Microbial failures in finished food products are frequently traced to failures to effectively receive, store, transport and handle ingredients before entering the food processing system.
Receiving of ingredients is a key control point in the food manufacturing facility. Incidents have occurred where packaged ingredients are received dusty, sandy, wet stained and even covered with bird droppings. These dirty bags, drums and barrels of ingredients are placed into storage warehouses, then transported on forklifts into clean, high-risk areas where they can cross-contaminate critical processing equipment.
Frequently, the dust from droppings is displaced onto floors in the raw ingredient mixing rooms, where they mix with clean water to produce bacterial slimes. Slimes frequently cause microbial contamination when cleaning spray aerosols carry microbes onto equipment surfaces, into mixing equipment and also into the air.
Wooden pallets holding ingredients often have rodents and insects living within them, releasing these materials into high-risk areas when they are delivered to the holding areas next to mixing and processing equipment. Plastic pallets are now specified by most food manufacturers, but these can also hold mud and pest droppings on their bottoms.
Forklift wheels and frames often become soiled in one area, then transport the soiling into other areas during pick-up and drop-off of food items. Watch for cross-contamination and consider having separate color-coded forklifts for raw and finished foods, especially for meat, poultry, dairy, cheese and similar processing plants.
Chutes are commonly used to transfer raw ingredients on one floor to processing areas on a different level. These chutes frequently become soiled when dry ingredients create organic residues due to humidity or residual cleaning water. This residue can become microbial and moldy and enter into the processing system when dislodged.
Dry ingredients are often made wet during holding next to the processing site. Here they wait for hours or days until ready to use. Holding time and temperature are critical if dry ingredients become wet and develop microbes during the holding period.
Purchasing specifications are required for wrapping ingredients, pallet type and transport hygiene. Purchasing departments can specify vehicle-type requirements, such as covered trucks with AC’s and hygienic palettes in supply contracts as part of the food safety management system (FSMS). Its important to specify receiving conditions for both food and non-food ingredients to reduce potential contamination.
Internal procedures should complement these specifications by requiring receiving staff to remove soiled film wraps prior to entry into the receiving area and internal “ready to use” holding sites. Receiving areas should also be large enough to handle all arriving goods without temporary holding outdoors, where items are exposed to potential contaminants.