Get ‘smart’ about sanitation

by Joe Stout
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All functions in a business serve a defined purpose and contribute to the success of that business. Cleaning and sanitation, although low profile, are fundamental to ensure the “safe food requirement” expected as the cost of entry to the food industry today.

Some view sanitation as an expense item, a significant production obstacle, and they are correct. As food sanitation tasks are executed, the food plant is not manufacturing product to sell, and the sanitation process takes considerable time to do right. This process should be viewed as an essential ingredient to a successful product — the same as oil in salad dressing or cheese in pizza.

It is important downtime because it generates the security critical to ensuring safe products, happy customers and content consumers. This makes food sanitation a vital investment that offers necessary benefits. Like any investment, it needs to be managed to be successful. Sanitation, if done smartly, is critical to success.

In most food plants where sanitation is executed either through a dedicated internal team or an external contractor, “cleaning up” is viewed as an employee function, especially the last few hours of production, when good housekeeping tends to fall to the wayside. The result is the sanitation team spends precious time doing housekeeping-like activities before it can actually start the critical cleaning processes and infrastructure cleaning. This situation should be viewed as an opportunity.

Smart Sanitation — a name that describes a cross-functional team sport where all members participate for victory — looks beyond functional barriers. This approach encourages all plant employees and the sanitation team to communicate and work together prior to, during and after sanitation.

Let’s be real — if you are in the food business, you are in the sanitation business. If you think differently, you may want to explore other career options.

With Smart Sanitation, everyone owns it. Production management and line operators understand the importance of good housekeeping, safe food production and spaces that are maintained at the highest standards at all times, including cleaning up or primping when they have a down period or as part of their work activity.

Production operators can work with the sanitation team by assisting in preparing their work areas to be cleaned as they bring their production processes to a close. They run their systems empty, assist in flushing systems if necessary and put away unused ingredients, packaging supplies, re-work, recycling and waste materials.

The sanitation team should now be set for action. That means being prepared prior to arriving on the line with all tools ready, organized and in working order. Effective sanitation includes a preventive maintenance program to ensure that tools are always clean and in working order and won’t contribute to contamination of food-contact equipment or the environment.

Tools can include safety gear, water hoses, chemical foamers, brushes, scrappers, vacuums, broom, mops and chemicals. All these items need to be prepared and ready to take to the line before the line is shut down. Smart Sanitation programs also include procedures and training programs that describe what tools are needed and how they are to be used and maintained.

When the process is supported by good practices via Smart Sanitation, and the team is set up for proper execution, it can then focus on the value-added aspects of food safety. Eliminating delays helps the sanitation team support strong startups of the production process.

Communication between line operators and the sanitation team is crucial to effective, efficient sanitation and production. Both groups should be well-versed about the equipment they use. They need to communicate when there are potential operational issues that could impact how the equipment runs or how it is cleaned. This creates a win-win working environment for all.

Non-sanitation employees play a key role in ensuring the cleaning process is flawless, effective and efficient; in turn, the sanitation team makes sure that processes and lines start up efficiently with no ­sanitation-related issues. When people work together, they will more likely succeed. The team approach provides a vehicle to drive business success through an effective and efficient cleaning process. This will promote safe food in a facility that looks great. Smart Sanitation is also smart business.      

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