New construction of food facilities, building expansion projects and routine repair work can present a series of potentially serious and unexpected problems. When conducting a site inspection of a new processing plant or expansion, we look for the status of several items and try to assess how they might affect food safety.
Air conditioning system installations must have provisions for control of dust and debris during assembly, startup and normal operations. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a code available for construction requirements. Often, A/C duct components are scattered about the construction site, then assembled without regard for accumulated dust, sand, debris and pests. This situation is made worse by the start-and-stop manner in which A/C sections are completed. Once fully complete, the A/C system should be disinfected prior to the introduction of food items or the start of food processing in the facility. Similar disinfection is required for the processing plant and equipment whenever large-scale facility repairs are conducted and when environmental swabs show repeat or widespread issues.
Processing equipment receiving is often a high-risk scenario. Upon arrival, processing equipment crates and packaging are usually opened to assess the condition and count parts as part of the receiving accounting process. Unfortunately, the equipment is rarely repacked in the same environment, even if only for a short time. Dust, grit, chemicals and pests can enter the equipment during this period of exposure, contaminating internal spaces and services. Other problems can include damage to seals and gaskets that are scratched and scoured by the dust and grit. Microbial contamination is also common at this time.
Open drains and water spills are a fact of life at the construction site. Drains must be kept effectively closed, and water spills must be prevented, reduced, controlled and reported to prevent microbial problems from emerging in the finished facility. Mold and bacteria frequently develop within facility wall and ceiling spaces as well as on wall, cable and pipe surfaces during construction. They can then reemerge as problems a short time after the facility is completed. This is especially the case when water spills reoccur or plumbing defects appear.
Opened walls and ceilings are a high risk to health and food safety, even in new facilities, as many spores can be exposed, especially Aspergillus spp. mold. Food spoilage and many types of contamination often occur during construction in food processing plants.
Repairs to ceilings and walls require the construction of temporary barriers to control dust, pests, mold and wide range of physical contaminants from contacting food and food processing equipment. Covering equipment with a sheet of plastic is not sufficient to protect the many high-risk surfaces from contamination. Barriers must be tightly sealed against hard points (not taped to hanging ceiling tiles) and be sufficient to hold out all dust, pests, mold, spores and small particles, with consideration for areas with pressure changes.
No food items, ingredients or packaging materials should be exposed to construction debris, leaks or dust. Conduct cleaning and disinfection activities after construction work is completed, even if dust or oil is not visible.