Six food safety areas to examine during operational facility improvements
Ensure construction doesn’t put your food manufacturing plant at risk.
Many food plants operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in some capacity. Without proper planning, quality control, good manufacturing practices (GMP) and sanitation procedures, an around-the-clock operation is a high-risk candidate for food safety dangers. In this type of environment, how are essential retrofits and renovations accomplished without compromising daily operations, food safety and personnel safety?
Transparency and attention to detail must be top priority when executing a project in an operating facility. Working with a design-construction firm that is seasoned in food safety and modifying operational facilities is paramount. These firms are seasoned in current food safety standards, precautions and training and are best suited to ensure your facility continues food-safe operations during construction.
Focus on the six key areas below to ensure you maintain sanitary standards during the retrofit or renovation process.
1) Plant personnel and traffic flow
Construction will likely interrupt your food processing plant's established traffic flow. To examine how renovations will affect your facility personnel's daily tasks and routes, answer questions such as:
- How will your employees continue their GMP procedures such as hand-washing and dressing in sanitary gear?
- Does access to and from the production floor change?
- Where are the greatest risks of exposure, such as product contact surfaces?
For example, if personnel's normal routine is to enter the facility, proceed to the handwashing stations and go to the plant floor, but now that the construction zone is within their path, you must determine how they can avoid potential contamination. This may involve implementing a few solutions, such as:
- Installing a temporary handwashing station located beyond the construction area
- Building a temporary, sanitary path to bypass the construction area completely
- Providing an alternate building entrance for personnel to avoid contaminated areas.
If you reroute plant personnel, it's extremely important to ensure facility personnel understand their new path. You don't want them to end up in the construction area of the plant, where they could be exposed to (or foster) unsanitary conditions. Communication is critical.
2) Construction and service personnel
In an ideal world, construction would be completely isolated from the rest of the plant—but that's not realistic. Establish GMPs for construction personnel involved in your plant's retrofit or renovation. They're often not aware of food safety procedures and precautions and must be educated. Take the precaution of implementing separate areas for these folks such as:
- Restroom areas.
And don't forget to plan for retrofit equipment removal and deliveries. If crews have to walk through your facility, they should be following the proper sanitary practices to avoid contamination.
One of the most important items to keep in mind here is to coordinate your washdown procedures with the construction crew. To foster food-safe conditions, check throughout the day to ensure mandatory requirements are being followed. Plan to begin a sanitary washdown procedure after the day's construction concludes.
3) Construction materials
Your construction crew should have a clear understanding of which types of materials are food safe and permitted in the facility. For example, if you don't allow wood in your plant (as it can chip, break and absorb moisture), ensure the crew isn't building temporary walls, ceilings and guards with that material. Check that disposable tools being used are clean or new, and debris is limited and cleaned up regularly.
Ensure the materials are suitable for washdowns in the retrofit space, as well. For example, if the retrofit is in a heavy washdown area, the construction crew should use insulated metal panel walls. If there won't be much washdown in the space, the crew should opt for a metal stud wall with reinforced plastic.
Airflow should be negative within the plant's retrofit area so it doesn't contaminate production areas, where airflow is positive. You do not want air contaminants-potentially full of bacteria, allergens and other particles—entering throughout the facility, especially in spaces already considered clean.
Also consider airflow within the construction area as it relates to the adjacent production areas. If it is not possible to isolate the air supply, consider installing separate exhaust fans to pull air out of the construction area.
Above all, ensure return air within the construction area is blocked during construction so there is not a direct line into the production space.
5) Adjacent lines
Consider how your retrofit will impact adjacent processing or production lines.
For example, if lines two and three are in the same vicinity, how will you separate them during production to avoid a risk for contamination?
Properly sealed insulated metal panels, while expensive for temporary barriers, are the quickest and most dependable when the production space remains in operation-especially with washdown considerations.
6) Known hazards
If there's a known hazard you're dealing with in your food processing facility during renovations or retrofits, take the proper steps to mitigate that hazard.
During retrofits this could include:
- Asbestos - Sanitary/ process waste gases
- Hidden bacteria, such as listeria monocytogenes
- Upfront testing and investigation will, in most cases, help identify the hazards so a plan can be provided before demolition begins.
If you're modifying ammonia systems during a retrofit, don't forget to record this in your process safety management (PSM) program, as well.
Remember, as a food plant manager, it's your responsibility to maintain sanitary conditions within your plant at all times-during facility retrofits and renovations, this is paramount.
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