As a customer, what do you do with your environmental results? Many of you have your own processes and quality procedures but are you using your results to effectively ensure your sanitation is working?
During one of my first experiences being audited while working in the food manufacturing world I was asked by the auditor “Is your sanitation program controlling pathogens during the entire production run?”. I immediately responded with a boastful yes! The auditor of course followed up with “Please prove it.” Being relatively new, I temporarily froze as I knew our product results never yielded a positive in my time there but, was fairly certain that was not sufficient proof. Thankfully, I received a quick education as my supervisor presented the auditor with our environmental monitoring results which included pre-operational, operational, and post operational time points. Each sampling time verified something slightly different and was evidence our sanitation program did indeed control pathogens through the entirety of our production runs. The key take-away for me was that an environmental monitoring program must take into consideration when to sample and what each sampling time’s results mean within your Food Safety System.
Have you ever seen or added liquid in your environmental sampling devices and questioned what is it, why is it there, or if all the liquid is the same? I know when I began in food manufacturing and took my first samples, these were questions that arose for me and how these factors were impacting the results. The simple answer is that this liquid is called neutralizing broth and there are multiple types that act differently to protect the sample taken.
A while back as I talked with a manufacturer that was required by their customer to have an environmental monitoring program, they had expressed their confusion in their customer’s response when they shared their monitoring results. The manufacturer was proud to present 3 years’ (the entirety of their program) worth of data in which they never once had a positive result for the target bacteria. The manufacturer thought they had been doing an amazing job while their customer was less than confident with their results. The customer knew that given the manufacturers environment and required sanitation it was highly unlikely to never have a positive result, not because the manufacturer wasn’t taking care but, because of the ubiquitous nature of bacteria. Ultimately, the customer felt that the manufacturer was not sampling the most likely growth areas in their facility and was therefore missing the bacteria.
RECALL. One of the scariest, if not the scariest words that can be uttered by a manufacturing facility. Everyone knows how much it can cost, anything from lost product to lost careers and even companies. We often find that companies do not invest the time and focus on their Environmental Monitoring Program until it is already too late and they are now in the process of withdrawing product from the market. Ask yourself the following questions:
Being in the industry for more than 35 years – I’ve experienced significant changes in technology and testing; we are getting as close to instantaneous analysis as the bacteria will allow it. But I have always felt very strongly that a test can only be as good as the quality and integrity of the sample being analyzed. The devices we use to collect environmental samples have also evolved and changed.