One challenge facing crews cleaning and sanitizing meat and poultry plants is the environment they work in. Depending on the type of plant and the time of year, working conditions can be very hot or very cold. Equipment can be dangerous to clean and corrosive and chemicals are often used by crews to clean the equipment. Government safety regulations must be followed. For these reasons, sanitation and cleaning crew members often wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when carrying out their duties.
Obviously, plant workers are going to work in cold environments most of the time. However, the plant temperature can vary greatly, depending on the type of products being made when the plant is in operation. Are only carcasses and meat or poultry products made in the plant, or is there cooking in the plant, as well? Does the plant operate during the day, or does it operate at night, with crews cleaning during the day?
There are many precautions cleaning/sanitation crew members must take when working in both very cold and very hot plant conditions. If the environment is an extremely cold area, such as a freezer or a shipping area, workers and crew leaders must take those environmental conditions into account when deciding on what kind of ensemble components they’re going to wear when cleaning and sanitizing. The same is true of very hot areas.
Cleaning and sanitation crews and their crew leaders must also think about the duration of the cleaning job when deciding what kind of protective gear workers should wear. Most authorities recommend sanitation crew members work in very cold areas, such as freezers and shipping locations, for no more than 20 minutes at a time, even if a chemical suit is being worn. Even if the time period in the cold is limited to 20 minutes, workers can still experience numbness in some of their joints. If workers spend even more time in extremely cold work environments in the plant, this exposure could result in frost bite.
Prolonged exposure to cold or freezing temperatures can cause serious health problems in workers, such as trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. In extreme cases, including cold water emersion, death can result. Danger signs can include uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movement, fatigue and confused behavior.
At the same time, wearing full body chemical protective clothing to prevent dangerous chemical burns sets up crew members for risk of developing heat stress because of being covered by this protective gear. The effects on the health of the workers can range from mild heat fatigue all the way to serious illness or even death.
Cleaning crew supervisors must be prepared to identify and respond in an emergency and call for help when necessary.
Following are tips to follow when cleaning and sanitizing in cold or hot environments:
• When selecting protective equipment and clothing, evaluate how each item would increase cold and heat stress.
• In the case of heat, if a lighter suit could be worn without giving up protection, it should be.
• When wearing a full-body chemical protective suit, make sure a supervisor is aware.
• When cleaning an oven room, make sure all the equipment is off and the temperature in the room has dropped to at least 40° C (104° F) to minimize heat absorbing through the protective suit from the plant environment.
• Avoid working in a cold freezer, or a hot oven room, for more than 10 minutes at a time.
• Take short, regular breaks in a warmer area if you’re working in a freezer; or in a cooler area if you’re working in a hot room.
• Drink small quantities of water on a regular basis. Avoid drinks
containing caffeine, like coffee or soft drinks, because they can cause dehydration. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages, like sugar water and “sports” drinks.
In cold environments:
• Realize environmental and workplace conditions, including inside a meat or poultry plant, can be dangerous.
• Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced injuries and illnesses and how to protect yourself.
• Wear proper clothing in cold and wet conditions, including layers that can be adjusted.
• In extreme conditions (cold, hot or wet), take frequent breaks in a warm or cool dry shelter.
• In a cold environment, try to carry out work when it’s warmest.
• Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
• Work in pairs – always work with a buddy so one can recognize danger signs.
• Prior to working, eat warm, highcalorie foods, such as pasta.
In hot environments:
• Replace fluids by drinking cool water.
• Reduce physical demands by lowering exertion, such as excessive lifting.
• Take periodic rest breaks by going to a recovery area, such as an air-conditioned enclosure.
• Try to do a hot job in the cooler part of the day, such as at night, if the plant operates on a day shift.
• Personal protective equipment can minimize heat stress.
• Wear reflective clothing as loosely as possible.
• Wear wetted clothing.
• Wear water-cooled clothing. •
Sanitation Tips are brought to you by ZEP, superior solutions.
Bernard Shire is M&P’s Washington correspondent based in Lancaster, Pa. With a background in editing and writing for daily news publications, he also works as a food safety consultant and writer for Shire & Associates.
M&P’s Sanitation Tips are to be used only as guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing processing facilities. Specific issues and questions should be addressed by a sanitation crew supervisor.