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Reducing operating costs through hygienic best practice

04 December 2017

Sue Springett discusses strategies that can help to cut operating expenses through the use of hygienic best practice. 

There are very few people who will get excited about cleaning, but that doesn’t detract from how important it is to the food & beverage sector. There are two groups that take cleaning very seriously indeed – the first are the BRC auditors, who are tasked with ensuring food safety standards are upheld to protect consumers; the second are hygiene managers, whose remit is to make certain facilities adhere to industry guidelines and best practice so that, ultimately, there is no disruption to production. 
By far the best way businesses within the food processing sector can mitigate risk on a long-term basis is to encourage a hygiene culture within the workplace. This has benefits over and above keeping the auditor happy. A clean workplace supports health and safety and promotes effective operations which, if done properly, can actively reduce operating expenses.  
The weakest link
The greatest element of risk in any hygiene controlled workplace is the most unpredictable – the human factor. It’s an uncomfortable truth that no matter how thorough your cleaning procedures are or how strictly you enforce your PPE policy, some people’s personal hygiene won’t always meet the professional standards you might expect when working with food.

It’s hard to gauge exactly what microorganisms might come into the workplace on staff’s hands unless you are prepared to carry out spot check swab tests. However, the implications are serious: the unpleasant truth is that 80% of infections, including campylobacter and listeria, are spread by touch.

The best way to minimise the risk of harmful bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens entering the facility is very simple - systematic hand washing.  While signage and strategically placed wash troughs will go some way to ticking the right boxes at the audit, you simply cannot guarantee that everyone washes their hands every time.

The safest approach is simply to take away the option. This can be far less draconian than it might sound. Installing hygienic door handles that dispense viricidal hand gel when pulled makes it harder to avoid cleaning your hands than not. This approach is non-intrusive and can significantly eliminate risk factors, if deployed thoughtfully. These products can be combined with sanitising foot baths at the entrances to a facility to prevent a high proportion of contaminants getting in at all. From here, they can be installed at the exits to washrooms as part of cumulative strategy, and finally, as a last line of defence, at the entrance to the production floor.        

Dusty bin?
It might seem obvious to suggest that maintaining a well-ordered production floor will improve efficiencies. However, that’s only part of the story. The state of the working environment should be representative of the standards you wish to uphold. Attitude plays a part in encouraging hygienic thinking and, as such, your workforce should take pride in their surroundings. 

‘Clean as you go’ is familiar reprise in the catering industry, but it is equally true for food production. Make it easy for staff to keep their areas clean at all times, ensure there are an adequate number of tubs and bins for each station on the production floor and put best-practice guidelines in place so these will be cleared regularly. 

Be sure there are sufficient cleaning materials at hand, especially in any part of the facility that generates by-products which could represent a slip hazard. It makes sense to install shadow boards to ensure mops, brooms and dustpans are easy to locate when you need them most. It’s also worthwhile investing in support materials that are tough enough to survive the daily rigours of the production floor. 

Regardless of to what extent your team embraces the ‘clean as you go’ ethos, the clean down at the end of the shift is still going to be the most time-consuming element of the hygiene routine. However, the cost savings made just by shaving 15 minutes off that process on a daily basis will be substantial over the course of a year.

It’s important to align the design of the facility to the requirements of the cleaning procedures to make life easier for those responsible for maintaining it. Therefore, think carefully about the placement of furniture. Make sure it’s possible to get underneath and behind for deep cleans without expending more time and effort than is necessary in moving it around.  

It’s also worthwhile spending time to research what the best options would be for your space at the procurement stage. Furniture designed specifically for hygienic applications should have been built with access in mind and shouldn’t have built in dirt traps, such as gaps, ledges, folds – even raised welds – that could harbour mould or microorganisms. For areas handling liquids, look for designs that don’t feature flat surfaces that could collect water (and bacteria), particularly around taps. 

Finally, consider what material the furniture is built from because this can also speed up cleaning routines. 304 grade stainless steel is both food grade and as easy to clean as glass or china, but is much more resilient. It’s also resistant to corrosion and can be cleaned using high pressure processes, it can even handle high temperature methods as necessary.
Establishing a hygiene culture comes down to managing risk and this should be a consideration throughout the facility. The auditor won’t just be assessing the production floor – changing rooms, washing facilities etc, are all equally important. 

Hygiene is business critical in this sector and, by necessity, places a significant demand on resources. Well-considered choices in the procurement and placement of furniture and the deployment of other supporting equipment can speed up cleaning processes to reduce operating costs. 

The greatest risk factor is the human element, so use intelligent design and strategies to make hygienic best practice second-nature. This will, ultimately, afford greater peace of mind for all stakeholders, both internal and external, in the longer term. 

Sue Springett is commercial manager at Teknomek.

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