As part of larger sanitation programs, hand and boot washing plays a key role in improving food safety and adhering to stricter regulations.
Depending on whom you ask and what part of the industry you’re in, it’s the government, retailers or food manufacturers—more likely all three—that are leading the charge to greater hand and boot sanitation in food production.
“Virtually any time there’s a well publicized outbreak, one of the first things that gets examined is the state of cleaning and sanitation,” says Jim Bail, director of international food safety and technical services for Ann Arbor, MI-based National Sanitation Foundation International (NSF). “Personal hygiene is a very big part of it.”
According to USDA, food hygiene failures accounted for 48 million gastrointestinal illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations and more than 3,000 deaths in the US last year. And according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 36 percent of these illnesses and deaths were related to poor personal hygiene.
Tina Brillinger, president of Global Food Safety Resources Inc. in Newmarket, ON, thinks the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will make sweeping changes to the industry. “FSMA gives FDA greater authority and oversight toward enforcement of regulations in food-related businesses,” says Brillinger. “FDA’s focus is on prevention. Not only does it want to ensure HACCP plans are in place but there’s also an emphasis on record-keeping. This means regulators will have greater access to plant facilities and farm operations to inspect products, demand records and order recalls.”
In June, Canada’s federal government introduced the Safe Food for Canadians Act in the Senate. It intends to consolidate four existing pieces of legislation regulating meat, agricultural products, fish and consumer packaging and labeling. “Governments all over the world are tightening up in this area,” Brillinger says.
One of the reasons is the increasing number of recalls. “Consumers are made aware of outbreaks and issues through mainstream and social media like never before. No company wants its products and brand to be associated with an outbreak or suspicious death. But if it is, it stands a greater chance of reducing risk by reporting it sooner as opposed to later,” Brillinger explains.
As processors have trended toward more transparency in performance and faster, more effective recalls, they’ve taken the logical step toward higher levels of hygiene, opening the door to some noteworthy innovations in hand and boot washing technology. The strongest trend has been toward automatic machines with designs that guarantee a consistent level of cleaning and pathogen “load” reduction.
Meritech of Golden, CO manufactures fully automated, touch-free handwashing systems that automate employee hygiene. “We offer total handwashing in 12 seconds with the same results every time—99.98 percent reduction of dangerous pathogens,” says Meritech Vice President of Sales & Marketing Michele Colbert. “The most commonly missed area is thumbs, and our system addresses that. Our system also saves 75 percent water, waste and labor compared to a manual wash in a regular sink.”
Soap and water in a sink is her company’s main competition. She points out, however, that employees rarely wash well enough to get properly sanitized. “Sinks don’t guarantee an effective wash and usually result in wasted water, wasted soap and wasted time.”
Colbert isn’t terribly keen on alcohol gel hand sanitizers either. “Gels are bad for the skin, and they are rarely applied effectively,” she says. “Most people don’t know it takes a lot of gel, and you have to rub it on your hands for 30 seconds or more for it to be effective, not just three or four seconds. Gels create a false sense of security and, for that reason, are not authorized for use in food production environments in most countries. Soap and water, or our systems, which automatically apply soap and rinse, remain the best safeguards against disease transmission.”
Air or towels?
A number of Meritech machines can be delivered with built-in hand dryers so users can clean and dry in one wash cycle. Colbert thinks these are an important innovation, particularly because of the convenience they offer, but she’s still partial to the use of paper towels for drying.
Colbert says the debate over air or towels is a hot topic and adds that Meritech offers both options to customers. “Paper towels have been shown to increase the effectiveness of a handwashing event, and towels bring oils back to the surface of the skin,” she says. “Dryers are not skin friendly in most cases, and they can blow pathogens and dust around the room.”
Cascades Tissue Group, based in Quebec, has pushed the needle further with its new anti-bacterial paper towel. It was introduced in Canada in 2010, and in the US last month. The product complies with FDA regulations and is designed to compensate for people’s imperfect hygiene habits, without changing the way they dry their hands.
“It’s a first-of-a-kind product that eliminates residual bacteria almost instantly,” says Cascades Tissue Group CEO Suzanne Blanchet. The towels, which are available in roll, folded hand towel and pop-up formats, are made from 100 percent recycled fiber, and are made using five times less water than the North American paper industry average. The towel releases the active ingredient benzalkonium chloride, a common product found in gel sanitizers, baby wipes and antiseptic skin solutions.
For processors that opt for air drying, Dyson’s Airblade is a sustainability leader according to a Massachusetts University Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) study. The unit dries hands in 12 seconds using cold air instead of hot, resulting in 80 percent energy savings over warm air units, according to the study. Air moves at 640km/hour—like putting your hand outside an airplane—and “dries 22 pairs of hands for the cost of a single paper towel,” states Dyson Commercial Marketing Coordinator Michelle Zenner.
The peer-reviewed study says the Dyson Airblade, because of its energy efficiency, zero waste and minimal water use, creates about one-third C02 emissions per dry compared to a virgin or recycled towel. “Ours is the first and only hand dryer to be certified hygienic by NSF International. It is also certified by HACCP International for use in food handling facilities,” says Zenner.
More sanitizing options
Meritech’s MBW2 Boot Washer Series is constructed of heavy-duty stainless steel and designed to be easy to install and clean. The MBW2 is available in soles-only and standard soles/sides/tops configurations. Vertical brushes are available in three-, six- and 12- inch heights. The units are useful at entrances to production areas and as allergen control devices between processing operations. Meritech also provides a six-foot-long walk-through hand and boot wash system that can process 25 people per minute.
“One of our food production customers has 12 production facilities throughout the United States supplying airlines and the largest retail coffee chain with pre-packaged snacks and meals,” says Colbert. “A problem they had was employees not washing their hands prior to entering the food production area.”
To remedy this, Meritech provided controlled access turnstiles. Employees go through one turnstile placed before the CleanTech handwashing station. A second turnstile locks until the employee completes a handwash and then unlocks to allow the employee to enter the production area. “This solution not only solved the company’s non-compliant handwashing issue, but also provided it with a guaranteed handwash for every user, every time,” notes Colbert.
Another company providing automated sanitizing systems is Jeti GMBH based near Frankfurt, Germany. Jeti’s Air Shower is a one-person stainless steel cubicle equipped with high-speed fans and HEPA filters. In seconds, the unit can sanitize clothing to prevent cross-contamination of allergens, such as peanut residues, between one production area and another. “It’s part of our complete hygienic entrance approach,” says Jeti Marketing and International Sales Director Thorsten Gebauer. “In Europe, a lot of companies need these machines and entrance systems to conform with hygienic standards such as International Food Standard [IFS] certification, which many retailers require from their suppliers.”
Jeti’s boot cleaning systems feature unique circular brushes. Narrow brush strips that are attached to individual motorized belts move laterally in opposite directions. “This makes it very stable for plant workers standing on them,” notes Gebauer. “For this reason, most units don’t need hand rails. Models feature dry, water and alcohol cleaning.”
The shoe sole cleaner comes in a standalone module that sits on top of the floor and can also be installed flush into the floor surface. The premium model is robust enough to clean the wheels of a forklift. “Over 70 percent of bacteria and dirt in a plant is on the floor. That’s why it’s important to have a good shoe sole cleaning system in place,” states Gebauer.
A baked goods processor asked Jeti to provide recommendations for its production area entrance, where water or other liquids could not be used because of all the flour in the plant. “We offered our JetiCleaner Premium version, installed up-floor,” says Gebauer. “The JetiCleaner works dry and cleans itself using a special counter-brush system. At night, a washing device disinfects the brushes.”
Ecolab of St. Paul, MN provides a complete hand hygiene program that includes cleaners and sanitizers, plus a range of both no-touch and manual dispensing options. Dispensers are tailored to suit each plant and application—ranging from smaller, battery-operated plastic units (free standing or wall mounted), simple elbow-operated manual jug pumps and no-touch foot-operated stations to fully automated, no-touch central systems with numerous individual drop stations.
Equipment may be getting more sophisticated, but personal compliance still plays a vital role. Ecolab provides employees with a comprehensive, bilingual training program to strengthen GMPs and awareness,” says Ecolab Assistant Market Manager Adrian Valle. Like Jeti, Ecolab places an emphasis on doorway sanitization systems to help reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
Food and health crossover
DebMed, the healthcare unit of the Deb Group based in the UK, is the first company to introduce a group monitoring system to report hand hygiene compliance rates electronically in real time. Called “DebMed GMS,” the technology is based on the World Health Organization (WHO) “Five Moments for Hand Hygiene.” Deb Group works mainly with hospitals, but the company’s technology is used in food manufacturing plants as well.
DebMed GMS utilizes Optidose, a single-shot foaming sanitizer dispenser to deliver the appropriate volume of sanitizer to achieve effective hand sanitization. The combination of Optidose and DebMed InstantFOAM 70 percent alcohol sanitizer exceeds the requirements of the Healthcare Personnel Handwash test in a single 1.5ml dose. The system is effective in reducing hospital patient infections, which cause 100,000 deaths each year at a cost of over $30 billion, according to CDC.
To disinfect hands is one thing. To keep them that way is another. A concern in production environments is the re-infection of hands from door handles when exiting the restroom and entering a production area. To address this, Kimberly-Clark of Neena, WI introduced an automatic door handle disinfector that sprays a fine alcohol-based disinfectant mist that kills 99.9 percent of pathogens. The units are battery driven and programmable to operate every 15, 30 or 60 minutes depending on traffic needs.
Whatever hand and boot sanitation system a company chooses, validation is key, says Paul Medeiros, director of consulting services at the Guelph Food Technology Center. “Before you purchase, make sure you have documented proof the supplier’s claims are accurate regarding prevention of contamination and reduced bacterial loads. This includes environmental swabbing, supplier literature reviews and study results. You want to be sure it works.”
NSF’s Jim Bail is a big believer in training. “We cannot rely solely on automated systems to keep people safe; there are just too many variables,” he says. “If a person is not trained well, he or she could end up unintentionally defeating an automated system. If people are trained well and understand why it’s important to keep hands and boots clean, they’ll find a way to do it.”
For more information:
Jim Bail; National Sanitation Foundation International; 734-827-6844; firstname.lastname@example.org
Tina Brillinger; Global Food Safety Resources Inc.; 888-437-7395, ext. 105; email@example.com