If you are a food processing, manufacturing, storage or shipping business, food safety is your number one concern. The success of your company depends on transporting and delivering safe and clean food products to consumers. However, from production to shipment to storage there are many points where products can be vulnerable to contamination if you don't take the proper precautions. Contamination of food products not only poses risks for consumers but also leads to loss of profits for your company. If a portion of your product is contaminated, you may lose an entire shipment or load. Dealing with product contamination causes setbacks to workflow and may cause even larger issues for your company's permits and registrations.
Follow these tips for reducing warehouse contamination to ensure the safety and cleanliness of your facility.
Product Contamination and Food Warehousing: the Big Issue
As the food production industry becomes more global and processes in the industry continue to adapt, food contamination in warehouses has become a major concern. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in six Americans gets sick each year from consuming contaminated food or beverages. Food contamination also leads to a staggering three thousand deaths across the nation.
Worldwide the problem is even more evident. According to the World Health Organization, there were 582 million individual cases of food-borne illness across the globe in 2010. That year, nearly 351,000 people died from those diseases.
Food contamination can occur when any pathogen, allergen, dirt or other contaminant is introduced to the product. These contaminants can be transferred to food from pests, such as birds, rodents and insects, or can be carried into the warehouse by shipping vehicles, inbound product or even employees. Unclean warehouse conditions promote the growth of bacteria and allow pathogens to survive long enough to cause product contamination. Food-borne diseases, such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, pose the greatest risk to consumers if products become contaminated.
Warehouse Food Safety Regulations
In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to help prevent food contamination before the product reaches consumers. Any food handling facilities, including warehouses and food processing facilities, must stay in compliance with these regulations or they may face fines or other penalties.
Here are a few major features of FSMA that you must be aware of for your business:
- Registration: All facilities that handle food — including food processing, manufacturing, storing and packing — must register with the FDA and renew this registration every two years to update facility contact information.
- Inspection: FSMA increased the frequency of mandatory inspections for all food-handling facilities to every three years.
- Recalls and Suspension: The FDA is permitted to recall any product that is believed to be contaminated or that is not properly labeled. If a facility does not comply with a recall order, they may be shut down. The FDA is also able to suspend the registration of a facility if they deem its practices likely to cause serious health impacts or death.
- Prevention Plan: In an attempt to stop food-borne diseases before they start, FSMA requires all food-related facilities to create written plans for preventing food contamination. The plan must include potential food safety problems that the facility might encounter and what measures are in place to prevent them from occurring.
The prevention portion of FSMA provides valuable motivation for warehouses handling food to think critically about their food safety processes and procedures. Read on for actionable steps to reduce product contamination in your warehouse.
Tips for Avoiding Product Contamination in the Warehouse
Product contamination can occur at many points in the food production process, from production to distribution and even storage at restaurants or retail stores. Food processing or production warehouses must ensure that all areas of their premises are clean and safe for handling food products. Here are some practical tips to reduce food contamination in the warehouse.
1. Maintain the Exterior of Your Facility
Preventing product contamination begins outside of your warehouse. The exterior structure and grounds of your warehouse are where products come in and out and can be a place for bacteria or airborne diseases to enter your facility. Below are some best practices for maintaining the exterior of your facility to avoid product contamination:
- Pest Control: Birds, rodents and insects pose a large risk for product contamination as they can carry food-borne diseases that can then transfer to your product. Maintain pest control measures to ensure that pests are not making homes in or around the walls of your warehouse. Keep grass cut and properly store outdoor equipment. It is also good practice to plant only shrubs and plants around your building that will not be attractive to pests. You may want to hire a pest control professional to assess your facilities for any areas that might be vulnerable to pests.
- Maintain Entrances and Doors: Take measures to reduce the amount of dirt that enters your building. You should have paved roads at all entrances so shipping vehicles or other machinery are not tracking in dirt. If the area around your warehouse is particularly muddy, consider installing a wash bay. The doors themselves should be automatic if possible to reduce the risk that they are accidentally left open or not closed properly. Ensure your entrances are airtight and seal correctly, so no air-borne pathogens can enter the warehouse. This is particularly important for production areas where the temperature or humidity must be controlled.
- Ensure Safe and Solid Construction of Facility: Check your building to be sure it is of sound construction with no cracks or leaks in the walls. Check for openings that could become homes for pests or allow air and moisture to leak into your building. You should repair any damage to the walls or other structures immediately. You should also have a plan in place for how to relocate product in the event of damage to a facility structure that cannot be repaired the same day. If your facility is painted, ensure the paint is non-toxic and that any peeling paint is scraped and repainted right away. It is essential to regularly check the condition of your facility to identify any changes in its condition or issues that need repairing.
- Secure Your Facility: Remember to always secure your facilities and vehicles when not in use. Good security measures include sturdy locks, surveillance cameras and alarms. If someone breaks into a vehicle or building, they could tamper with your product and contaminate it. When employees are loading or unloading product from trucks, they should do so quickly and efficiently to reduce the time that the vehicle is idle with product unattended. Additionally, any time the product is exposed to outside air increases the risk of airborne contaminants.
- Properly Dispose of Trash: All dumpsters should have covers and be kept in an enclosed area. Trash and garbage tend to attract pests, which causes a greater risk of product contamination. It is also a best practice to locate dumpsters away from entrances to the facility. If dumpsters are near doorways, the close proximity increases the risk of bacteria in the garbage transferring to the product.
2. Label and Track All Products
Once the product has entered your facility, it is essential to track its movement through the production line closely. Distributors should practice a first-in/first-out policy so that the product that arrives at the warehouse first is always sent out of the warehouse first. This policy is important because many food products or ingredients will expire if they sit on a shelf too long before distribution. Product expiration leads to a loss to your business's profit and costs time and energy for removal of the damaged or expired goods.
Properly labeling all product is also an essential part of its successful movement through the supply chain. Food product should be labeled with all relevant information such as expiration dates, the proper storage temperature of the product and the date when the product was received. Any product that is expired, damaged or on hold for microbial testing must be labeled as such so they are not accidentally distributed or used in production. By listing allergens on food products, you also reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
If a product becomes contaminated, accurate labels make it is easy to identify and pull from the shelf. Proper labeling is extremely helpful in the case of a recall because you can quickly identify the specific items that are subject to the recall to pull and dispose of them. If poorly labeled, you may risk losing additional product that was not actually contaminated or recalled.
To begin implementing good documentation and proper food handling in your warehouse, consider using HACCP, or Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. HACCP requires excellent record-keeping and documentation of all products and is designed to eliminate the risk of food contamination. These records can also serve as a valuable connection between discrete businesses in the same supply chain, as they can transfer between companies at each step of the food handling process.
3. Organize Workflow to Prevent Product Contamination
When organizing the flow of your supply chain, efficiency and effectiveness are key. However, in the food industry, you must also consider cleanliness and food safety as product moves between different areas of your warehouse or processing center. Any time food product is handled directly exposes it to the risk of contamination. Maintain physical separation between spaces where products are handled and other areas of your warehouse with doors, walls or dividers. Vehicles or equipment moving between different production zones should also be kept clean to avoid spreading contaminants. Here are a few other factors to consider about organizing your supply line with food safety in mind:
- Maintain Proper Temperatures: Any food that needs to be refrigerated must be maintained at the correct temperature at all points in the process, whether it is shipping, packing or storage. This may require refrigerated vehicles for transporting product through your warehouse if production areas are not close together. Be sure to check the temperature in each area regularly to make sure proper temperatures are maintained. Food that is not maintained at the proper temperature may be compromised even if the final product does not appear contaminated.
- Keep Facilities Dry: Bacteria and mold grow most efficiently in warm and moist environments. Food-borne diseases will also survive longer and be more likely to spread in a humid area. Organize your facility so vulnerable product is not stored near areas where outside air is likely to enter.
- Separate Raw Products: Raw food is much more susceptible to bacteria growth, so it should be stored, processed and handled in a separate area from all other products. Cross-contamination from raw food can lead to the spread of dangerous food-borne diseases like Salmonella or E. coli.
Make sure you clearly outline all of your preventive procedures in documentation that is available for your staff to review. It is best practice to document proper procedures for product handling at every point in the supply chain. Any cleanliness measures should be included in these guidelines, even if they are as simple as reminding staff to wash their hands before beginning a procedure. While your staff members may not need to refer to these documents regularly, written procedures are essential for training new staff. Having documentation also enables better monitoring to ensure that preventive measures are being executed properly. Be sure you periodically review and update food safety handling policies and procedures. Any time you buy new equipment, create a policy for using it safely and cleanly.
4. Train Staff on Food Safety Procedures
It is imperative to preventing product contamination that any staff handling food product are aware of your warehouse food safety practices. Ensure that all staffed are knowledgeable about your contamination prevention policies and practice these policies daily. Any time a safety or cleanliness policy changes, notify all staff and explain the new procedure clearly. It is best to provide time for staff to ask any questions if they are unsure of how to properly handle a product. Time spent training your staff about proper product handling is a valuable investment that will help you avoid costly mistakes. In addition to training, consider these practical steps to reduce product contamination that is a result of human error:
- Enforce Hand-Washing: Staff should always wash their hands properly any time they return from a break, switch been tasks or begin handling a different product. Hand-washing is an essential and easy way to reduce the spread of germs and thus reduce the risk of product contamination.
- Enforce Good Personal Hygiene: Require staff to shower regularly and wear clean clothes to work. Staff should also wear protective gear as necessary such as plastic gloves and hair nets.
- Designate Break Areas: Staff should never eat or drink in any areas where products are handled or exposed, as this can lead to cross-contamination. Designate specific break areas for employees to eat their lunches and store any food or drink they bring to work.
- Establish an Employee Illness Policy: It is your responsibility to ensure that any employee with a communicable illness is not handling food product. You should supply a list of diseases that if an employee has that illness, they are required to inform management. If an employee with a minor illness must continue to work, provide them with proper safety gear such as gloves or a surgical mask.
5. Maintain Sanitation of the Warehouse
Perhaps the most critical step for preventing product contamination is maintaining clean facilities, machines and equipment through sanitation and other food safety practices. Take these steps to ensure you are keeping your facility clean:
- Establish Regular Cleaning Procedures: Create documented procedures for cleaning any machinery, tools or equipment that come in contact with the product during processing. Be sure to include which specific chemicals employees should use for sanitation or washing and the exact proportions they should use. You should also create a cleaning schedule based on the frequency of use or the quantity of product that touches the machine each day.
- Complete Cleaning and Sanitation on Time: Cleaning should always be completed on schedule to ensure nothing is missed or skipped. Remember that bacteria are microscopic, so even if a machine or surface appears clean, it can still be contaminated with dangerous pathogens. Food contact surfaces are the most critical to maintain at a high level of cleanliness.
- Store Equipment Safely When Not in Use: When not using equipment, it should be cleaned before putting it in storage. This ensures that bacteria do not grow on the equipment while not in use. All equipment should be stored in a dry and clean environment. For best practice, when you are ready to use the equipment again, clean it before allowing it to come in contact with food product.
6. Buy the Right Equipment
The equipment that your food handling facility uses plays a large role in product contamination. The right equipment will be easy to clean and durable enough to withstand the high heat and chemicals required for proper sanitation. It will also have a sleek design that does not permit dangerous bacteria to gather and multiply. Stainless steel handling equipment can be perfect for food processing because it is easy to clean and is resistant to corrosion. Its durability means it will not corrode when used in processing acidic or salty food products. Stainless steel can also reduce food contamination because it can be cleaned thoroughly through high-heat sanitation or with strong chemical cleaners.
Here are a few other features to consider when searching for equipment that will reduce the risk of product contamination:
- Surface Texture: Equipment that is porous or textured is more likely to trap moisture and promote bacterial growth. Look for equipment made of solid material that does not absorb moisture.
- No Small Cavities: Avoid equipment with small spaces where moisture, dust and other contaminants can collect.
- No Sharp Edges: Sharp edges, nails or cracks in machinery could puncture product packaging or cause products to tear open. This could lead to a costly clean-up and loss of product from contamination.
- Open Design: For machines and equipment that you will need to wash, look for an open design so all surfaces can be accessed and cleaned. This will also allow the equipment to dry more quickly.
Buying the right equipment to promote food safety is a smart investment that will increase your profit and decrease your product loss. Read on to learn more about Cherry's food-friendly equipment and how we can help you reduce warehouse contamination.
Must-Have Equipment for a Sanitary Warehouse
Having the right equipment for your food processing warehouse can greatly reduce your risk of product contamination. Swapping out your old equipment for more sanitary alternatives is a simple switch with a big impact on food safety in your facility. Cherry's carries a variety of food-safe products that will help you reduce product contamination:
- Plastic Pallets: Because they are easy to sanitize and less likely to carry contaminants, plastic pallets are becoming a staple in the food industry. Plastic pallets do not splinter or chip, so there is no risk of them puncturing or ripping product packaging. Plastic pallets are chemical and odor resistant, as well as incredibly simple to clean and sanitize. We offer options for stackable, rackable or nestable plastic pallets. There are many plastic pallet options available to choose from that will work with your current machinery, so making the switch is very doable.
- Pallet Washers: Your new plastic pallets will stay sparkling clean with our pallet washers. Available in automatic or manual models, a pallet washer is essential to a safe and sanitized warehouse. Our pallet washers are stainless steel and have high-pressure nozzles that will ensure dirt, grease, dye or oil is removed entirely.
- Stainless Steel Equipment: Cherry's offers, for example, stainless steel pallet inverters as well as stainless steel lift tables. As these heavy duty pieces of equipment are used every day in the warehouse they will undoubtedly get dirty. The stainless steel exterior of each machine makes it easy to clean and sanitize so that contamination is eliminated from the vicinity of that work area.
Reduce Your Product Contamination With Cherry's
In the food industry, ensuring the safety and cleanliness of your product is top priority. But, as food product moves between stages of production, it is vulnerable to contamination that can be costly. You want to deliver the best product to your customers while preventing product contamination, and Cherry's wants to help.
Cherry's Industrial Equipment has been producing high-quality machines for over 35 years. We care about providing the best service to our customers and finding innovative solutions for their warehouse problems.
If you are looking for a solution to product contamination in your warehouse, explore our sanitary warehouse equipment products. Still have questions about how Cherry's can help make your warehouse safer and more efficient? Give us a call at 800-350-0011 or contact us online.