Perspectives on Practices in Food Plant Sanitation and Hygiene
By An Interview with Joe Stout, Director, Sanitation, Kraft Foods North America
In previous issues of Food Safety Magazine, this column has explored such topics as sanitation audits, verification strategies and some of the devices and technologies used to ensure the hygienic operation of the food plant environment.
In this issue, FSM interviews Joseph M. Stout, Director, Sanitation with Kraft Foods North America, to get an industry perspective on the general sanitation
principles and practices at work in today’s food manufacturing operation.
A food scientist by education, Stout has worked for Kraft Foods/Nabisco for more than 20 years in the areas of sanitation, quality and environmental. Prior to joining Kraft Foods, Stout worked for Associated Coca-Cola Companies for three years. He is a registered sanitarian with the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and the State of Pennsylvania. Stout is chairman of the American Meat Institute (AMI) Equipment Design Task Force, and leads Kraft’s Worldwide Sanitation Council.
Food Safety Magazine: What are the key elements in a sanitation program? Are these the same as they were a decade or more ago?
Joseph Stout: Today, sanitation is considered an integral part of the organization, and we must establish “key linkages” to support this perspective. For example, we take an integrated approach, where each Kraft Foods facility has a sanitation business plan developed along the lines of quality, cost, delivery, safety and morale, commonly known within Kraft Foods as QCDSM. These plans are developed with input from key partners from both inside and outside of the sanitation process (e.g. quality, operations, R&D, sanitation and vendors) to assure that we are linked with common goals and share a common execution platform. This gives us linkages to the plant sanitation teams that routinely meet to discuss progress made with regard to the agenda.
Regarding elements of a successful sanitation program, here are some items that help articulate Kraft’s vision for sanitation:
• Unimpeachable product integrity and food safety
• Cost-effective processes with continuous improvement
• Motivated skilled and innovative sanitation employees
• A safe working environment
• Maximization of asset and capacity utilization
• Flexibility in scheduling, both for processes and personnel
• Facilities and equipment designed for effective and efficient cleaning
• Being environmentally responsible
One continuing challenge in sanitation is employee turnover. We need to be prepared to effectively manage in this environment of changing personnel while at the same time continuing to do better than we did yesterday. The business plans help us to organize our routine cleaning protocol and improvement agenda so we do not lose momentum as a result of employee turnover. On the positive side, while some of the supervisors and managers may leave the sanitation department, they often move to the operations or quality divisions, where they champion the sanitation agenda.
Food Safety Magazine: Pest/bird/rodent control, foreign materials control, and environmental monitoring are necessary components of a sanitation program. Are there any trends in new approaches or tools in these areas that have proved especially useful?
Stout: The most important issue is the sanitary design of equipment and facilities to eliminate pest ingress and harbor- age points, to limit foreign materials, and to eliminate niches that could result in environmental contamination. This may not be perceived as breakthrough technology, but in most cases, a smarter application of engineering design techniques can minimize harborage areas and reduce the amount of time required for cleaning. The emphasis on better sanitary design of equipment also can improve communication with equipment suppliers, providing them with a more common-sense awareness of the food company’s sanitation expectations and needs to ultimately deliver a piece of equipment that is easily cleaned and maintained.
Regardless of technology, the most important food plant sanitation approach is getting back to basics, which means having motivated, passionate people who know both the importance of and how to clean effectively. It comes down to training and motivation; simply put, how to use mechanical action, with the right detergent, at the right concentration for the right time at the right temperature with the right attitude, and giving people credit for the good work they do.
Food Safety Magazine: How important is an environmental monitoring program for the detection of potentially harmful microorganisms and the verification of effective cleaning and sanitizing practices to the overall sanitation program goals?
Stout: There is no question about the importance of a microbiological monitoring program to verify the effectiveness of our sanitation programs. However, even before we start a microbiological monitoring program, there must be the disciplined application of an effective sanitation program. When I first started working with microbiological monitoring programs, I worked with a consultant who was an “experienced old timer” and who indicated that the majority of environmental monitoring issues actually are associated with sanitation or sanitary design issues. With this in mind and before the initiation of any monitoring program, we should be able to intuitively identify areas of risk in the food processing environment and routinely address them. We monitor the plant environment weekly, but clean on a daily basis, and thus have many more opportunities to identify weaknesses in sanitation. This approach helps improve our process even before we identify an issue with a monitoring program. If there is a shortcut or bypass of a sanitation step, it is possible that an undesirable organism, if introduced, might find an opportunity to grow and flourish. The ability to correct such a problem prior to the completion of monitoring is critical.
We have found that across the organization and at each plant and line it is critical to have a standardized cleaning method that is developed as a result of analysis and the adoption of best practices across our company. At Kraft Foods, we call this our “seven-step wet sanitation process.” We have taken each of our line and plant “best recipes” and combined them into our seven-step process. Therefore, from one line to the next and from one plant to the next, the “recipe” to clean the process is the same and can be evaluated consistently.
Food Safety Magazine: How important is the hygienic design of equipment and facilities to improving sanitation efforts?
Stout: As I mentioned earlier, sanitary design is very important to what we do; in fact, I believe that it is the most important strategic area in which we can to invest to drive improvement in facility and equipment hygiene. To support sanitary design in the future, we are working very closely with the engineering communities within Kraft and with our equipment suppliers to define our expectations through general principles of sanitary design and improve our specifications. In addition, we are working with the American Meat Institute (AMI) to develop a set of principles and training materials that can be used by equipment suppliers to design equipment that is more easily cleaned and maintained.
Food Safety Magazine: How does employee training factor into the sanitation program?
Stout: Training is critical to what we do. I would like to highlight two areas of focus in Kraft Foods that has and will help us to ensure best practices in sanitation. The first is our BEST program, which is an acronym for Behavioral Education Safety Training. This is a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) training and monitoring program in which line employees actually observe their peers and make comments and provide direct feedback on the sanitation procedures and policies that are or are not being properly performed or effectively implemented. This is a terrific program that not only delivers immediate feedback, but also provides the line personnel who are the “trainers” with an increased awareness of the procedures and principles of GMPs and sanitation.
The company also offers a voluntary employee training program to become a “Kraft Certified Sanitarian.” This program involves three phases of certification and training. The first two phases incorporate training to validate an individual’s knowledge of areas that impact sanitation, including microbiology, personal safety, GMPs, Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP), Kraft Foods policies, sanitary design, position papers, government regulations, and the Kraft and industry approved list of supplies and equipment. As training in these areas is completed, participants are tested for the Certified Food Safety Specialist with the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA). Once these three steps are completed, the employee is acknowledged as a “Kraft Certified Sanitarian.”
For those who wish to continue to pursue knowledge and excellence in the area of sanitation, employees can continue the required work toward a NEHA Registered Sanitarian certification. If an employee achieves this latter certification, he or she will attain the status of “Kraft Certified Master Sanitarian.” The benefits of this program are continuing education and validated knowledge through testing, while rewarding the participants with appropriate certification. In addition, we are working toward creating a pool of talented sanitation professionals who will help promote sanitation, hygiene and food safety principles.