The importance of sanitation training

by Joe Stout
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What exactly does it take to become a sanitation expert? According to Joe Stout, president and founder, Commercial Food Sanitation (CFS), an Intralox company, Harahan, LA, it's not only about the scientific aspect but also about getting hands-on experience and business knowledge, especially in the age of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). At CFS' Sanitation Essentials Training for Bakery course, June 9-11 in New Orleans, students of sanitation will get just that. In this exclusive Q&A with Baking & Snack, Mr. Stout explains why this training is so important and what students registered for the course can expect to learn.

While the June course is currently sold out, registration is open for the same course to be held Oct. 27-29 in New Orleans. More information can be found at

Baking & Snack: Why did you develop the Sanitation Essentials Training program?

Joe Stout: There is a need for a professional training program for sanitarians in the food industry that would cover the scientific aspects of sanitation and, more importantly, provide hands-on activities. In some cases, plant sanitation professionals are not exposed to new science and practices outside their facility or company. They may have training from their chemical vendors on personal safety, chemistry of cleaning or application techniques; our goal is to expand that to include cleaning processes, hygienic design, maintenance for sanitation, the business of sanitation and many other aspects. The CFS Sanitation Essentials Training provides a place for students to learn and share their experiences in a safe environment for open discussion.  

What are the key objectives for the program?

We want to raise awareness that the regulatory, customer, consumer and social media environments have changed and continue to change, and sanitation programs and processes need to be robust to meet these changes. Attendees will learn about sanitation principles and apply sanitation techniques through practice. They also will learn to lead in a team environment and raise awareness with other functions, such as engineering, maintenance, operations and quality.

Describe some workshops that are provided.

For each targeted session, there are three hands-on workshops. In wet cleaning, students follow the “seven steps of wet cleaning” practice techniques on a soiled conveyor using tools and chemicals to clean and sanitize the equipment. Prior to cleaning, they create an SSOP, “their cleaning procedure,” clean the equipment, complete a pre-op inspection and then test for ATP and allergens. If the equipment does not “pass,” they re-clean — just like in the plant environment.

The second hands-on workshop is similar to the first one except it is focused on cleaning in a dry environment. In this workshop, the participants create an SSOP that follows the “seven steps of dry cleaning” process, followed by cleaning and inspection of their equipment, and if it “fails,” they re-clean.

In the third breakout session, the team designs a hygienic zoning and environmental monitoring program. They identify risks for each area and determine controls to put in place, determine where physical separation is needed, the types of controls for equipment and personnel traffic, etc. Once in place, they establish swab sites and the target organism and then practice their swabbing techniques.

What are the biggest skills lacking when it comes to proper sanitation?

This is a difficult question. With FSMA coming as many sanitarians are getting ready to retire, it is difficult to find incoming talent with the technical, practical knowledge combined with the leadership skills and business approach needed to navigate in the current business environment. It is not enough to be a technically competent sanitarian; you also need to be a business partner to lead and drive change in your company.

What are the biggest sanitation challenges that today’s bakers face?

The multiplication of product variations and shorter production runs are a challenge because many production lines are not set for rapid changeover, and the equipment is not always designed to be easily cleanable. It used to be that fresh bakeries would run white bread and brown bread; now, the same lines have to run different types of grains (e.g., 9-grains, 12-grains, multigrain, etc.). Equipment manufacturers and bakeries will need to continue working together to improve sanitary design of equipment for easier cleaning and inspection.


How is sanitation different from food safety?

Sanitation is an integral part of food safety. It is about preventive plans, controls and perfect execution. If processing equipment and production rooms are not clean, there is a risk of contamination. This includes preventive controls, concerns for foreign material, pathogens or chemicals such as allergens. During the training, participants learn our holistic program, including separation of raw and ready-to-eat, principles of sanitary design for equipment and infrastructure, maintenance for sanitation, foreign material control and pest control.

How is the bakery program different from what you offer other food industries?

With the bakery program, we focus on concerns/risks with low-moisture foods, such as how to minimize the use of water while cleaning using dry techniques. We can’t clean a bakery like we could a meat plant. It is a different skill set using a different set of tools. In addition, there is an added focus on pest control (stored-product pests and rodent control).  The other obvious advantage in the bakery class is that participants are from like type plants and have similar questions and concerns. This makes for a rich and highly charged learning environment as the questions and discussion are well thought out and deep rooted from bakery experiences.

When it comes to sanitation, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Actually, there are two. The first came early in my career as a sanitation manager. It was made clear to me by a senior staff member that it was my responsibility to define necessary improvements and build a business case to get funding. Over the years, I realized that being a technical expert was not the answer — you needed to be a technical expert and a business manager to get work done. Working alone is rarely successful; you need to earn a seat at the table and sell the plant or business team on your projects to get them approved and completed.

The second is that sanitation managers/supervisors have limited staff and frequently work third-shift when most other managers are out of the plant. Under those conditions, it is difficult to maintain linkages with other plant functions and stay informed of capital and maintenance projects that will impact sanitation. On the advice of a plant engineering manager, I began “visits” with the plant engineers to find out what they were working on. Whenever they were working on new equipment that the sanitation department would have to clean, I asked for design reviews. One of the engineers responsible for a large project liked the idea of involving others. She began design review meetings with production, maintenance, sanitation and safety before the capital project was officially signed. Seeing the success of her project, more plant engineers began design reviews early in the process.

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