Sanitation crews industry’s unsung heroes

by Bryan Salvage
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — During the past 34 years, I have been fortunate enough to have visited hundreds of food-packing and processing plants throughout the United States and the world. The past 21 years have been dedicated to covering meat, poultry and allied plants exclusively.

Yet, in every plant I’ve ever visited, I was never able to witness the absolutely essential work of one crucial component of the processing team — cleaning and sanitation — because these crews work the third shift when most folks in this and other industries are fast asleep. Regardless, plant cleaning and sanitation crews in this industry are unsung heroes because it’s their responsibility to keep the plant environment clean and safe. A good cleaning and sanitation crew is worth its weight in gold because each day they keep the production and food-safety train from going off the tracks.

Much goes into keeping plants clean — the actual plant design; equipment designed to enhance food safety; HVAC systems that ensures air flow prevents airborne cross contamination; maintaining personnel hygiene; and product and personnel intervention systems, among others. But an efficient and effective cleaning and sanitation crew is invaluable in maintaining a safe environment and safe food.

I was happy to see — plus impressed with — the American Meat Institute’s new Glass Walls video titled “Sanitation in the Meat Industry” featuring the cleaning and sanitation of a meat plant. As AMI explained, this process is one of the most important steps processors take to make meat and poultry safe, yet it remains one of the most misunderstood and unknown aspects of meat production.

Unless you have been inside of a meat and poultry plant while the lines are running, it is impossible to imagine all of the surfaces, equipment and their components; floors, walls and ceilings, plus nooks and crannies that must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized on a daily basis before the next processing shift begins.

But the cleaning/sanitation operation remains a mystery to many consumers. Although this may be hard to believe, new AMI polling shows that only 34 percent of Americans know that meat plants are cleaned and sanitized daily. This new video takes viewers inside a typical facility and shows and explains exactly how the process is successfully accomplished.

“Sanitation in the Meat Industry” features a guided tour of the sanitation process from start to finish led by John Butts, Ph.D., vice president of research at Land O’Frost. The cleaning/sanitation process in this video includes taking machinery apart; scrubbing the equipment, ceilings and floors with foam cleansers; testing for microbes and USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspection and approval before a plant can begin processing each morning.

During every plant visit I’ve ever made, the plant or operations manager eventually come around to telling me what a great job their cleaning/sanitation crews do. Unfortunately, the anti-meat and poultry camps in this world always try to depict plants as dirty and unsanitary — and the consumer media usually prints whatever they’re spoon fed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But for most of us, seeing is believing. I encourage processors to direct their customers, consumers and new hires not familiar with meat and poultry production to see this video — it does a terrific job in explaining and showing the cleaning and sanitation process.

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