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Revised food safety guideline

22 July 2019

Phil Voysey discusses the importance of a guideline on cleaning and disinfecting food factories, and the approaches taken to update one already in circulation. 

Hygiene is an essential requirement of the food industry. Ensuring factories are cleaned and disinfected effectively is a fundamental prerequisite for the safe production of food and drinks. This involves decisions on when to clean, how to clean and what chemicals to use to remove physical, chemical and microbiological contaminants.

For many years, cleaning chemical suppliers helped food manufacturers design and implement their cleaning programmes, including writing cleaning schedules with them. This all came as part of the service package that the chemical suppliers would provide along with their cleaning products. This is a service that they still provide, however, with the introduction of a comprehensive guideline, manufacturers have acquired a little more independence.

In order to capture best industry practice for cleaning and disinfection of food factories, in 2008 Campden BRI put together a working party of food manufacturers and cleaning chemical suppliers. These professionals produced Guideline 55: a practical guide on the design, implementation and control of cleaning and disinfection of food factories. The impartial advice in the guide reflected on the principles of how to produce and operate effective cleaning schedules and plans, which could be applied in a consistent way across the food industry. It enabled food manufacturers and chemical suppliers to understand the theory as well as putting this into action in facilities that they were familiar with.

The guide helped industry understand various aspects to cleaning and disinfection, including:

• how to select the appropriate chemicals – based on differences in equipment, facilities and ingredients / foods being handled
• the various methods of cleaning and disinfection
• how to build cleaning schedules
• the timing and frequency of cleaning
• the order in which different stages of cleaning and disinfection should be carried out; and
• how to monitor factory cleanliness.

A standardised guideline
Guideline 55 helped food manufacturers comply with the EU regulations 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs and 853/2004 laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin. Complying with these regulations is essential if a manufacturer wants to remain in business. 

In putting the guide together, members of the working party were able to come to a consensus on the best approaches of cleaning based on their personal experiences. As a result, the guide became comprehensive by covering areas such as how to clean particularly tricky areas including drains and floors. It also dealt with errors that are commonly made. In some cases, hygiene staff in food companies were able to use the guideline as a definitive ‘authority’ on approaches to specific hygiene-associated issues, thereby giving them leverage for persuading management that their approach to an issue was the most appropriate, even if it meant management spending money!

The guideline also helps the industry consider the costs and consequences of not cleaning properly and/or frequently enough. As well as protecting the consumer, it has an economic basis in the prevention of product loss due to microbial spoilage.
Guideline 55 highlighted how soiling of surfaces and equipment is unavoidable but put focus on the practical ways of preventing these residues from accumulating. With this guide, food manufacturers gained a level of independence, in the sense that they were not reliant solely on their chemical supplier for definitive information on the practices they needed to follow. Having the document readily at their disposal, with instant access to guidance, manufacturers were able to regularly adapt their cleaning processes as their factories developed. Now it is Guideline 55 itself that is adapting.

Updating Guideline 55
Since publication of Guideline 55, a number of changes have been made in the management of hygiene in food production. It is essential that the guideline aligns itself with these changes to reflect the most up to date thinking, research and developments in cleaning and disinfection. With this comes new legislation and chemical cleaning products that the industry must comply with and be aware of. 

For example, new controls have been introduced concerning sanitation, such as those in the US, under the ‘Food Safety Modernization Act’. In addition, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) – which has just released issue 8 of its global food safety standard - has requirements concerning cleaning (both microbiological and allergens). Cleaning is also included as an integral part of the food safety management system in the Codex Alimentarius. The guideline needs to align itself with the new cleaning chemicals and techniques that have become available, and products that are no longer used. This has also been coupled with the production of different product types, equipment and methods. 

To remain relevant and up-to-date, Campden BRI is updating Guideline No. 55: ‘Cleaning and disinfection of food factories: a practical guide’. The update is part of a one-year project funded by Campden BRI members – Campden BRI has over 2,600 member companies from 80 countries, including all of the top 10 UK retailers, the top 15 global food and drink manufacturers and many of the world’s biggest brands.

The project will take a number of approaches to ensure the guideline remains the comprehensive go-to document. The approaches include:
• forming a consultative group of industry and Campden BRI specialists who will meet the project’s duration, and
• researching literature and regulations to collate the most current practices and guidance in cleaning and disinfection.

The project will also include a practical element. This will be the creation of short educational videos that will advise on how to carry out key aspects of hygiene in production.

The consultative group has been formed and the first meeting of this ‘working party’ was held at the beginning of the year. Individual chapters were assigned to volunteers to highlight improvements and updates that were needed. An initial draft of the updated Guideline 55 is currently being put together so that it can be discussed at its next meeting, which is due to be held shortly. The second consultative group meeting will also discuss the production of educational videos. The guideline will become available in 2020.

A second Campden BRI member-funded project will follow a similar approach to this one. It will produce an up-to-date ‘one-stop-shop’ guideline document on controlling Listeria during food production. 

As 2018 saw the largest listeriosis outbreak ever recorded, the need for this guideline became clear. Listeria monocytogenes-contaminated South African polony sausage caused 200 deaths and it became apparent that the food industry still does not have the measure of this pathogen. This project will run for two years and the guideline will become available in 2021. 

Phil Voysey is a microbiology group manager at Campden BRI.

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