How are you ensuring you mitigate the risks of cross-contamination?

Sterilisation of your cleaning equipment plays a major role in avoiding cross-contamination. But never forget that sterilisation is one part of the broader cleaning picture. Each part should work cohesively as part of an integrated cleaning program.

Here are six steps to consider. 

1. What needs to be cleaned and why?

Your site has many different areas - each with its own cleaning demands and cross-contamination risks. For example, areas where food is exposed will require cleaning more frequently, thoroughly and carefully than areas of your site where food is not processed.

The presence of food also informs the type of cleaning chemicals you use and their mode of application. For example it’s not a good idea to use aerosols in areas where non-packaged food is exposed. 

Also take into account the type of equipment that needs to be cleaned. Production line machinery will likely come with specific cleaning instructions from the manufacturer. Deviating from these instructions could put the safety of your employees as well as the hygiene of your food at risk. Often production equipment can contain components that pose a food safety hazard if they come away, such as pop rivets, screws, nuts and bolts. If the machinery needs to be taken apart to be cleaned, you may need a team that’s trained in specific cleaning duties.

Determine the cleaning needs and cross-contamination risks of the various different areas of your site. That way you can implement a cleaning programme that takes your entire site into consideration, rather than just the high-risk areas.

2. What is the required outcome of the cleaning process? 

Does your site need to be biologically sterile or just visually clean? Are you subject to legal limits in terms of the maximum allowable microbiological organisms per cm2? When you know what the necessary outcome must be post-clean, you can design a process that ensures that outcome happens time and again.

3. Who will you choose as your chemical supplier? 

There are many companies that supply cleaning chemicals. However, the question you will ask yourself is who should you buy from? Your decision should be based on the overall level of service you receive/require, rather than simply going with the cheapest. 

Paying a little extra to work with a specialist supplier will mean you benefit from additional services such as free advice, training and instruction on how to get the best from your chemicals while avoiding cross-contamination.

You should also check that your supplier is able to stay abreast of changes in legislation with regard to cleaning chemicals. Remember the best suppliers will notify you of upcoming changes in legislation and redevelop their formulae to ensure your business remains compliant. 

The final thing to consider is the businesses who will buy your food. They may have rules of their own in terms of which chemicals can or cannot be used. You will be expected to follow their lead.

4. What about water? 

It’s a simple cleaning commodity. But there’s an awful lot to think about when it comes to water. Do you have adequate access to water and drainage in the areas you need to wet clean? Where does your waste water go? If you have a septic tank or effluent plant, what will be the effect of the extra water and cleaning chemicals?

There’s more to think about too. 

Are you using water mains or a bore hole - and if the latter are you compliant with your extraction license? What about water pressure? High pressures can make cleaning more efficient, but it also produces aerosols that could spread bacteria onto surrounding surfaces.

It’s important that all of this is considered.

5. Choosing your cleaning equipment

You also need to identify the types of equipment you will need in order to conduct the cleaning you require. It’s all about getting the right equipment and using it in the right areas for the right tasks. This ethos applies to everything from hand-operated tools like brushes and squeegees to automatic floor scrubbers.

Whatever equipment you decide on, it has to have integrity. Cheap and low quality products present significant cross-contamination risks - for example cheap plastics that quickly crack. 

This could then lead to broken bits of plastic in your production areas, which is not what you would want. 

Look for cleaning equipment that has been certified for use in food production areas. It may be slightly more expensive, but it’s far more durable and reliable. Standard janitorial equipment is not always suitable.

Remember that cleaning equipment must also be cleaned after use. GFSI standards, such as BRC, require that there are instructions (CISs) to cover the appropriate cleaning of your hygiene equipment. 

Cleaning the cleaning equipment: why you need to take it seriously

6. Colour coding your equipment 

So, we’ve established that different areas of your site have different cleaning requirements. Using the same cleaning products in areas with different requirements poses cross-contamination risks. Colour-coding your cleaning equipment and production tools is a simple and effective way to mitigate this risk. 

Monitoring and prevention 

It’s true what they say. Prevention really is better than cure. It’s also a lot cheaper, a lot easier and a lot less time-consuming.

Implement a process for monitoring the effectiveness of your cleaning. That could be as simple as an allocated member of staff conducting daily visual checks or as comprehensive as inviting an independent auditor to conduct an assessment. 

You may also want to complete your own microbiological assessments. Testing kits are widely available, whether you want to swab surfaces for specific bacteria - such as Listeria - or simply want a general look on total bacteria count. 

Swabs are processed at a lab and results are usually available within three days. Benchmark your results over time and look for trends that show where your cleaning processes are working, and where corrective action needs to be taken. 

Again, colour coded cleaning utensils and shadow boards make it easy for staff to keep track of the right cleaning utensils to use in the various different areas across your site - improving allergen, speciation and segregation control. 

If you’d like to see more on the three main routes of cross-contamination, see our blog post:

3 main routes of cross contamination

Posted on 28/09/2017