Food safety is top of mind for almost every food processor, including bakers. In a candid interview with Baking & Snack, Richard Stier, a contributing editor and a consulting food scientist with international experience in food safety, took a look at how sanitary design has evolved and how that might affect the future in this ever-changing landscape.

Baking & Snack: How can changes in sanitary design reduce the burden on QA and food safety personnel?

Richard Stier: A commitment to sanitary design can significantly enhance the food safety management system. The 10 principles of sanitary design established by the American Meat Institute’s expert panel for ready-to-eat (RTE) foods are really applicable for all food processors.

They are:

  1. Cleanable to a microbiological level
  2. Made of compatible materials
  3. Accessible for inspection, maintenance, cleaning and sanitation
  4. No product or liquid collection
  5. Hollow areas hermetically sealed
  6. No niches
  7. Sanitary operational performance
  8. Hygienic design of maintenance enclosures
  9. Hygienic compatibility with other plant systems
  10. Validate cleaning and sanitizing protocols.

In fact, one might even consider adding one more principle to the list: easy to clean and maintain. The easier it is to work with a piece of equipment, the greater the chance that the required work will be done and done correctly. As an example, having to break bolts and remove bolts and washers to get at something is a lot of work. Whereas, if the unit is closed with quick-release snaps and hinges, there will be less work, less chance of misplacing a nut or bolt, and a higher probability that the work will be done correctly.

The same holds true for the physical baking or snack plant. If the building has been constructed from easy-to-clean and -maintain materials, the potential for problems will be significantly reduced. One of the issues that contributed to the problems at the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA)'s facility responsible for the Salmonella outbreak in 2008-09 was the condition of the building. Leaky roofs and wood undoubtedly helped Salmonella establish itself in the facility, and this plant was not the first to have such problems.

How can sanitary design have any impact on the auditing process?

The company’s commitment to sanitary design would have no effect on the audit per se; however, the auditor should comment on the company’s commitment or lack thereof. In addition, the audit report should address conditions in the plant that relate to sanitary design. If there is any indication roofs have leaked, it should be reported. If equipment looks hard to clean and maintain, the auditor should report it.

Also, there are audit schemes that specifically address this particular area. They ask whether the company has a program for purchasing equipment and whether that program includes validating whether the equipment can be properly cleaned. Most large companies use their engineering, quality and sanitation groups to conduct such evaluations. Joe Stout, a current contributor to Baking & Snack, spent a significant part of his time in industry doing just this kind of work. (Hear from Mr. Stout here.)

What keeps plant managers awake at night worrying about food safety in their production facilities?

If plant managers make a commitment to ensuring food quality and safety, they should sleep well each and every night. If they are not committed to ensuring that what they produce is safe and wholesome, they should not only lie awake at night but should be plagued by boils, migraines, hair loss and any other biblical afflictions.

Failure to make a 100% commitment to quality and safety is simply not acceptable.

If I were the manager of a small operation, I might worry more. Smaller processors often simply do not have the resources and expertise to develop, implement and maintain a food safety management system, yet they must still ensure the production of safe and wholesome products.