Maintaining employee sanitation on the plant floor is a critical but daunting task. And the larger the company, the bigger the challenge. But Smithfield Foods’ Pork segment, which employs approximately 30,900 individuals, has taken the bull by the horns by instituting many procedures to maintain its food-safety leadership.

Producing high-quality, safe, nourishing food is a complex undertaking critical to the company’s success and something Smithfield takes seriously, says Henry Morris, Smithfield Foods’ senior corporate vice president of operations and engineering. Smithfield companies follow a comprehensive approach addressing each phase of production – from farms to processing plants. “The management system applies to facility, equipment and process design; operating and sanitation procedures; employee training; and auditing of our facilities,” Morris says.

Smithfield’s food-safety strategy anticipates points in the production process where food-safety challenges exist and programs are developed to avert potential problems. Senior-level food-safety managers at each Smithfield independent operating company (IOC) receive specialized training in food-safety issues. “Across our operations, we have dozens of food-safety and food-science professionals, including a team of leading industry microbiologists, who are responsible for ensuring food-safety management and product quality,” Morris says.

To share knowledge and foster continuous improvement in food safety, Smithfield’s senior-level, cross-functional Food Safety Council represents its major subsidiaries. Members regularly assess the efficacy and reliability of the company’s food-safety practices and provide guidance and direction. Council members share findings on an ongoing basis, meeting at least twice a year to discuss current scientific and technical food-safety developments. A council representative also sits on Smithfield Foods’ Sustainability Council.

Smithfield’s food-safety systems are based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system, which are reviewed and validated annually as part of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certification process. “Our Food Safety Council, which also advises on emerging food-safety technologies and relevant government regulations, develops policies, standards and best practices that meet or exceed all regulatory requirements,” Morris says. “These policies are individualized and maintained by each of our IOCs.”

Representatives of Smithfield’s Food Safety Council and Engineering Council collaborate regularly to develop comprehensive engineering standards for building new plants and renovating existing facilities that facilitate strict adherence to personal hygiene, minimize direct human contact with food plus enable precise tracking of products across operations.

In 2009, Smithfield’s Food Safety Council required GFSI certification for all facilities. This audit scheme, which certifies a plant’s compliance with an internationally recognized set of food-safety standards, is making food-safety and quality assessments more consistent and efficient, while ensuring compliance in foreign markets, Morris says.

“We decided to move to GFSI certification because it provides a consistent framework for food safety – from auditing of plants to verifications of employee-training processes,” he adds. “Many of our customers rely on the GFSI certifications rather than conduct their own audits of our facilities.”

Smithfield Foods’ original food-safety target was to obtain GFSI certification for all relevant facilities. Today, 100 percent of relevant facilities – 37 in total – are GFSI-certified and subject to GFSI’s annual third-party audits. “Our goal now is to maintain the certification at all facilities,” Morris concludes.

Technology providers respond

Food-safety product and service providers are helping packers and processors reach their food-safety goals. In the area of personal hygiene, Henderson, Colo.-based Birko offers a range of antimicrobial hand soaps and instant hand sanitizers, says Philip Snellen, vice president of sales. And to reduce spreading bacteria through employee traffic when entering the plant and between sensitive areas within the plant, Birko offers entryway and floor sanitation options.

Regulatory compliance, food-safety programs and costs are key drivers impacting the employee- sanitation products and services industry. “Birko is eliminating certain chemical ingredients, such as DEA [diethanolamine] from our hand soap product line in response to regulatory concerns,” says Dr. Elis Owens, senior microbiologist/chemist. “The challenge is to maintain efficacy, while insuring that costs-per-employee-use are controlled.”

Birko’s industry customers want ways to verify their employees are using appropriate personal sanitation practices and products. They are also seeking personal-hygiene systems that are as simple and foolproof as possible. “Products need to be both effective and as gentle as possible on the skin to encourage their use,” Snellen says. Employees must pay close attention to the effective sanitation of tools, such as knives, to prevent cross-contamination, he adds.

The company reformulated its line of antibacterial hand soaps, including Birko’s Big Red, Little Red and Bactostat, to comply with California Prop 65 requirements. It also developed a low-cost, highly effective, doorway- foaming system that comprises Entry-Foam, a foaming quaternary ammonium-based chemical with a proprietary delivery system, Owens says.

Kansas City, Mo.-based Hantover’s line of employee-hygiene systems guarantees employers’ compulsory employee-hygiene compliance using employee path-controlled equipment, says Marvin Plumlee, equipment group manager. The company also offers a line of office and workplace chemicals, sanitizers, floor-care and bathroom products plus cleaning supplies, including mops, brooms, brushes, gloves, wipers, can liners etc., says Tom Lamb, Hantover director of sales.

The driving food-safety force in recent years has been the processor’s customer, Plumlee says. “Plant audits by large buyers of meat drive the initiative for the plant to remain as up-to-date as possible about the newest sanitation trends,” he adds.

“‘Green’ continues to be a primary driving force [in food safety],” Lamb says. “You also hear it expanded to include ‘clean, healthy and sustainable’ a lot.”

Hantover’s industry customers want a simple solution to a complex problem. “Stringent employee education by employers, placards, multilingual signage, automatic dispensers, etc., exist, yet still a significant number of employees decline to follow company mandated hygiene procedures,” Plumlee says.

Footwear hygiene is of particular interest to processors, who have begun to realize to properly clean footwear the cleaning process must be mechanical. “Simply spraying off your boots with water is not good enough,” Plumlee says. “Then the processor has become aware they must make sure the footwear does not leave the production facility.”

Processors must take special employee-sanitation care in restrooms, locker rooms and cafeterias – anyplace where cross-contamination threats exist, Lamb adds.

Hantover has been the sales and service distributor of Barcelona-based Roser hygiene equipment for more 15 years. Roser manufactures modular-based equipment that guarantees employee compliance by utilizing employee walk-ways and a series of computer-controlled sequences the employee must go through before exiting the hygiene equipment. Roser foot-hygiene systems incorporate rotating brushes infused with sanitizers to produce a system of mechanical footwear cleaning, Plumlee says.

A complete line of private-branded chemicals under the Reliachem label was recently launched by Hantover. “We offer air and odor control, disinfectants, carpet care, floor care, restroom care, laundry and general-purpose chemicals to cover most food-processing and industrial needs,” Lamb says.

More meat and poultry companies are paying closer attention to employee sanitation, says Mark Corser, CEO of Corona, Calif.-based CM Process Solutions. “The cost of a recall now is astronomical and is also detrimental to a company’s image plus supermarkets are now playing a massive part in ensuring companies are taking steps into certain sanitation policies and procedures set out by their guidelines,” he adds.

Corser’s company specializes in hygiene, sanitization equipment and washing machines for the food and other hygiene-conscious industries. Systems offered include bi-directional boot and sole washers, complete integrated hygiene solutions for washing, drying and sanitizing of hands along with boot and sole cleaning, plus washing machines for washing vats, buggy’s combos, pallets totes and other containers used daily in the processing industry.

“We have supplied more boot washers [to meat and poultry customers], typically our DRV500, over the last six months,” Corser says. “Processors seem to be taking more of a note to the automated boot washers, which can be positioned in an obligatory area ensuring that employees are passing through and cleaning their boots. This is a more efficient solution than the old, conventional way of spray-foam equipment that sprays foam on the floors.”

CM Process Solutions recently developed its HC/XXL, which is a designated three-lane hygiene station system that has two entrance lanes for going into the plant and one exit lane. “Employees have to completely wash their hands with soap, dry their hands by use of the Dyson air blade automatic hand-drying system and fully sanitize their hands,” Corser says. “While they are doing this, they are passing through rotating brushes and cleaning the soles of their shoes. Once they complete the procedure, the turnstile unlocks and allows the passage of the person through. We also offer this machine in a single lane, which is called model URKWV.”

All company machines enable customers to count and monitor the passage of people coming through the machine plus optional swipe-card entry systems can be fitted, he adds.

Staying ahead of the game

Protecting the food chain while maintaining cost control will remain a key driver in this market, Birko’s Snellen predicts. “Potential regulatory changes will also require manufacturers of employee-sanitation products to remain ahead of the game through the development of new formulas and delivery systems,” Owens adds.

“Science and science-based industry standards for sanitation will become even more important going forward as the food industry constantly works to improve product safety and consistency,” Hantover’s Lamb concludes.

Packers and processors predict the food-safety bar will continue rising. As a result, food-safety product providers intend to partner even closer with their industry customers to ensure food-safety goals are not only met – but surpassed – on a consistent basis.