Today, processors are under more and more scrutiny to make sure they produce a wholesome, quality product. The media tend to shine a harshly negative spotlight, whereas entities such as the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) have a more constructive orientation, but both forms of attention can leave those who manage food production and processing facilities wishing they weren’t so “popular.” The reality is that each facility is extremely dedicated to the philosophy of “continuous improvement”—both to provide safe, high-quality food to consumers and to protect its employees.

Sanitation continually comes under review for all of the right reasons. A checklist inclusive of using the right product, the right dilution, the right application and the right procedures is essential to meeting or exceeding the expectations placed on the sanitation team. In addition, the responsibility of the supplier has evolved over the last few years as each facility has recognized the need to partner with suppliers who can provide a simple yet effective system that allows it to achieve its goals of being a low-cost producer.

As you continually look for ways to improve your sanitation program, the value of an easy-to-read, easy-to-follow audit provided by your chemical supplier cannot be overstated. In addition, for your facility to score well on the audit, it is equally important for your sanitation team to receive the appropriate training. The majority of sanitarians carrying out their day-to-day responsibilities are extremely capable, so let’s not forget that what separates a company from its competition is attention to detail—the little things that are done exceptionally well.

As you reflect on the audit for your food sanitation program, consider the following:

•    Is the program easy to read and understand?

•    Documents such as material safety data sheets, letters of guaranty, Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) and labeling are critical to your success.

•    Training—Our experience indicates that employees retain information better when classroom-type instruction is given in “bite-size chunks” or 20- to 30-minute “snapshots” followed by some hands-on training.

•    Dispensing systems—Are they working properly or do they need adjustment?

•    Titration test kits—How often and how well do we utilize them?

•    Water hardness—How frequently do you and your supplier test the water?

•    Does your sanitation audit include drain maintenance, a color-coded brush system, inspection for hollow legs on equipment, condensation pans, concrete floors, etc.?

•    Critical areas of concern: training; microbiology; SSOPs; other “hot points” as shared with your sanitation supplier.

Of course, each facility has different needs, wants and expectations, and one of the key ingredients of an effective audit is customization per those needs. The final component is the sign-off. The team must ask itself, “Is everyone in agreement that we are mutually achieving our goals and objectives?”

Although we provide a checklist for the audit, the most important issue is, how do we get there? The sanitation team leadersneed to ask themselves, “How well do we train our staff?” Training should cover the following aspects:

•    Developing a sanitation program

•    Cleaning procedures

•    Sanitizing procedures

•    Microbiological training (i.e., Listeria, E. coli, Salmonella, etc.)

•    Evaluation

•    What is sanitation?

•    Why do we clean?

•    The chemistry of cleaning—do we know and utilize the four keys to success (dilution ratio, temperature, time and agitation)?

Today, training has evolved to include not only demonstrating concepts and procedures, but also quizzing each of the individuals to make sure they clearly understand what was accomplished and what is expected of them. This evaluation process can be invaluable, as it not only requires the instructor to be very capable in presenting their material, but it also requires the students to be accountable—for understanding and for knowing how to apply what they have learned.

As described above, a third-party audit and all that it entails may be intimidating to some. However, this exercise should be viewed as a way to improve our day-to-day operations, not as “punishment” for not having all the answers. When your organization’s approach to food safety is based on a philosophy of continuous improvement, a third-party audit should not be cause for alarm, but should bring value to you and your staff.