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A Guide to Food Plant Cleanliness

According to the CDC, foodborne illness affects 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million) annually. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year. Though illness can occur from the contamination of food through foreign objects and chemically hazardous substances such as allergens, the most common cause is the presence of foodborne pathogens, such as bacteria, mold, parasites, and viruses.

While pathogens may be naturally present in some foods, they can also be introduced or spread throughout any stage of the food chain. When it comes to manufacturing, this often occurs as a result of food being exposed to contaminated surfaces, air, or people, which is why proper cleaning and sanitization is vital in keeping customers safe.

Let’s explore some of the most common pathogen-harboring areas and how you can promote best sanitation practices.

Surfaces & Equipment

Because food comes into regular contact with prep areas and equipment, keeping these areas clean is key in mitigating the spread of pathogens. Work surfaces and equipment should be cleaned with approved detergents at the correct dilution, rinsed, and sanitized thoroughly. Dry processing environments may opt to employ only dry cleaning procedures where wet cleaning increases the risk of harboring environmental pathogens such as Salmonella.

Where you store equipment is just as crucial as how you clean it. Storing clean equipment in a contaminated area can negate any prior cleaning efforts. Sanitizing shelves and other non-food contact is an important step to controlling pathogenic transmission.

Walls, Floors, and Ceilings

From soiled water to food spatter to an accumulation of dust, floors and walls can harbor a plethora of microbes you don’t want in your food. This combined with the risk of allergenic cross-contact is a recipe for disaster. Tile floors should be kept clear of debris by regular sanitation and refuse removal throughout the day. Walls should be regularly cleaned and sanitized with an appropriate solution. These steps are not only important to food safety, but also employee safety. The presence of grease or water puddles on the floor can greatly increase the chance of hazardous slips and falls.

Belts & Drains

While the cleaning of surfaces and floors seems obvious in a food manufacturing environment, conveyor belts might not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of sanitation efforts, but it’s just as important as cleaning any other piece of food equipment. Start by cleaning frames from the center out whenever possible. Dry-clean to remove large pieces of debris, and pre-rinse before adding any detergent. Apply detergent, agitate and leave for 10 to 15 minutes for maximum effectiveness and then rinse thoroughly.

Drains are a notorious source of foodborne pathogens and can develop biofilms, or thin coatings of bacteria and other microorganisms, making surfaces resistant to regular sanitizing procedures. Never use vigorous scrubbing or high-pressure rinses in drains, as this can stir up contaminates which become aerosolized and may travel through your facility’s HVAC system. Instead, remove drain covers, strainers, and quat blocks and clean them with per your company’s SSOP. Scoop out any debris present within the drain and pre-rinse with low-pressure warm water. Apply a foam or cleanser in and around the drain and scrub lightly with a designated drain brush. Rinse again with low-pressure water and flood the drain with a sanitizing solution. Replace quat blocks, strainers, or drain covers, and then clean and dry any equipment used in the process.

Don’t Do It Alone

When it comes to mitigating the risk of foodborne illness, Avert can help you ensure that your sanitation protocols are bulletproof. Our team performs thorough facility assessments to identify areas of improvement and creates a customized plan of action to provide companies with the utmost confidence in their processes. Equipped with over 20 years of experience in the commercial manufacturing industry including sanitation programs, Avert assists businesses to achieve full-scale brand protection.

Check out our website to learn more!


Matthew McClure provides sound strategies that instill cost-effective methods for building robust food safety, operational and quality assurance programs. Along with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Microbiology from The University of Akron and an MBA in Finance from Louisiana State University, Matthew brings over 20 years of experience in the food safety industry to AVERT Food Safety Advisors. His knowledge spans many areas including FDA food processing facilities, USDA meat and poultry plants, dietary supplement manufacturers, retail, cannabis manufacturing, and food service operations.

Contact us for more information: | Tel: +1 702.706.6574

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