Your customers expect your food production facilities to be clean. They take this for granted when they purchase your products. If they arrived at your plant unexpectedly, would it live up to their expectations?

Sanitation is a basic, yet essential, element in all food manufacturing operations. There are several facets to an effective sanitation program for maintaining a clean food production facility that is evident to all those who work or visit there. It is far more complex than investing in a broom and a mop bucket.

An effective sanitation program is part of the food-safety culture that involves all employees working together to achieve customer expectations. The employee sanitation culture begins in the parking lot and continues through the entrance and into the plant. The appearance of the entrance and locker rooms establish a mindset with each employee of the sanitation level that management expects within that operation. A bright, well-lit entrance and a locker room that is clean and neat certainly extend a positive message to employees as they start their day. Sometimes, it is amazing how even a fresh coat of paint can send a message that management cares about the facility and its employees. Employees with positive attitudes are part of the equation to achieving successful results for an operation. 

Management must also strive for continuous facility and equipment improvements. This initiative usually demonstrates a commitment to sanitation conditions and food safety within the plant. 

Sanitation programs have a cost that can be impacted by the design and construction of the plant and equipment. Cleaning costs are recurring, and if the equipment is difficult to clean, it may take additional man-hours to even be effective. Still, sometimes the outcome is less than what it should be, resulting in costly product recalls and damage to the brand name. Thus, manufacturers must take particular care when upgrading a facility and/or purchasing new equipment. 

A review of FDA plant inspection reports from recent years shows that the most-commonly marked violations are related to basic sanitation elements. Some of the infractions include inadequate cleaning of food-contact surfaces, equipment design flaws that make it difficult for machinery to be dismantled for appropriate cleaning and sanitizing, and problems with apparatus installation, affecting its proper maintenance.

Furthermore, damaged walls and/or floors that cannot be cleaned because their surfaces are in disrepair do not make positive contributions to a plant’s food-safety culture. It is important for facility management to continuously work on such elements to improve the facility’s sanitation program, as well as gain benefits for operational improvements.

Additionally, food manufacturers must adhere to FDA’s Food Safety Regulations on an ongoing basis to ensure compliance and food safety. Employees should be adequately trained on Good Manufacturing Practices as well as Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures. Documentation of these programs is also critical in foodservice operations. Involving all workers in the results of FDA inspections and third-party audits gives them ownership of sustaining a clean and safe food environment. When the facility obtains an excellent inspection, all employees should be commended on a job well done. Offering incentives to employees who regularly carry out facility initiatives may also promote a strong food-safety culture.

Management should drive food safety, with frequent communications to employees. In addition, management should support an environment that fosters dedication to sanitation and food safety by its employees. Proud employees are usually glad to share the positive work culture with their family and friends, and stand tall in fulfilling consumer expectations. 

Author Gale Prince is founder and president of SAGE Food Safety Consultants, LLC, Cincinnati, which offers guidance and solutions to issues such as crisis management, food safety, regulatory compliance and quality assurance.