“Sanitation maintains or restores a state of cleanliness and promotes hygiene for prevention of foodborne illness.” — Appendix A Meat HACCP Regulation

A properly planned and implemented cleaning and sanitation schedule are critical for any food business, from restaurants and catering companies, to retail food outlets, manufacturing sites or logistics operations. Faulty or inadequate cleaning procedures that go against food safety regulations could have very serious consequences. Not only is it bad for the reputation of the business, but it could also contribute to food poisoning outbreaks.

Why clean and sanitise?

While cleaning is defined as the removal of soil, dirt and other organic matter, disinfection (or sanitation) involves eliminating microorganisms and bacteria in a way that does not compromise food safety. Both actions are necessary to:

  • To remove disease causing organisms (pathogens)
  • To help prevent infestation of pests such as mice, rats, flies, cockroaches and birds. Cleaning and disinfection will remove food debris on which pests can live, as well as removing pathogens which pests could have brought onto the premises.
  • To reduce the risk of cross contamination by pathogens, for example from the indirect transfer of food poisoning bacteria from raw foods or meats to ready to eat foods.
  • To reduce the risk of food contamination from allergens such as nuts and seeds.
  • To reduce the risk of physical contaminants getting into the food to be eaten. Examples could be dirt, hairs or remnants from packaging materials.
  • To reduce the risk of accidents, such as tripping on spillages and food waste/debris.
  • To create a pleasant working environment.
  •  To comply with the food hygiene laws
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What’s in a cleaning and sanitation program?

Any Food Safety Plan should document the specific rules for cleaning and sanitising, developed in line with HACCP and GMP requirements. This includes:

  • what is to be cleaned
  • the materials to be used
  • the frequency
  • the cleaning method to be used
  • the standard expected
  • safety precautions
  • who is responsible for the cleaning
  • the monitoring and recording of the cleaning operation, including its validation of efficacy

What can go wrong?

A cleaning and sanitation schedule is only as good as the level to which it is carried out. Just as food can become unsafe as a result of not cleaning and sanitising, inadequate cleaning could just as easily jeapardise food safety as well as the health and safety of your staff and customers?

  • Physical contamination of food from cleaning equipment (e.g. brushes, cloths).
  • Microbiological contamination of food (for example from contaminated cleaning cloths spreading pathogens around the kitchen).
  • Lack of thought about the order of cleaning or failing to use different cleaning equipment for different tasks. For example, using the same cleaning equipment to clean in a high-risk area, such as where raw meat has been prepared, following by cleaning where ready to eat foods are prepared. This has the potential to transfer pathogens onto the ready to eat foods.
  • Chemical contamination of food from cleaning and disinfection products, for example from inadequate rinsing, using chemicals at too high a concentration or storing chemicals in a potentially dangerous way such as transferring them into another bottle.
  • Staff not wearing the correct personal protective equipment when cleaning and disinfecting.
  • The disinfection stage being ineffective. Problems could result from incorrect dilution of chemicals, inadequate contact time, the surface not being cleaned before the disinfection stage or not using a suitable disinfectant for the job.
  • Accidents from slipping on wet floors.
  • Inadequate cleaning and disinfection of equipment due to staff not being trained in how to carry out the work. “Cleaning in place” systems, where cleaning solutions may be pumped through food processing equipment, requires careful design to ensure that there are no pockets which the chemicals do not reach.
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Reference: Royal Society for Public Health, Cleaning and Disinfection for Food Businesses [PDF]

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