for cleaning food-contact and non-food contact surfaces within an area. Tool selection is important in the fight against cross-contamination. For example, black pipe brushes that can withstand harsh chemicals are normally allocated for drains, while, a high-temperature resistant tool of another distinguishable color may be used to clean hot surfaces of baking ovens.
- Ensure effective tool decontamination – Tools must be cleaned and sanitized (as appropriate), at least before and after use, and usually at frequencies in-between high-risk operations, as safely and securely, in order to avoid any potential contamination. Tool decontamination using water generally involves effective soil removal from the surface and involves the validation and verification of key parameters like – contact Time, mechanical Action, Chemical concentration, washing Temperature, the use of trained and competent Employees, and appropriate Resources and sanitation aids.
- Follow proper tool storage, care, and replacement procedures – Cleaned tools should be stored properly on racks with heads down that are off the floor and distant from other tool handles. The tools should be placed in a single row so that condensate from the tool above does not drip and contaminate the tool below. Tools, as environmental surfaces, must be routinely checked and preferably monitored through visual inspection, ATP testing, microbial swabbing and testing, etc. Any damaged, worn-out tool should immediately be disposed and replaced with new conforming tools.
- Recommend hygienically-designed tools – A 1990 UK government-funded study showed that 47% of the cleaning equipment sampled was found positive for Listeria monocytogenes, which reinforces the premise that tools are possible vectors of contamination. One of the valid recommendations is to have tools that are free of contamination traps, have a smooth surface, are of one-piece construction, and most importantly, are easily cleanable, inspectable, and maintainable. Hygienically designed tools like the UST Vikan brushes and Ultra-Hygiene Squeegee range of hygienic-design construction are highly recommended for high-risk areas such as the RTE processing rooms.
Remco can help you with the proper selection, storage, care, and maintenance of tools and equipment that are required to effectively clean surfaces and avoid contamination incidences in food plants.