Teknomek Blog

Sweat the small stuff

12 March 2018 12:27:35 GMT

It's good practice to think like an auditor when planning your hygiene regimes. While this is an effective way to pass audits, the motivation should always be to remove any potential risk - no matter how tiny - for your customers. And when I say 'tiny', I really do mean microscopic. This means 'thinking' like a bacterium. 
Minimising risk requires us to understand the bacterial lifecycle and building your hygiene processes around this. The first point to consider is that bacteria spores are tough - really tough. Bacteria rest until they are reactivated by humidity, warmth, or most significantly, a food source. Many species are extremophiles and can survive in climates of less than 10% humidity, some thrive in radioactive waste, or around hydrothermal vents in the depths of our oceans. The fact is, when we first detect life beyond this planet, there is a good chance it will be bacterial.

A welcoming environment 
This presents a challenge for food manufacturers, dealing with organisms that have a determined grip on life and are invisible to the naked eye. Moreover, we present them with their ideal living conditions - food and warmth. This is where the problems start: in a nutrient rich environment, a bacterium grows and when it reaches an optimum size it splits. This process continues exponentially, and a colony can double in size roughly every ten minutes.
Clearly, the best bet is not to allow bacteria to gain a foothold in your facility. However, this is often easier said than done. Bacteria can enter via dust motes or can survive for weeks on dry clothing, subsisting on sloughed skin cells. As such - and this should go without saying - clean staff's workwear regularly and do not allow anyone access to areas of the facility where food is present unless they are appropriately attired. 

Given the tenacity of bacteria, prevention will only go so far and the emphasis should be placed on cure, which means continual and unrelenting cleaning. Regular and thorough cleaning processes have to leave no place for bacteria to hide and develop.

Risk assessment 
Before implementing a standard operating procedure, consider where bacteria could live. Every piece of furniture or equipment should be risk assessed for trap points - areas where food detritus or dirt could collect that bacteria could live on. Remember, bacteria are very small indeed, so even a ledge or gap of 1 mm will constitute a risk. 
While we cannot really envisage how a bacterium perceives the world, we do know that their movements don't end below where a human can comfortably bend.

Not all potential risk areas are visible from our standing position, so have a good look around each product and piece of furniture: turn it round, look underneath, from the sides, and the back. The more difficult or fiddly somewhere is to reach, the more likely it is to be missed during a clean down, and consequently it may well harbour bacteria.

Efficient clean down 
Once you have identified the potential trap points, think about how the furniture/ equipment will fit into the clean down procedure. The cleaning routine will be set by the context, for example what ingredients are being used at different sections of the production line. Factor in extra time if you're using messy or high-risk ingredients. The safest option - in every sense - is simply to avoid furniture which features design elements that make it difficult to keep clean. 

Despite being such tiny organisms, bacteria can leave you with big problems. The rigorous cleaning regimes required to manage risk can equate to a significant slice of a facility's budget. Given the fact that furniture is a disproportionate risk factor, making smarter choices at the procurement stage and taking time to make the design checks, can have a positive impact on operating expenses for the longer term by ensuring that the cleaning process is speeded up. 

- By Charlie Sorrell

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