Contamination control and hygiene in the food production industry is getting increasingly strict. Luke Rutterford, Technical Manager, Rentokil Specialist Hygiene, outlines the UK food production-related regulatory requirements and standards
Service Technician being lowered on harness into a flour silo
Food and drink manufacturing and processing in the UK is big business, with a recent government study revealing that it accounts for more than 8,000 companies in the UK1.
As a major industry, food and drink manufacturers are heavily regulated and know how important it is to uphold the best possible hygiene standards and meet ever growing quality expectations – and failure in this regard can have major commercial implications.
As stated in The Food Safety Act 19902 ‘The safety of food is vital to all consumers and food businesses. Consumers must have confidence that the food they buy and eat will be what they expect, will do them no harm and that they are protected from fraud. The importance of this confidence cannot be underestimated for businesses.’
The Food Safety Act 19903 provides the framework for all food legislation in the UK. Designed to preserve the safety of consumers, the Act ensures that food businesses do not include anything in food, remove anything from food or treat food in any way that means it would be damaging to the health of people eating it.
In addition, responsibilities under the Act are to ensure that food served or sold is of the nature, substance or quality which consumers would expect and to ensure that the food is labelled, advertised and presented in a way that is not false or misleading.
The Act covers activities throughout the food distribution chain, from primary production through distribution to retail and catering.
The day-to-day work of enforcement of the Food Safety Act is, in the main, the responsibility of environmental health, and trading standards officers from local (food) authorities. They will conduct both physical inspections of manufacturing premises and checks of paperwork to ensure standards are being upheld.
Another requirement for food manufacturers is the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), a system that helps food business operators look at how they handle food and introduce procedures to make sure the food produced is safe to eat.
With annual audits conducted by the British Retail Consortium4 (BRC), manufacturers are under constant pressure to ensure that they are up to speed with regulations and their cleaning and training records are kept up to date.,
The BRC runs Global Standards, a leading safety and quality certification programme, used by more than 23,000 certificated suppliers in 123 countries.
The Standards guarantee the calibre of quality, safety and operational criteria and ensure that manufacturers fulfil their legal obligations and provide protection for the end consumer.
Other standards that food manufacturers can be required to comply with include the AIB (Consolidated Food Safety Standards)5 whose mandates include the need for food processing companies to develop a pest control initiative and have effective cleaning mechanisms for food process equipment.
There is also SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval)6 that reflects both the legal requirements of producers and the enhanced expectations of ‘best practice’ of professional food buyers.
Retailers, particularly supermarkets, may also have their own codes of practice which require any produce to be sourced safely and responsibly.
Violation of these codes can lead to the loss of wholesale trade, with retailers refusing to purchase from suppliers that do not meet their stipulations. Leading retailers have specific codes that cover all aspects of quality, hygiene and safety within their fresh food supply chain to guarantee that care is taken when producing goods.
Failure to comply with any of these stringent regulations can result in failing an audit, losing accreditation from the BRC, or being struck off a valuable approved suppliers list.
These can have huge commercial ramifications, so it is essential that manufacturers consider how they will keep premises up to a high standard and present an accurate audit trail.
Food production managers should already have teams in place to conduct strict cleaning practices, but it is essential to keep the audit in mind all year-round.
Auditors will require a paper trail to demonstrate cleaning practices, and it is the responsibility of the staff onsite to maintain accurate records.
It is critical to maintain a rigorous cleaning regime to eliminate potentially dangerous pathogens that can contaminate the product and make it unsafe for consumption. Added to this, regular maintenance of machinery will reduce the risk of it breaking down, as well as that of cross contamination.
There are three clear steps to best practice in food manufacturing cleaning, which begin with the thorough manual cleaning and disinfection of all areas.
The second step is ultra-low volume (ULV) fogging, which is an ideal solution both for helping to combat some airborne pathogens as well as providing the ability to disinfect large areas that may require rapid re-entry following treatment and minimum disruption/downtime.
The airborne disinfectant micro-droplets are attracted to land or settle underneath, on top of and on the sides of surfaces in the same way as pathogenic microbes.
By using a ULV fogging machine, in addition to manual cleaning, disinfectant is more comprehensively delivered across a range of surfaces and materials including textiles, thus ensuring a higher efficacy of disinfection.
Appropriate cleaning decisions must be made for the specific product and production area being dealt with, e.g., if the area involves the use or storage of flour, a regular dry cleaning process will be required without the use of wet disinfectant, particularly in high level areas.
The risk of cross contamination is also pertinent when considering silo storage of products like flour. Contamination in a silo can be incredibly costly for producers if the whole store becomes spoiled, so this should be considered within any cleaning schedule.
The final stage of cleaning involves Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) swabbing to validate hygiene levels and that cleaning has been effective.
Finally, consideration should be given to pest control, as it is an obvious risk for food processing.
Audits will typically have a section that deals with pest management, which usually requires zero infestation and conformity with criteria covering the type of pest management programme in place; permitted materials and techniques, and trending of infestation with strict record keeping.
Luke Rutterford, Technical Manager, Rentokil Specialist Hygiene
If any pest control issues do arise then pest control companies can be contracted to rectify the situation quickly. It is important to emphasise that nearly all pest related problems are supported by hygiene deficiencies.
Specialist cleaning services can complement existing cleaning and hygiene teams, ensuring that standards are upheld in advance of an audit.
Service providers, such as Rentokil Specialist Hygiene, can be brought in at a moment’s notice to support staff in rectifying a failed audit, offering a consultative expert approach to this business-critical process.
The company is a provider of specialised deep cleaning, industrial cleaning and disinfection services with experience in offering authorities, businesses and organisations throughout the UK a comprehensive range of industrial and specialist cleaning solutions.
2. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/16/ contents
3. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/16/ contents
5. http://www.aibonline.org/aibOnline/en/ home.aspx