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By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief | 11/06/2008
NSF International (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation) has the perspective of seeing best practices in many U.S. food plants … and many overseas. The level of employee hygiene in foreign plants may surprise some American food employees.
“I’ve been in Asian plants where it takes 15 minutes to get from the front door to the production floor because of all the safety and hygiene steps,” says Tom Chestnut, vice president of food safety and quality at NSF (www.nsf.org), Ann Arbor, Mich.
In addition to jewelry removal, outerwear, hair nets, boots and hats – standards even in American plants – many require full or partial face masks. Often there are several hand wash stations, all monitored by quality assurance employees. There may be hand dip stations – before and after the application of vinyl gloves.
“It’s not uncommon to hear a bell or alarm go off hourly, signaling it’s time for all employees to wash their hands again,” Chestnut says.
While he’s yet to hear hourly hand-washing bells in U.S. plants, Chestnut admits most domestic food and beverage plants employ a sufficiently high level of personnel hygiene. But that’s no reason to be less vigilant. And there remain some domestic plants that could stand improvement.
“Of course, even if a worker goes through all the steps above then slips and stops his fall by touching the floor, all bets are off,” Chestnut continues. Which leads to the most important point: education and training.
All parties admit, you can design the best hygiene systems and machines and make all the rules you want, but they’re for naught if employees do not use them properly. And employees must develop a sense of self that helps them recognize if they’ve done anything to compromise their hygiene. And the conscience to immediately rectify the situation.
Rather than ask plant managers and supervisors to train and motivate employees in sanitation procedures, many processors turn to experts such as NSF, the American Institute of Baking, Silliker Laboratories or associated product vendors.
Designing in hygiene
Uniforms, boots and other supplied articles of clothing provide important safeguards in the HACCP program … but only if they’re handled by the food processor and its employees as carefully as they are by the service that delivers them.
Aramark Corp. (www.aramark.com), Burbank, Calif., follows rigorous processes for cleaning garments, as do other uniform services. What concerns Jim Holton, senior national account executive for food processing, is what happens after the uniforms are dropped off at your plant.
“Identify your critical control points. Are there steps in the dressing procedure that compromise safety?” he asks. “Our uniforms are delivered hygienically clean and wrapped in plastic. But are they stored and handled in a way that keeps them sterile?”
More companies are requiring employees to change on-site. That ensures no outside problems are brought into the plant. Many plants are getting boot programs to further ensure safety. “Anytime you allow in things from outside the plant, there’s a risk,” Holton says.
“Many plants are dedicating locker rooms for uniforms only. No outside clothing allowed. That prevents cross-contamination with other clothing,” says Holton. “We’re also concerned with where our uniforms are stored. That area should be clean, secure and segregated also.
“Most of the new food plants are building these safeguards in with fabulous locker rooms and plenty of storage space,” he adds.
Holton notes that Aramark representatives do not just pick up and deliver uniforms. Their process is consultative, and they first do a needs analysis with the plant’s food safety experts. That process is repeated quarterly.
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