Joe Stout: Keep it simple
A basic tool can make the difference between a sparkling food plant and one with sanitation problems., Dec. 7, 2011
by Joe Stout
POWER Engineers

During my career, I have visited, audited and worked with hundreds of food manufacturing plants and storage locations. Along this journey, many facilities stand out as being well-organized and well-managed in sanitation, both facility and equipment, while having that “sparkle” desired in a food plant.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some less-desirable facilities were on the verge on being insanitary and unacceptable. Many variables lead to these conditions including plant and company culture, sanitary design of the facility and equipment, and not having a systematic method of executing cleaning and sanitation tasks.

The Differentiator. A common factor in all well-managed plants was a well-documented Master Sanitation Schedule (MSS). Without an MSS, plant employees have a difficult time understanding and managing the complexity of executing an effective cleaning and sanitation program.

In its simplest form, the MSS lists items cleaned at a set frequency. If the list is comprehensive and tasks are completed on time, this sets the foundation for
that sparkle.

A reoccurring question asks what type of tasks should go onto the MSS. This seems to be a simple question. However, this is very important because the MSS identifies what must be cleaned and to what level of detail.

Methods abound for tracking and documenting an MSS. Some companies track daily, routine and periodic cleaning with an MSS. Others use it only to document cleaning tasks performed during shutdown events.

The historical approach was to use the MSS for Periodic Infrastructure Cleaning (PIC), but the industry today has higher expectations and demands more. At times, equipment handling sensitive products needs more than the routine, weekly cleaning. Assessments show that equipment associated with food safety and sensitive products needs to be taken apart and deep-cleaned at some frequency.

Many people call this the Periodic Equipment Cleaning (PEC). Some examples of PEC items include conveyors, bread slicers, wear strips and butterfly valves. These PEC activities are critical to control microbiological, chemical and physical risks based on product types. As managers organize tasks on the MSS, they can enter them as either a PIC or PEC item.

Tools of the Trade. The actual design or program of the MSS varies for each plant or company (see “Key Elements of a Master Sanitation Schedule”). Some plants use spreadsheets while others purchase MSS software programs. Some programs require training, which can be a disadvantage if many employees enter data. Because most supervisors and managers know how to use a spreadsheet, sometimes this is the best approach.

I have seen many iterations of MSS spreadsheets that are typically simple to use and understand. They do a remarkable job of tracking, sorting and documenting PIC and PEC tasks. They also require little to no additional training to maintain and are cost-effective.

The importance of the MSS, regardless of the program used, is its effectiveness in keeping a plant clean and food safe, and attaining that ever-so-desirable sparkle.


No matter the space, all Master Sanitation Schedules (MSS) feature some of the same components. The following MSS uses warehouse light cleaning as an example:

• Area/Equipment Description. This describes the item that requires cleaning; for example, “Lights above aisle No. 1.”

• Task Number. The task number should be used for tracking purposes. If done correctly, this number can coincide with the Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOP) number. An example of a task number for line No. 1 cleaning could be L1-01. The second task would be L1-02, and so on.

• SSOP Reference. Each task should have an SSOP name or number, which communicates methods and tools needed for cleaning each area. For example, “Work instruction for cleaning lights above a production zone.”

• Task Description. The task description does not take the place of the SSOP. It is a brief description of the type of cleaning being performed. In our example, the task description could be, “Dry clean.”

• Responsibility. This section denotes who will be performing the work; for example, “Sanitation Team A,” or the employee name or contractor name if applicable.

• Frequency. This communicates how often each task is required to be completed (weekly, monthly, annually, etc.).

• Estimated Hours. This is important for scheduling, labor budgeting and accountability purposes. If this example took two people 2 hours each, the form would read “4 man-hours.”

This story is sponsored by POWER Engineers, which has one of the most comprehensive teams of engineers and specialists serving the baking and snack industry. As an extension of its clients' engineering teams, the company provides program management, integrated solutions and full facility design for the baking and snack industry. Learn more at