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In 2016, health officials traced a Listeria outbreak to a manufacturing company that prepared frozen vegetables. The company issued a major recall that included hundreds of contaminated products. As a result, the processing plant shut down.

What caused the contamination? The equipment and tools used to package and prepare the frozen veggies were cracked, chipped, and generally difficult to clean.

No matter which part of the food industry you belong to–manufacturing, restaurant, grocery, or something in between–the environment in which your team prepares food can have a big impact on its safety. The FDA Food Code includes numerous guidelines for equipment and facility design that will help you and your food workers prepare safe food.

  1. Food-contact surfaces should be smooth, durable, nonabsorbent, and easy to clean.

    Pathogens like to hide in any place they can. Cracks, scratches, and other holes in equipment and other food-contact surfaces can allow pathogens to escape from sanitizer spray and cleaning cloths. To make cleaning and sanitizing as effective as possible, use materials that are smooth, durable, nonabsorbent, and easy to clean.

  2. Design your establishment with your workflow in mind.

    When designing your facility, think about how you want your work to flow. Food receiving and storage areas should probably be close to outside doors. Storage areas should naturally lead to preparation areas. Preparation areas should be near cooking stations, which should be conveniently located for those who deliver the orders.

  3. Food storage areas should be clean and dry and NOT exposed to splashing, dust, or other contamination.

    Store food on shelves at least 6 inches above the floor. This will help prevent pests. (The exceptions are pressurized beverages like soft drinks, cases of food in waterproof containers like cans or bottles, and milk containers in plastic crates. These may be stored on the floor as long as the floor is clean and dry.)

  4. Provide sufficient employee accommodations.

  5. Depending on your establishment, employee accommodations might include a locker room, dressing area, and/or break room. If uniforms or aprons are washed on site, you'll need a washer and dryer as well. Also, keep first aid supplies for emergency use.

  6. Install handwashing sinks in restrooms, food preparation areas, and dishwashing areas.

  7. Handwashing sinks should have hot and cold running water. The hot water should reach at least 85°F (29°C). Each sink should also be easily accessible and well stocked with soap and disposable paper towels or an air dryer, with a garbage can nearby.

  8. Provide sufficient restrooms.

  9. Check your local laws for the minimum number of restrooms required in your facility. Restrooms should be accessible and in convenient locations. Make sure all materials used–especially for sinks, toilets, urinals, and floors–are smooth, durable, nonabsorbent, and easy to clean. Each restroom should have a self-closing door with a tight fit.

  10. Provide sufficient ventilation in the kitchen.

    Having enough fans, guards, ducts, and exhaust ventilation hoods in your kitchen will help prevent fires. It also helps prevent moisture and grease from collecting on walls and ceilings, where it could then drip on food or food-contact surfaces. In addition, a good ventilation system will help prevent stuffy air with excessive heat, steam, condensation, vapors, obnoxious odors, and smoke.

  11. Provide sufficient lighting.

    Adequate lighting will help your team members be more effective and safe. Food preparation areas need at least 50 foot candles (540 lux). Walk-in refrigerators and dry food storage areas need at least 10 foot candles (108 lux). Other areas, including buffets and salad bars, displays, and restrooms, need at least 20 foot candles (215 lux). Use shatter-proof light bulbs or install a protective cover over each bulb.

  12. Always use potable (drinkable) water with a pressurized water system.

    Make sure you're getting your water from approved sources. If your supply is disrupted, notify your regulatory authority. You'll need to close your establishment until the water is back. It's a good idea to have a backup plan for water in case of emergency. If there's a chance your water supply could have become contaminated, flush and disinfect your system with the help of a licensed contractor or plumber. Also, take steps to prevent backflow.

  13. Plan how you will safely dispose of liquid and solid waste.

    This includes installing and maintaining drains and grease traps. If you have an outdoor dumpster, it should be made of pest-resistant materials and on a nonabsorbent surface that is smooth, durable, and sloped to drain. Keep your trash cans and dumpsters clean and the area around them free of garbage. Cover any trash receptacle that's not in constant use and take the trash out often.

  14. Choose equipment that is sturdy and cleanable and take care of it.

    Equipment includes everything from knives and cutting boards to drink dispensers, cooking ranges, and ware washing machines. Use a cleaning schedule to make sure your equipment is cleaned and sanitized as often as recommended by the FDA Food Code. Promptly fix or replace broken equipment to avoid creating a physical hazard.

  15. Store equipment in contamination-free areas.

    Movable equipment should be stored in a clean, dry location at least 6 inches above the floor. Keep it separate from cleaning chemicals and food allergens. Do not put ware items in locker rooms, restrooms, dressing rooms, garbage rooms, mechanical rooms, or under open stairwells. The only exception is for linens and packaged single-use items, which may be stored in a cabinet in a locker room. To keep dust and other contaminants out of glasses and dishes, store them upside down or cover them. Store utensils either flat or with the handles up, so food workers can pick them up without touching the food-contact surface. Finally, make sure items are fully dried before storing them, or store them in a way that allows them to finish air drying while in storage. If stored equipment becomes contaminated, you'll need to re-clean and sanitize them before use.

  16. Protect food by providing disposable gloves and utensils.

    Bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food has been traced to almost one-third of restaurant food bone illness outbreaks. To keep food workers from touching food with their bare hands, provide them with disposable gloves and train them how to properly use them. You can also use utensils like tongs to avoid bare-hand contact.

  17. Protect your team members by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) as needed.

    Depending on your establishment, you may need to provide PPE for food workers. For example, slash-resistant gloves might be helpful to workers handling sharp knives. You should also consider supplying reusable rubber gloves, heavy-duty aprons, and safety glasses to employees who use strong cleaning chemicals or who are responsible for cleaning up bodily fluids.

For more information, check out our food manager course or consult your local regulatory authority.

— Jessica Pettit

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