Be in the know, before it goes!
It is important while crafting your Environmental Monitoring Program to consider getting a good representative picture of your production environment. In this blog we’ll be covering areas to target and proper swabs to help you along the way as well as tips for shipping/submitting swabs to your lab.
Your environmental monitoring program shouldn’t only consist of the “easy” areas, they should be monitoring the nooks and crannies, the tough spots to clean because that’s where the bacteria like to hang out. Your environmental program’s goal shouldn’t be to swab areas that won’t have positives, but should rather focus on a “seek out and destroy” technique.
If you're looking for suggestions on areas to swab,
most often, hard to inspect areas can be overlooked.
Underneath a splashguard
- Look at connections- Floor/wall joints, flashing or flexible connectors, high pressure feed lines.
- Look up - Main air inlet ducts that are typically connected to the outside, Air handling coils for heating, cooling and dehumidification.
- Look at processing equipment and drains - slicers, dicers, hollow rollers on conveyors, hollow support structures, drip pans, condensate, and drains.
What Zone are you in?
When discussing environmental sampling it’s also important to discuss zones within production areas and the entire plant.
Zone 1 Product contact surfaces – direct and indirect (includes anything that can drip, drain, or diffuse onto product contact surfaces or into product). For example: Filling heads, hoppers, scrapers, utensils, packaging equipment surfaces, product contact conveyors, brine
Zone 2 Non-product contact surfaces near Zone 1 which, if contaminated, could reasonably contaminate product contact surfaces through normal operations. Sites near Zone 1 which might include: items above exposed product, package guides, equipment legs, framework, motor housings, tank lids, control panels, scrap carts, conveyors, HVAC vents, air filters, floor mats at packaging
Zone 3 Other locations within RTE or High Hygiene processing areas. Processing room floors, walls, surfaces, wall/floor junctions, cleaning tools (brooms, squeegees), floor scrubbers, forklifts, floor drains, ceiling drain pipes, wash stations, ingredient storage areas, transition rooms, etc.
Zone 4 Areas outside of RTE or high hygiene processing rooms Warehouses, laboratory, lockers, break rooms, compactor areas, offices, maintenance shops. Zone 4 sampling should take place less frequently and is used to determine whether transient microorganisms are present that may pose an eventual risk to the RTE areas, or for investigational purposes. Sampling non-production and transition areas (zone 4) may also help to assess the effectiveness of sanitation and GMP controls.
There is an important difference between “zones” and “sampling sites or locations.” Swab sampling “sites” are the specific physical location of the sample (e.g., shaft of motor #43, left guide on product conveyor). The more specific you can be with this description the more consistent your sampling will be.
For example, your site is labeled “wash station #4” Billy might swab the basin of the wash station, Sarah might swab the knobs of the handles on the wash station. In this scenario, you would be receiving inconsistent information. However if you specify, “Hot water knob of wash station #4” you will get consistent trending.
During sampling- if you have areas that are hard to reach, or a regular sponge won’t fit, there are plenty of alternatives to help you out.
If the area is too low or too high to reach, if it’s a constricted area in a piece of equipment, there are extendable poles available to purchase (from four feet up to twelve feet long!) that will help you reach your swabbing target.
If you recognize a potential problem area within a machine and a regular sized sponge won’t fit, you can utilize a smaller swab type. World bioproducts makes a small swabs, including one called Veriswab which is ideal for sampling cracks and crevices, and surface areas of approximately 100 cm2.
Make sure when you collect your samples they are handled correctly, please visit our other environmental monitoring blogs regarding environmental sample size, environmental sampling sponges, neutralizing broths, and environmental sample timing and EMP sampling locations.
It is recommended that all surfaces sampled should be rinsed and sanitized after a sample is collected. This is especially important when a broth (such as D/E Neutralizing Broth, Letheen Broth, Buffered Peptone Water, or HiCap Neutralizing Broth) contains growth promoting materials that if left on the surface may support the growth of microorganisms after the sample is collected. You don’t want to promote more growth of organisms after you’ve swabbed!
When you are done collecting each sample it is a good idea to ensure they are aseptically stored during the remainder of sampling throughout your facility. Close bags securely and store them upright if possible. There are dividable grid containers available that can hold your environmental samples upright and separate from one another ensuring no leaking or cross contamination.
After you are done collecting your environmental monitoring sponges/swabs, it is recommended that samples be analyzed as soon as possible. If samples are sent to an off-site laboratory for analysis, they should be sent with ice packs to maintain refrigerated temperatures. But use caution- they should not be in direct contact with ice, you want to avoid the freezing of samples! Freezing of samples will make your sponges/swabs unable to be tested as it will affect the microbial organism’s ability to be recovered.
Samples collected using Buffered Peptone Water, D/E Neutralizing Broth, Letheen Broth or Neutralizing Buffer should be analyzed within 24 hours of collection. Samples collected using HiCap Neutralizing Broth may be held at refrigerated temperatures (2-8 ° C) for up to 72 hours prior to analysis. That is to say, they must be tested at the lab within 72 hours of sampling. That does not mean you can swab on Friday and hold the sponge until Monday and then send the sponge in the mail, in that case you would be receiving a phone call from us to let you know your sponge is outside of the acceptable time frame for processing. So the sooner you submit your environmental sample, the better.