Floor to Ceiling Problems Cause Product Recalls

Recent product recalls have pointed a liability-filled finger at problems with floors, drains, roofs and other physical pieces of the plant.

By Bob Sperber, Plant Operations Editor, and Dave Fusaro, Editor

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A lot of food-safety attention is paid to the equipment and the steps in the manufacturing process, but recent incidents remind plant managers and others to also look up … and down.

Plant Ops Safety: Wet Floor

Water on the floor is common in many types of food & beverage plants, but it better not be dripping from the ceiling and be careful in cleaning out floor drains.

While numerous nasty conditions and missteps led to the 2008 recall by Peanut Corp. of America, one probable source of contamination was not discussed until after the more publicized infractions at the Blakely, Ga., plant. Citing court testimony and inspectors who checked the plant, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution implicated a leaky roof.

 “I suspect it was so bad that it was raining in there,” said Ron Simon, attorney for some of the people suing the peanut company. Testimony indicated PCA spent $60,000 on roof repairs in August 2008.The leaky roof is suspect because there’s one thing needed most for salmonella to grow, spread and thrive: water.

Some theorize that when it rained, water could have entered the plant and multiplied any existing salmonella or even introduced the salmonella into the plant, the newspaper reported.A leaky roof also is one suspected culprit behind the 2006-2007 ConAgra peanut butter recall.

“Allowing water to get into a dry [processing] environment would be like putting gas on a fire,” Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety, said in the Journal-Constitution article.

Also, don’t think you can just wash troubles down the drain. Recent research from Kansas State University, part of the Food Safety Consortium, found washing floors and particularly floor drains in food processing facilities could actually make it easier for listeria monocytogenes to travel from the drain to points on the processing line.

The researchers already knew the open floor drains in processing environments can harbor bacteria, which is why those drains are the targets of high-pressure washing and cleaning. But they discovered the aerosols generated by the washing can transfer the bacterial cells upward onto surfaces where food is being processed a few feet above the floor.

After a high-pressure wash-down of the floor, the research team found L. monocytogenes at heights of 1, 3 and 5 ft. above the drain level, with the highest concentration at the 1-ft. level closest to the drain. More bacterial cells were present on the contact surfaces after 48 hours than after eight hours, meaning they multiplied.

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