Cleaning for the future

07 February 2020

The latest developments in cleaning were the topics covered by a recent technical briefing ‘Cleaning for the Future’ staged by The Society of Food Hygiene and Technology (SOFHT).

Food safety and quality culture have become established requirements in the food industry with businesses slowly identifying the need to create a positive quality culture throughout their organisation in order to produce a consistently good product or service. 

Effective cleaning management, from having the correct procedures in place through to using the right chemicals and tools for the job, are a key part of ensuring maximum levels of food hygiene. Food safety and hygiene is non-negotiable. It is the law to comply and product recalls associated with poor hygiene can have a devastating effect on a food brand’s reputation.

The ‘Cleaning for the Future’ technical briefing was staged by The Society of Food Hygiene and Technology (SOFHT) and hosted by Hillbrush, manufacturer of anti-microbial cleaning tools, at its site in Wiltshire. More than 20 technical managers from the food industry attended the informal briefing session. As well as being a chance to network, technical experts from Christeyns Food Hygiene, Addmaster and Hillbrush took delegates through the fundamental requirements of cleaning to ensure delivery of safe food, reviewing some of the latest cleaning technologies, science and legislation as well going ‘back to basics’ on good cleaning practices. 

What’s new in hygiene
Kicking off proceedings was Peter Littleton, SOFHT vice chair and technical director at Christeyns Food Hygiene who gave an engaging overview of the latest innovations and cutting-edge cleaning technologies as well as the latest new legislation.

“It’s easy to think of cleaning and disinfection regimes as static systems which never really undergo innovation, but this is not the case,” Peter explained. 
Peter looked at the latest developments in cleaning methods and kit available including formulations which can clean and disinfect at the same time plus new innovations such as high velocity air assisted spraying techniques, cryogenic cleaning suitable for large oven cleaning and iMOP, a compact scrubber dryer which can fit between equipment.

As far as disinfection is concerned, Peter highlighted how the Biocidal Product Regulations have had a limiting effect on the development of new products coming into the marketplace. “The regulations require registration of any active claiming biocidal activity and a dossier costing the developer tens of thousands of pounds needs to be submitted for review and a market freeze once the dossier has been submitted. This kind of financial commitment means that disinfectant manufacturers need to be confident of their product’s commercial viability before proceeding and it is having an impact on the number of new solutions being brought to market,” he said.

Maximum Residual Levels or Limits (MRLs) have also had an impact in the disinfection category. QAC based disinfectant products for example are safe and cost effective to use, however their use has been restricted due to the imposition of the MRL under the Plant Protection Product Legislation. Replacement non-rinse disinfectants have increased the cost of effective disinfection for food, dairy and beverage applications. The issue, as Peter explained is that while we have increased interest in Listeria species in food production, it is becoming increasingly challenging to clean production facilities. 

While validating and verifying your cleaning methods using microbiological techniques such as swabbing, product samples and lab techniques as ELISA for allergenic components and DNA for species identification are of course vital, Peter stressed the importance of technical and hygiene managers using their eyes – look and see if equipment is clean!

And what about the future? The BRC Global Standard for Food Safety now in force looks at areas such as internal audit cycles creating a food safety culture and root-cause analysis procedures in more depth. The Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) and the Global Food Safety Initiative and of course the outcome of Brexit will all have an impact on legislation regarding to the use of cleaning methods and disinfectants in food….so watch this space.

Give cleaning a clean sweep
Catherine Watkinson from Hillbrush took a ‘back to basics’ approach and urged delegates to look at their own business and understand ‘what clean means’ for them.  As an experienced factory auditor Catherine shared her thoughts on some of the steps food manufacturers can take to ensure that their cleaning regimes are first class, including taking ownership of cleaning and generating a food safety culture throughout the business.

“It is the ultimate responsibility of the food industry to ensure that the products they source, process and pack can be safely consumed, so physical, chemical and biological cleanliness is an absolute prerequisite for food safety,” Catherine explained. 

“The visual appearance of a food factory can be the first assessment by an auditor or customer to a site and an indication of the standards and culture of the business. It can have a big impact on the final outcome of an inspection.”

Catherine highlighted the cost pressures on manufacturers to reduce cost and shrink cleaning times to allow for more production or shorter shifts. “New cleaning equipment developments to aid the speed of cleaning and improve its effectiveness can significantly reduce costs but often customers do not know what equipment they should be using to undertake the job in hand,” she said.

Incorrect storage, failure to replace old or faulty cleaning tools, and incorrect design of cleaning equipment are all key factors contributing to potential microbiological hazards. Cleaning should reduce the risk of bacteria, not contribute to the loading on equipment and the environment.

“Using clean equipment that is fit for purpose and the effective sanitising of equipment between use is one line of defence to prevent bacterial contamination. But a second line of defence that is increasing in popularity and reduces the threat of cross-contamination is the use of anti-microbial cleaning tools within the food production environment. These can provide round-the-clock anti-microbial product protection. A growing range of cleaning tools that make cleaning and hygiene both effective and more efficient are coming on to the market."

Catherine discussed other initiatives designed to assist production sites including the use of colour-coded tools. Although a standard within the industry for some years, there are now specific references included in the BRC Retail Standard and UK Retailer Codes of Practice on using colour-coded tools to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Assigning specific coloured cleaning tools to areas to control allergen usage, high-risk and low-risk factory zones, floor cleaning and food contact equipment.

“Innovation and developments are key to keeping abreast of legislation and customer requirements.  As new equipment is implemented into our factories, we must stay one step ahead of how we clean effectively and efficiently and prevent the development of microbiological food safety issues,” Catherine concluded.

Targeted hygiene
Paul Morris, CEO of Addmaster, urged delegates to rethink hygiene and the difference between ‘clean’ and ‘hygienically clean’. He looked at hygiene in the home and how it is potentially easier to get food poisoning from our own kitchens than from eating out or from food production – if only our kitchen cleaning and hygiene practices were as good as they are in food manufacturing! 

Paul focused on campylobacter – a big concern in food retail. Campylobacter accounts for 80% of all UK food poisoning and kills 120 people a year in the UK, prompting considerable packaging investments such as ‘double bagged’ chickens.

“In high risk food production areas, such as chicken processing, using disinfectant and the correct cleaning tools is just one step in the cleaning process. Ensuring that the cleaning tools are coated in Biomaster technology, a silver-ion based additive will inhibit bacterial growth which is proven to be up to 99.99% effective against harmful pathogens”, Paul explained. 

He talked delegates through a four-month NHS clinical study where two outpatients’ units where tested for bacterial load. One unit was Biomaster protected and the other the untreated control unit. There was 96% reduction in the Biomaster treated products compared with just a 43.5% bacteria reduction in the untreated product using cleaning alone. 

The key message from Paul was for cleaning operators to identify key risk areas – chicken processing as one of the highest risk areas – and add in extra protection to an efficient and well thought out cleaning programme.