Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs)

Sanitation team at a food factory

In the blog post, The Basics of Sanitation in the Food Industry, I laid the foundation for a successful sanitation program. I discussed:

  • What is soil?
  • The sanitation crew members are your most valuable employees.
  • There are four crucial factors for successful cleaning and sanitizing.
  • What are clean-in-place (CIP) and clean-out-of-place (COP) procedures?

Sanitation crews work hard. Sanitation crews have a lot of turnover and require extensive training and monitoring. The crew must be supplied with the resources they need to do the job right. Crew members must be trained to handle chemicals safely and wear appropriate personal protective equipment. The crew is supplied with EPA-registered cleaning and sanitizing chemicals and follow the manufacturer’s directions. After training and when an employee’s performance is good, please pay them well.

On this foundation, companies will build a sanitation program with training records, Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs), and monitoring of sanitation preventive controls.

Document training.

Every sanitation crew member is a qualified individual as defined by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) final rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food. FSMA requires documented training records. Most companies fulfill this function through human resources, but owners of small companies may be doing this record-keeping. Because training records are required, you must be ready for a federal or state inspector to review the training records. During the on-boarding process of a new sanitation crew member, document the training. Document a follow-up observation to confirm the work is being done correctly. Document additional training as the employee takes on more responsibilities.

Document cleaning and sanitizing procedures.

SSOPs are detailed step-by-step procedures and can be written with your chemical supply company. The chemical supply company should have resources to answer all your questions. The SSOPs will be tailored to your manufacturing equipment, your product, and your cleaning and sanitizing procedures. Beyond your chemical supply company, there is a wealth of information to sift through on-line. ConnectFood provides resources on their site and will match you up with experts in the design of cleaning and sanitizing programs.

Your company may already be doing all the right steps for cleaning and sanitizing, and that is great! Attaining clean and sanitary equipment as well as manufacturing environments supersedes all other sanitation team goals. However, written SSOPs will help to ensure that all sanitation crew members are following the same steps in the way the procedures were designed. Written SSOPs are critical to training. Remember, there is usually great turnover in sanitation crews, and new employees are frequently being on-boarded. If crew members are unsure about a step or disagree about a step, the written SSOP will explain the procedure to follow. If there are deviations, the written SSOP will get the process back on track.

I highly encourage clients to write SSOPs with pictures of the chemical labels, tools being used on equipment, clean-in-place control panels and tanks, and the finished job of clean surfaces. A picture is worth ten thousand words, said Fred R. Barnard. Click here to see a splendid example of an SSOP with pictures that I found on-line.

Effective SSOPs are key in our complex world of allergen control. Does your product contain one or more allergens? The big eight regulated by the FDA are wheat, soy, egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. If you make a product which contains an allergen and then use the same line to make another product without the allergen, you must have a complete allergen clean step. The clean step is designed to remove residue of the allergen, so that cross-contact into the next product does not occur. In this case you would have a preventive control for the allergen.

Monitor cleaning and sanitizing.

If you have an allergen clean step or an environmental monitoring program as required by the FSMA Preventive Controls for Human Food rule, you will have a preventive control in your cleaning and sanitizing program. With a preventive control comes the requirement to monitor and document the step. Record-keeping proves you did what you say you are doing in your SSOPs. Keep this simple! Here are examples of what you can record:

  • Visual check after cleaning with a simple pass/fail
  • ATP test result
  • Amount of cleaner added to what amount of water
  • pH of cleaning solution
  • Concentration of sanitizer with a dip test strip
  • CIP tank temperature
  • CIP run time on a recording chart
  • Sanitation supervisor checks that an allergen clean was done after production with an allergen

Use this list as a menu of choices and add your own options. If this information creates more questions, seek out resources. The science of cleaning and sanitizing is vast, in which some people have devoted their entire careers. The concept is that you must prove that you did what you say you are doing in your SSOPs. If critical parameters for successful cleaning and sanitizing are time, temperature, and concentration, then how are you going to document the data?

The search for forms and checklists can be overwhelming, and the ConnectFood website has free resources. The partners at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

Dr. Kathy Knutson has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd.

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