Cutting the hygiene risk

Hygiene remains a critical issue for food business operators who, eight months on since new EU food safety regulations were introduced, are facing new challenges. New technology can, at least, assist companies in providing hygienically advanced inter

Maintaining stringent hygiene practices in meat plants across the UK is now more crucial than ever for providing effective operations with the new EU food safety regulations in full swing.

Hygienic ceiling, flooring, cladding and surfaces, which are manufactured with in-built antibacterial technology are being recognised by the meat industry as essential for improving standards of food hygiene in meat plants and processing factories since tougher EU regulations were introduced on 1 January.

However, more than eight months on since the legislation was enforced, challenges remain for food business operator's (FBOs) whose duty it is now to put in place, implement and maintain a permanent procedure, or procedures, based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles. The Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) has said FBOs must still encourage staff to appreciate the principles of HACCP and why they contribute to food safety.

A spokesman says: "The most important issue the MHS is currently focusing on is the change of culture under the new regulations, which requires FBOs to take full responsibility for the production of safe food. We are also embedding the new audit process." A new, risk-based, audit scheme was introduced in January 2006, with all currently licensed/approved establishments allocated an initial audit category. These are based on the nature and size of the business, the Hygiene Assessment System (HAS) score, and the history of enforcement activity, if any.

The regulations allow a more risk-based approach, with consequent changes to the frequency of MHS controls.

In particular, MHS attendance in cutting plants for hygiene controls has changed from daily or weekly inspection visits, to visits to carry out audits of the FBO's food safety management systems and - where necessary - visits for enforcement purposes. In slaughterhouses and game-handling establishments, audits are in addition to daily attendance to carry out official control duties.

The initial audit categories are being used to help plan audit visits. There are five different audit categories.  The scoring scheme means that audits will be completed in cutting plants and slaughterhouses at least once every eight months.

Audits are carried out by Official Veterinarians (OVs), in order to verify the FBOs' compliance with procedures concerning the production of safe meat, and satisfaction that these are operating effectively and to make recommendations to FBOs' where improvements to internal procedures and controls are appropriate.

Where necessary OVs can undertake appropriate risk-based enforcement action. Publication of confirmed audit categories is replacing the publication of HAS scores on the FSA website.

The MHS spokesman says HACCP had made some smaller FBOs focus on specific hazards, such as E coli in red meat and Campylobacter in poultry.

A spokesman for the FSA says: "HACCP has been a fact of meat plant life since at least 2002 so operators should be no strangers to it. It takes time to get it right and to understand how to apply the principles in everyday working life but, once an operator has a plan in place, it enables them to demonstrate they have taken responsibility for the safe production of food. We are working with the MHS and Veterinary Meat Hygiene Advisers to ensure all meat plants have effective and simple HACCP procedures in place.

"Apart from simply finding time to devote to establishing an effective HACCP-based food safety management system, we know that some operators have over-complicated HACCP plans which are difficult to put into practice, and some have had concerns about the amount of record-keeping required. The agency has produced and distributed guidance to help operators draw up procedures that are realistic and useable," the spokesman added


>> Technological advances in specialist internal walls, ceilings, flooring and cladding mean that they can now stand up to extreme conditions, such as high humidity, wet conditions due to the amount of water used for cleaning and flushing, and thermal shock caused by sudden changes in temperature. Developments in this area helps meat industry FBOs comply with strict hygiene regulations.

Coatings specialists, Liquid Plastics, recently launched a new hygiene coating system incorporating water-based Silver Ion technology for internal walls and ceilings. It provides a hygienic surface which is impervious, easy to clean, hard wearing and free from joints, seams and other features which might harbour dirt and bacteria.

A spokeswoman for the company says the coatings are quick and easy to apply to most common substrates including painted surfaces, blockwork, ceramic tiles and even in cold storage and freezer rooms. She adds: "The antimicrobial properties protect against the growth of micro-organisms such as bacteria, mould, fungi and yeast, including E coli 0157, penicillium and salmonella."

The technology is yet to make its mark in UK meat plants, but it has been utilised abroad, for example in a Danish poultry factory in Jyland, where the client required a hygiene system that would be able to be applied to all internal walls and ceilings and concrete elements in the warehouse.

Antimicrobial decorative coatings, Steridex - a matt finish system and Sterisheen - a mid-sheen system, were specified for this project. Steridex was first applied followed by a top coat of Sterisheen and Steridex was applied on its own to the ceiling as it protects against micro-organisms such as mould, fungi, yeasts and bacteria on its surface.

A pre-finish steel product from Corus, a leading innovator in metals, combines antibacterial protection which fights bacterial growth in-between cleans and in those difficult to reach areas.

'Assure' pre-finished steel provides an extra line of defence in tackling bacterial contamination and ethnic food producer Noon Products used it in the development of its new Southall facility.

Sir Gulam Noon, chairman and managing director of Noon Products, says: "Given growing public concern and stringent requirements for hygiene critical environments, particularly in the food supply chain, this will put the factory firmly at the cutting edge of industrial food manufacturing." Corus also offers the CES range of pre-finished metals providing environmental surfaces of insulated panels, which are used to provide partioning systems for walls, ceilings and doors in healthcare, food processing and cold-store environments.

Food transportation companies must also maintain the highest standards of cleanliness at every stage of every journey. Crate rental company PHS Teacrate, which provides a wide range of Returnable Transit Packaging (RTP) products for food sectors, including the poultry industry, is an example of how investment in the latest technology has provided first-rate hygiene standards.

Operations supervisor, Sean Pinches, says: "With well over a million items a year passing through the plant, and hygiene standards now being so high, meticulous cleaning of every item is absolutely essential."

Every pallet of cleaned crates is swab tested and the level of contamination measured using bioluminescence technology. The maximum reading for dairy products, is 150 Relative Light Units (RLU), whereas a maximum reading of 500 RLU is permissible for meat products.

He says: "To put that in context, the average person's 'clean' hand would give a reading of around 30,000 and a typical domestic wooden chopping board about 23,000 RLU."

The meat trade sector needs to consider certain factors when looking at flooring installations, to ensure a surface that delivers the ultimate in hygiene performance and safety.

Mark Holden, of Crewe-based specialist contractor 4m flooring UK Limited, says: "Floors play a vital role in providing a hygienic, safe environment, but failed systems can have a catastrophic effect on a food processing plant, with operations on site potentially coming to an end while work is carried out to rectify the problem."

Mark Spindley, director of resins at the flooring manufacturer Flowcrete, says it is important to consider slip-resistance for flooring in the meat industry. "Flooring manufacturers have worked hard to deliver a level of safety that enables the floor to still be cleaned efficiently, with modern systems bringing together various grades of anti-slip flooring to ensure a better grip underfoot, without detriment to the cleanability of the finish."

UK marketing executive for Altro Ltd, Patrick Clifford, says hygiene, particularly in wall cladding, had been the main thrust behind the company's marketing campaign this year. The company manufacturers and supplies interior surfaces including walls and floors for food preparation areas in the food and drink, health and education industries.

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