Skip to main content

A Culture of Cleanliness

Food processing facilities focus on hygiene protocols from hands to shoes

When it comes to food processing and hygiene, clean hands and footwear are key.
Consider that The World Health Organization-estimates that 50 percent of deaths associated by diarrheal disease could be reduced through regular handwashing with soap and water.
Also, consider that a study conducted by the University of Arizona determined that 96 percent of shoes tested positive for coliform and E. coli bacteria—indicating frequent contact with fecal material, likely from restroom floors or outdoor animal feces.
It is because of such statistics that employee hygiene—particularly that of hands and footwear—is so critical to food safety. “Employee hygiene is probably the No. 1 risk prevention point in the facility for continuing food safety,” said Meritech CEO Jim Glenn. Glenn has found that the key to ensuring employee hygiene is its integration into a facility’s food safety culture.
“Everyone knows employee hygiene is important, but unless there is a food safe ty culture in place, it’s not going to happen,” Glenn said.

Such a food safety culture is going to be led by senior management and will be evident from the moment one walks in the door of the facility. Glenn cited the restroom of a foodservice facility as an
example—if you go into the restaurant’s restroom and it is dirty or obviously hasn’t been recently serviced, it is obvious that the restaurant doesn’t have a food safety culture and that management doesn’t really care about food safety. Thus, when seeing a dirty bathroom at a facility, you may be taking a risk if you choose to eat there. The same is true, Glenn said, if the handwashing sink in a food produc tion facility is dirty or dusty, or if no attention is paid to the cleanliness of footwear.

“Handwashing compliance has been one of the biggest challenges in large processing facilities, because there are few solutions available to effectively capture everyone’s individual performance,” said CloudClean Director of Sales & Marketing, Winn Keaten. Although
many processing plants have rigorous wash protocols in place, he said, “Without the use of technology, there is simply no way to know for sure that everyone is complying as they should.”
Technology in this area is continuing to evolve, with some current systems that can help a facility enforce hand hygiene protocols, including:

Smart Badge
There are systems that implement the use of individual smart badges that identify when the person complies, or doesn’t comply, with the handwashing rules by using soap, Keaten said. For example, if an employee doesn’t wash hands after using the restroom or upon entering a production area, he or she is immediately alerted by a beep emitted from their smart badge. Management can be alerted as
well, if desired, but the primary goal is to empower the employee to self-correct, which also continually reinforces and trains them on the handwashing rules, he explained.

Interval Wash Protocol
If a facility has a protocol that employees wash their hands every half hour, or some other frequency amount, the system can remind employees to wash based on their individual wash histories on a given day. If a worker is already washing as often as required, he or she will not be prompted to wash.

Cloud Data
Systems that initiate such alerts and reminders may also have cloud-hosted data ports by which management can review team or individual data, handwash violations, etc., Keaten said. Such data
helps management understand the compliance rate of employees and know when training or retraining may be needed.

As indicated by the University of Arizona study, a primary route of contamination is the bottom of people’s shoes. As such, Glenn said, “Cleaning footwear has become just as important as washing hands when coming into the facility.”
Shoe Inn Global Product Manager Jeffrey Foster explains that, “Compliance can be relatively easy and straightforward. And there are ways to make it even easier and more effective through the use of available tools and systems.”

Some of the options available for minimizing contamination from footwear are as follows:

Shoe/boot washers, sanitizers, or scrubbers

Shoe/boot washes are often used in food plants and these can reduce contaminants that are carried in and on footwear. Care must also be taken, Foster said, because moisture can cause footwear to get slippery or even damaged, so it is important that the footwear be cleaned out or reset regularly.

Captive footwear
The use of dedicated shoes that do not go outside of the sanitary area is another option, Foster said. These dedicated shoes are gaining in usage, with many countries’ food safety regulations requiring protocols on their usage, and many US facilities implementing their usage as well. The downsides to this practice could be the cost, storage need, and visitor/supplier availability.

Shoe covers
Designed to keep contaminants contained, shoe
covers (or “booties”) are worn over street shoes
when in the production facility. These covers may
be disposable or washable. The downsides of their
usage can include size inventory and “bootie-hop,”
or donning injuries if seating is not available, Foster
said. Implementing automatic shoe-cover dispensers at
entry points can make shoe-cover donning easier and
increase employee compliance, he said.

Standard Operating Procedures

No matter what type of food safety footwear is used, it is important to have standard operating procedures for having clean footwear in food areas, Glenn said. “It all comes down to having control of the access to the food production area.” Thus, every facility should have:

  • Verifiable SOPs for hands and footwear.
  • Regular compliance measurement.
  • Regular effectiveness measurement.

“Employee food safety education and protocol training, inspections, and penalties may help ensure that employees comply with the chosen anti-contamination method,” Foster said.
Glenn sees training—and retraining—as an important part of the process. Because the industry has a high turnover rate, monthly retraining should be conducted regardless of the equipment used, he said. Furthermore, “You have to tell people every day that you
are committed to food safety,” Glenn added.
“A strong food safety culture starts at the front door and is reflected in the investment and commitment to employee hygiene and SOPs,” he said. “Food safety culture is everything. Everything flows from that, and it starts with the CEO.”
Source: PR Newswire, Meritech and Food Processing Association.