Dispatches from GFSC 2016 in Berlin

Ecolab: Cleaning and sanitation focus should not vary by company size

Dr Ruth Petran spoke to us in Berlin at the GFSC 2016

The focus on cleaning and sanitation shouldn’t vary by the size of an operation, according to the VP of food safety and public health for Ecolab.

Dr Ruth Petran told FoodQualityNews industry understands the important role of cleaning and that it can’t be skipped or sacrificed as part of time pressures.

“It is a constant reminder though as we get to these higher productivity operations, which want to be meeting the customer’s demands which are increasing, not to take shortcuts in something as important as sanitation and other food safety programs,” she told us during the GFSI conference in Berlin.

“It does take time and effort to accomplish these, that said Ecolab remains aware of the fact that these productivity demands are increasing and we work to come up with ways of cleaning and sanitizing that might be able to shorten times.

“Again it has to be valid and practical in as such that the people who are doing the sanitizing activities can do it within the amount of time.”

Food safety ‘top of mind’

Ecolab provides cleaning, food safety and health protection products and services to customers in more than 160 countries and employs more than 41,000 associates worldwide.  

“The idea is that food safety should be top of mind if you are a two person company or a 200,000 person company and there is that range in the food industry. There needs to be as much thought and care to food safety,” said Petran.

“How that information might be disseminated certainly would be different in those scales. It may be they wouldn’t have the resources in house but they have to know and be aware ‘I’m making something that someone is going to eat that could theoretically make someone sick if I don’t do this right’.”

Prior to joining Ecolab, Petran was a research microbiologist and supplier quality manager at Pillsbury, as well as specifications manager and quality regulations operations product manager at General Mills.

Petran said there was ‘increasingly better’ knowledge when it came to validation and verification.

“I think it is very important to distinguish the terms and validation is that scientific look at a practice or control to make sure it is going to work, to control the hazard of concern. So is sanitation going to work against a hazard that I am concerned about, be it Salmonella or an allergen residue,” she said.

“Validation is doing your homework before you get started to make sure it is going to accomplish what you want, because if it isn’t going to accomplish it you have to switch gears and do something else.

“Verification is the ongoing assurance that the validated control or validated sanitation is being followed. So if you are supposed to allow a sanitizer to sit for two minutes on a surface at a concentration of 200 ppm is that being met, do you have data to show yes I had the right time, the right temperature, whatever those critical parameters are they being followed.”

Craig Wilson of Costco and Elena Garcia, associate director of global sanitation at Mondelez International, spoke at an Ecolab breakout session during the event.

Petran agreed it was crucial that staff knew why they were doing what they do and ‘humanising’ it helps.

“We want to do the right things and if we have an end in mind, that the actions we are taking do impact the consumers of the food that may run across this line later on, it helps justify and help people be motivated to do the right thing,” she said.

“When they think about the fact that a child may eat the cookie that is going along this line and think ‘I don’t want this child to get sick’.”

Hazard awareness and future focus

Part of the process of a food safety programme is being aware what potential hazards are, said Petran.

“In a dry environment like a bakery it is not necessarily an area where you would want to be introducing a lot of water because that in itself could lead to food safety hazards if it is not controlled well,” she said.

“In the last few years we have put a big focus on the dry cleaned industry and have launched a few products that are designed to clean with a minimal amount of water and still deliver the same cleaning practice and sanitising on top of that to remove any residual microorganisms that may be there.”

Asked about future areas of note, Petran said it is looking at the chemistry aspect for new molecules that can be manufactured or discovered that might improve things.

“Also, how can we help our customers monitor their performance and increasingly with the big data world we need to know that we have documentation of what has been going on,” she said.

“We have services now that can help people monitor what is going on and then extract the information that is the most key to them out of that. That service and support aspect is going to continue and is a focus for us going forward.”

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