Cleaning and sanitation is, without dispute, a crucial part of maintaining a meat-processing facility. However, much to the chagrin of plant managers, there’s no quick and easy way to get the job done. Although there are some automated methods of cleaning, they are not full replacements for the human component when it comes to this important task. Employees must be trained to   know when and where cleaning is needed in a plant, and, of course, how to perform the proper cleaning and sanitation functions.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has developed a number of thorough instructional guides designed to help food processors perform day-to-day functions in their operations. “Cleaning and sanitation in meat plants,”   walks employees through the plantsanitation process step by step, in addition to explaining the importance of performing each task.

“Periodic cleaning and sanitation, which includes disinfection of meatplant premises and equipment, is an integral part of good hygienic practice,” according to FAO. “Cleaning and sanitation can even be considered as one of the most important activities   in the meat plant because these measures provide the necessary environment for proper meat handling and processing.”

Efficient cleaning and sanitation in meat plants is often low on the priority list because it requires extra work and the return on investment isn’t immediately visible. However, neglect in this area can lead to extra expenses in the long run. Unhygienic conditions can result in:

• Unattractive, tasteless products

• Spoilage of valuable food

• Foodborne diseases

Proper cleaning and sanitation is becoming increasingly important in modern meat processing as more ready-to-eat (RTE) foods come on the market. In the meat industry, these products include perishable and hygienically sensitive meat products such as prepacked, portioned chilled meat, vacuum-packed sliced sausage   and ham products, meat products in controlled atmosphere packaging, etc. In order to guarantee adequate shelflife as well as avoid spoilage during distribution, it’s essential that the microbial load of these products be low.

Preparing a plan

The most efficient way to perform cleaning and sanitation tasks is to have a plan in place. FAO recommends particular “preconditions” exist before the tasks are preformed.

• The premises and equipment must be “cleaning friendly” which means there must be easy and practical access to all contaminated areas.

• A cleaning plan must be set for the plant (specific cleaning methods, cleaning products and equipment must all be on hand in the plant).

• Personnel must be trained in the cleaning and sanitation methods before they take on the tasks. The   training must also be updated periodically, especially if new cleaning methods are used.

In meat-processing plants, cleaning involves the removal of dirt and organic substances, such as fat and protein particles, from the surfaces of walls, floors, tools and equipment. Basic cleaning, however, will not remove certain microorganisms from surfaces. Therefore, antimicrobial treatments such as the use of hot water, steam or chemical disinfectants should also be used.

Before any cleaning or sanitizing measures can be performed, remove all food products from the area.

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.