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How To Find Contamination in Your Food Processing Plant & Prevent Recurrence

By: Mike Koeris on March 1st, 2017

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How To Find Contamination in Your Food Processing Plant & Prevent Recurrence

Food Safety  |  FDA

Every food processors knows that you must have a contamination response plan in place. However the real question is about whether or not your plan is an effective one!

After all, you have a lot at stake here. If your plan is lacking, you open your brand, your organization and yourself up to all kinds of serious consequences: FDA audits, costly recalls, reputational damage, consumer deaths, criminal charges. Failing to implement a well thought out contamination plan can quite literally kill your company. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?

The continued success of your brand and your organization hinges on having a plan in place that encompasses every effective measure to identify contamination in your plant and prevent it from recurring. To protect your brand and your company and avoid the devastating outcomes of an ineffective plan, be sure to integrate the following steps. 

Recommended Resource:

Free Guide to Solving Corrective Action Challenges

STEP 1: Foster Successful Interdepartmental Communication 

Strong communication is one of the most important aspects of managing the food safety challenges in a processing plant. Workers are operating in a dynamic environment with many moving parts, which necessitates a functional sharing of information between departments. When it comes to addressing contamination risks, a lack of communication can lead to major problems. 

So, how does your organization ensure that food safety data is clearly and efficiently communicated? How do you keep all plant departments in constant communication to minimize hazards? How do you bring the whole team together in an effort to prevent contamination? These questions are fundamental to the effectiveness of your overall plan. Interdepartmental communication should encompass:

  • Day-to day contact between front-line supervisors and employees
  • Clear visibility into all aspects of the remediation process
  • Automatic alerts and email notifications to relay presumptive positives and other “bad news”
  • Customized and detailed workflows
  • Robust reporting tools to help managers see the whole picture and make well-informed decisions
  • Functional checklists for effective change management
  • Practical means of documenting test results, corrective actions, notes, pictures, maintenance forms, statuses and progress


STEP 2: Employ Modern and Effective Testing Tools and Software

In the words of Jim Hammel, Sample6’s Vice President of Customer Success, “Food safety managers and quality teams are working diligently with their sanitation teams to keep their plants and product safe. However, they need to leverage the available tools needed to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. New software tools designed for the food safety industry are changing the way the industry handles safety initiatives. In particular, tools that automate the management of the sampling program, data analysis and communication are key for safety.” 

If your food processing plant isn’t taking advantage of these opportunities to automate critical processes for contamination prevention, it’s at a much higher risk of facing costly repercussions from inadequate food safety. As you evaluate your options for modern and effective testing tools and software, be sure to consider these crucial factors:

  • Ease of use: Your software is only going to help you if it’s easy to use and your workers are engaged using it. If they are unable to navigate the tools effectively, your investment won’t pay off. Ask yourself: Can everyone be trained to utilize the software easily? Does it promote seamless communication between the sanitation crew and the plant workers? Does it simplify and streamline your overall food safety efforts? Make sure you can answer yes to all of these questions before making a final software decision.
  • Fast results: Testing and data management can lag by several days. Choose the fastest tests available, and make sure the data is returned and associated with the right testing program and test point as quickly as possible! Manual data transfer between testing providers (your lab) and test requester (you) is one of the greatest sources of data loss and allows for the introduction of errors that lead you down false paths. Choose an automated system to manage all your data collection and management needs for safety and efficiency.
  • Detection and control: What exactly do your tools enable you to detect and control? It’s important to utilize software that focuses on everything from personnel cleanliness and hygiene to equipment sanitation protocols, temperature requirements, chemical reactions, ingredient mixing and package storage. For every component, there must be a verification process that ensures the method in place protects food quality at every juncture.


STEP 3: Facilitate a Clean Environment

In order to promote a sanitary plant environment, you must ensure that everyone is following a strict cleaning process. An effective sanitation plan involves these four critical components: 

  • Appointing a plant sanitarian: Assign a senior and respected member of the organization to be responsible for defining and implementing the sanitation program.
  • Establishing cleaning procedures: Create a reference tool with written cleaning procedures that cover how each piece of equipment should be cleaned and sanitized. Include the specific cleaners, personal protective equipment and instructions for each step.
  • Developing cleaning schedules: Break down a daily cleaning schedule with specific tasks for the day, as well as a master cleaning schedule with tasks that are weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly. 
  • Conducting self-inspection: Use tools from your environmental monitoring program to check the plant’s surfaces in all zones.


STEP 4: Refine Audit Preparation 

The majority of food processing plants are not properly prepared for a food safety audit. This is probably because everyone is busy; compounding that is the general view of the effort to prepare as being very time consuming, tedious and painful! In reality, though, it doesn’t have to be that way. By implementing and leveraging modern data management approaches, you can significantly reduce the time and effort that goes into preparing for an audit

Having the requisite documentation on hand is vital. Utilize a solution that equips you with all of the relevant information and reporting from a centralized, cloud-accessible database, including: 

  • The right kind of testing data in the right date range
    • Quantitative and qualitative testing data
    • Pathogenic and hygienic testing data
    • Indicator organisms, allergens, toxins, residue, etc.
  • Properly formatted and complete output

Do your research and make sure your teams are equipped to verify that they are in full compliance with all corporate and FSMA requirements. You should have all of your FSP, HACCP/HARPC, SOPs, routine testing, investigative testing and corrective action digitally stored and easily available.

Don’t let an insufficient contamination plan wreak havoc on your food processing plant. Take immediate action to engineer a plan that protects your company, and get your free guide to solving corrective action challenges.


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