By Anurag Mishra and Shikha Mishra*
A Food, if not safe, is not a Food – Last few words are as simple as you read. If the food you are eating is not safe for consumption then it may be something else but not food for sure. And to produce safe food one have to inculcate Food Safety from Farm to Fork or from Grass to Glass i.e. every aspect of the entire value chain.
When you talk about Food safety during the processing, Plant Hygiene is the core of managing most of the food safety risks which are reported most of the time and we will try to understand the various aspects of Plant Hygiene.
Plant hygiene can be divided into:
- Personal Hygiene
- Equipment Hygiene
- Infrastructural Hygiene
1 – Personal Hygiene: Personal Hygiene, the most critical from the external contamination (Physical, Biological and Chemical) point view, is nothing but ensuring that there is no any contamination getting introduced in the product or equipment by the personals who are working inside the processing plant.
Personal hygiene can be divided into:
- A) Hand / Footwear Washing and Sanitizing– Most of the time contamination vectors are your hand and shoes because you touch various surfaces (including yourself) with your hand and shoes and if you are not cleaning these before entering to the plant then you are inviting various bugs to you processing environment. So as a very basic practices one need to clean and sanitize the hands and put a shoe cover ( minimum ) before entering to the manufacturing facility ( Changing shoe is better option than using Shoe cover )
- B) Personal Protective Equipment – These PPEs are not for you but for the manufacturing environment minimizing the contamination which may spread by you. PPEs are:
- Hair Cover ( to minimize the hair fall into the product )
- Apron/ Plant Dress ( To minimize the dust/ dirt/microbes coming from outside through you dress)
- Face Mask ( to stop the microbial contamination )
- Beard Mask ( For those who have beard )
- C) Disease Control: In case personal working in the manufacturing facility is infected with any disease then he/she can be the biggest risk of spreading the contamination among workers and may end up contaminating the food you are processing. So it’s very important that workers with any communicable disease must not be allowed to work in the manufacturing environment. Security checks at gates and self-declaration is the key to avoid this.
2- Equipment Hygiene: Equipment hygiene also plays a very critical role in producing safe food. Factors of equipment consist of:
- A) Equipment Design – Equipment design plays a very important role ensuring safe food and plant hygiene. If equipment is not designed hygienically then it may be a source of contamination to the product and manufacturing environment.
- B) Cleaning and Sanitation of the equipment: Periodic cleaning and Sanitation need to be done to mitigate any cross contamination. Cleaning in place (CIP) and Cleaning out Place (COP) both plays a major role to ensure contamination control and thus maintaining plant hygiene. Method of cleaning and sanitation (time/temperature / Concentration etc.) must be validated to ensure that cleaning and sanitation is effective.
- C) Maintenance Activity: Main-tenance of the equipment is a major source of physical and chemical hazard from food safety angle and maintaining high level of plant hygiene. One can easily see the grease & oil spillage and loose part etc. get scattered all across the plant if your maintenance activities are not effective. This is not only good for plant hygiene but also from human safety as well, there are many examples get published on daily basis which are caused by such ill practices.
3- Infrastructural Hygiene: Last but definitely not the least part is hygiene which is been supported by the infrastructure of the plant. Infrastructure of the plant is:
- A) Civil Infrastructure: The more organized civil structure of the plant helps in maintaining the right level of Hygiene. The civil infra includes, the floor, drains and its slope, wall’s structure, Window, doors, minimal gaps/ opening to external environment, nearby surrounding, exterior environment, roof structure, electrical wiring etc. For example if your floor is not smooth enough to clean the accumulated dust then maintaining plant hygiene is not possible. If your drain slope is not inside out then it may choke or overflow during rain. If your Doors and windows are not fixed properly then it may be the cause of pest infestation etc. etc. Other than washrooms, cafeteria etc also plays a very important role in maintaining the Plant hygiene.
- B) Man and Material Movement: If plant is not designed with proper flow of man and material’s movement then you may experience cluttered stuffs all the time during operation and additionally material and man movement must be designed in such way so that its not infusing outer contamination to the manufacturing environment and thus affecting the plant hygiene.
- C) Waste Management: Waste management can be clubbed in man and material movement but given the level of risk it possess to the plant hygiene , we need to focus on this very specifically . Recently there have been many cases of microbiological contamination (pathogen) reported globally and while identifying the root cause , it was identified that waste handling was the vector of the contamination . In process rejection waste, quality rejection waste, wash room waste and other office waste must be handled separately to ensure that it’s not cross contaminating the manufacturing environment.
- D) Maintenance, Cleaning and Sanitation: A good plant can be maintained in a same way with right and effective cleaning and sanitation practices. Civil infra, if not maintained properly then can lose its shine very soon, so right and correct Maintenance plan with effective cleaning and Sanitation is the critical part to sustain the civil part of the plan. Exhaustive preventive and scheduled maintenance, Master Cleaning and sanitation schedule covering every corner of the plant is required for sustainable plant hygiene.
Considering above, we can ensure the right level of hygiene in the plant to ensure safe food for our consumer.
* Author is Food Safety Professional and can be Reached at Anurag.firstname.lastname@example.org. Shikha Mishra is a student of Ph.D. in Botany – Perusing