Correct sanitation practices are the foundation of any successful food safety program, and while most companies continue to focus on cost-effective sustainability from chemical and cleaning service providers, one area where producers and commercial cleaning professionals should be looking at applying resources is up-skilling the cleaning operators in their facilities.
Food cleaning operators perform dangerous and tedious tasks in industrial environments. The cleaning function often takes place during night-shift, with no supervision. Cleaning operators, perform their tasks in sodden and harsh environments, with little to no oversight or interaction from senior management. Operators working in food production, face a wide variety of unique challenges. Often strong chemicals and high temperatures are required to effectively break down protein, fats, and biofilms. When lines are down, cleaning operators are under pressure from production managers to get the job done as quickly as possible, putting extra pressure where already strenuous circumstances exist. This type of working environment often leads to a high staff turnover and tends to attract the least skilled members of the workforce, who might lack the skills and knowledge needed for effective cleaning of production facilities.
While modern technology allows for the automation of certain cleaning functions and equipment can often ease the burden and cut down on labor significantly, the human element in cleaning remains. Simply moving existing cleaning staff to food production facilities, without correct and adequate training, leaves large gaps that cannot be filled without a focused training effort. Food cleaning operators work in a largely ignored "grey area" where far higher knowledge and skill requirements are needed compared to standard office/retail type cleaning, yet fly under the radar of food safety and HACCP training programs and courses as they fail to address the specifics of cleaning inside of the food-safe environment. Specific cleaning standards are not set, and producers employ systems that work for them based on scientific reasoning and various methods of verification to validate the system.
Economic factors, including the most recent effects of Covid-19, are responsible for the downsizing of workforces across the country and a lot of personnel with the required skill set are no longer there to fill in the gaps, on the job and assist in getting food cleaning operators up to speed. Now more than ever it is imperative to provide cleaning operators in food production spaces with, high quality, safe chemical and modern cleaning equipment, but more importantly, up-skilling your cleaning operators and making sure they are able and equipped to take on the challenge of cleaning food production facilities.
By Ryan Britchford