Think of a typical evening at a food processing plant. The manager finishes the second shift production and turns the plant over to the sanitation crew—whether an internal team or a contract sanitation company. While the manager heads home to sleep, the sanitation team is responsible for overnight clean-up.

It’s common to think of sanitation as third-shift work that ends the production day. But given that workers ensure the plant is clean and ready to operate, it’s preferable to consider sanitation as the beginning of production, or “shift zero.”

Here are four ways that a professional sanitation program prepares the production line for safe, efficient and trouble-free operation:

1.    Timely hand-off. Night sanitation workers are responsible for turning over the plant in production-ready condition the next morning. That means equipment is sanitized and reassembled and conveyors are hooked up and ready to go. Sanitation issues that delay the start of production have an immediate impact on the bottom line. Timely orchestration of each sanitation step is critical to on-time completion. 

2.    Inspection readiness. Prior to production, the sanitation supervisor walks through the plant with the company’s quality assurance (QA) manager to ensure that the operation meets all standards of cleanliness. Inspection by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors often follows. Proper sanitation is essential to prevent any delays in production start-up due to inspection violations. In addition, the sanitation crew documents chemical and equipment use, and maintains other records that come into play during an audit.

3.    Nightly activity logs. The sanitation team can be the “eyes and ears” of the plant manager throughout the night. Sanitation workers document issues such as low water pressure, maintenance concerns or other problems that the plant manager might need to address. 

4.    Managing risk. Starting your production cycle with a clean and sanitized plant reduces risk of a food safety incident that could cause costly recalls and sales losses, as well as damage to the company’s brands or reputation. A well-documented sanitation process carried out by a properly trained and managed sanitation crew is a critical component of any company’s risk management program. 

By viewing sanitation as a “shift zero” operation, you can start to think differently about how you staff, manage and evaluate the entire sanitation process at your company. Rather than an after-thought, sanitation is the first step in high-quality, safe food production.  NP

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