In food safety, the stakes are high. If a food processor doesn’t take a proactive food-safety stance, and then experiences a recall due to E. colior Salmonella, it could put the company out of business.
To prevent bacterial contamination at its source and reduce outbreaks of foodborne illness, food processors are turning to more advanced, fully automated hygiene stations designed to ensure obligatory compliance by employees.
According to Chris Stafford, vice president of operations for gourmet-sausage producer Papa Cantella’s, this level of enforced employee hygiene represents the next step in constant, industry-wide refinement of sanitation and monitoring efforts.
“If a recall were to occur, all your big vendors will immediately stop buying from you until you get it figured out,” says Stafford. “By the time you handle the issue, they’re buying your product from someone else, because they have customers that still want the product during that time.”
He notes that the loss in consumer confidence and corresponding impact on sales are just as devastating as the original lost revenue.
Due to these concerns, food processors are moving beyond traditional employee-hygiene techniques such as hand-washing and hand-sanitizing sinks, and dip mats and foaming sanitizers for footwear. The goal: ensure 100% compliance through automated, hands-free hygiene stations that eliminate the potential for employee shortcuts during the process.
“If you don’t have this type of employee-hygiene equipment in place moving into the future, your customer base is going to dwindle to nothing in the next three to five years,” predicts Stafford.
To make its products, Papa Cantella’s brings in a variety of fresh ingredients including all forms of meat, produce, cheese, nuts, etc. to its Vernon, Calif., plant. Within the plant, operations are organized into a preparation area, a main production area for mixing and blending ingredients, and a cooking area for ready-to-eat products.
All these areas are kept completely separate, with employees working in only one area — with each having its own lunch and locker rooms. At the entrance of the packaging room is an automated hygiene station from CM Process Solutions, a Corona, Calif.-based supplier of hygiene and food-processing equipment.
The hygiene station washes the soles of the employee’s footwear while also delivering sensor-operated hand washing and sanitizing. It is equipped with a stainless-steel turnstile that automatically unlocks only when the employee has correctly followed the machine’s requirements.
“You’re under the assumption that every employee is going to follow the procedure,” explains Stafford, “But what happens if someone is late coming back from a break and they run in and put their coat on and don’t sanitize their hands first?
“With an automated hygiene station, I absolutely know 100% of the employees walking through it are getting their hands and boots sanitized,” he concludes.