Many of today’s food processors are adopting hygienic design principles to ease cleaning and reduce the potential for pathogen contamination. However, it can be overwhelming to identify hard-to-clean niches and potential bacteria harborage areas. Whether building a new facility or working with an existing plant, here are seven steps to form and manage an effective hygienic design team:

1. Start with top management. It is extremely important for upper management to extend their full support to hygienic design projects. Implementing hygienic design may require capital investments or operational changes that need top management buy-in. You may require production line upgrades. The time to create smooth welds, install cleanable materials and eliminate hard-to-reach areas may cost more upfront. Make sure top management understands the importance of hygienic design.

2. Select a strong leader. The team needs a strong leader to manage the entire hygienic design process and delegate assignments. The team leader should understand not only the plant design, but also the criteria for creating cleanable surfaces. The leader must be able to stand firm on decisions that could compromise the quality and safety of the project. The best person to lead hygienic design is often the head of quality assurance or another senior member of the quality management team.

3. Utilize a wide range of expertise. It’s important for the hygienic design team to represent different perspectives and areas of expertise. Involve every phase of the operation, including sanitation, production and maintenance. If purchasing new equipment, always include a representative from the manufacturer and a representative of the contracting company that may be doing the installation.

4. Specify goals. Identify what the hygienic design team wants to accomplish, taking into consideration food and worker safety risks, regulatory compliance and issues related to cleanability, functionality, material selection and workmanship. Consider both food contact and non-food contact surfaces. Create an action plan with timelines and assign responsibilities for completion. This action plan should include a detailed set of procedures for sanitation and maintenance.

5. Provide regular updates. Set frequent check steps to review progress. Depending on the scope of the project, the hygienic design team may need to meet monthly, weekly or even more frequently during the height of the project. Be sure that everyone involved is actively reviewing the construction area on a regular basis, constantly looking for potential hazards. 

6. Check end results. Prior to the final cleaning and start of production, the hygienic design team should do a final walkthrough to ensure everything functions as planned. The entire team should participate in training on all aspects of cleaning, operating and maintaining new equipment and/or processes. Be sure the sanitation team conducts an intensified cleaning with anaerobic plate count, bacteria and total plate count swabs before production starts.

7. Continue monitoring. Even shiny new surfaces eventually get scratches and pocks that harbor pathogens and make them difficult to clean. Smart companies have ongoing hygienic design programs to keep equipment and systems up to date. The hygienic design team can watch for procedural shifts and remain alert to needs for equipment repairs, new air filters or other updates. 

The end game is to have a plant that delivers safe products. Avoid any shortcuts when designing food processing equipment and surfaces. Those shortcuts could lead to lost production, recalls, or in some cases, foodborne illnesses.  NP