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A Uniform Approach to HACCP

The federal government has made Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) the centerpiece of food-safety initiatives. The system is designed to identify, prioritize and control potential problems. Under HACCP, it is every manufacturer’s prerogative to rank the severity of the physical, chemical and microbial dangers in a process.



HACCP is a seven-step process, which must be continuously updated to ensure a company has a preventive system of hazard control in place to maintain food safety. The seven steps of the HACCP system address the analysis and control of biological, chemical and physical hazards.
1. Conduct Hazard Analysis Prepare a list of steps in the process where significant hazards could occur.
2. Establish Critical Control Points A critical control point is a point, step or procedure at which control can be applied and a food-safety hazard can be prevented, eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level. Note: For those companies identifying uniforms and garments as hazards, qualified uniform suppliers can control those hazards for the plant.
3. Establish Critical Limits These are the scientific limits that establish whether or not a process is in control.
4. Establish Monitoring Procedures These are necessary to eliminate or reduce hazards that have been established. These procedures monitor the process within the critical limits for food safety.
5. Establish Corrective Action Predetermined corrective action should take place if a process goes out of control, as indicated.
6. Verification This is the principle within HACCP that makes the system self-correcting and double-checked. A third party must be the verifier.
7. Record-keeping This is an HACCP requirement that must be kept to support most of the prerequisite programs. HACCP programs take into consideration CCPs that could severely compromise food safety.

The federal government has made Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) the centerpiece of food-safety initiatives. The system is designed to identify, prioritize and control potential problems. Under HACCP, it is every manufacturer’s prerogative to rank the severity of the physical, chemical and microbial dangers in a process.

        While uniforms and garments are not likely the weakest link for a business in which food safety is imperative, operators should recognize the risks of improper care, cleaning and garment handling. Partnering with a uniform supplier that can document the steps taken to minimize the hazards garments can present in a food-handling environment is a value-added proposition.      

A proactive approach

With global food-safety awareness elevated throughout the supply chain, a proactive approach to controlling hazards is a fundamental aspect of doing business in the food industry today. This process requires vigilant documentation and constant review of processes. The importance of product safety in any food operation is paramount, but it must be acknowledged that this comes at a price, as regulatory compliance and sanitation steps ultimately impact the bottom line.

        Out of the top 10 common food-handling practices causing food poisoning, both cross-contamination and infected persons can involve employee uniforms and garments.

        The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates food borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. While there currently is no established USDA or FDA guideline requiring food establishments (processing plants, restaurants, retail meat, deli and bakery departments) to use laundry services, there is a universal expectation within the industry that a sanitized, safe work environment will be maintained.        

Food safety as it relates to uniforms

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Adhering to strict food-safety and sanitation procedures is required to minimize the risk of customers contracting a foodborne illness. Outbreaks of foodborne illnesses have spawned lawsuits and liability claims, costing careless companies millions settlements and millions more in reputation damage. A clean facility is not necessarily a sanitary facility. “Clean" typically implies visible cleanliness. Sanitation addresses levels of invisible cleanliness. Foodborne illnesses can be caused by microorganisms, such as pathogens, yeast, mold, viruses and parasites that are impossible to see. The following points apply to employees’ attire:
• Uniforms, aprons and garments should be clean at the beginning of each shift and changed regularly when necessary.
• Uniforms or aprons should not be worn outside the food-preparation area.
• Avoid using handkerchiefs for wiping or blowing noses; use disposable tissues.
• Wear disposable gloves.
• Avoid wearing jewelry while handling or preparing food.
• Do not wear damaged or deteriorating uniforms, aprons or garments.
• No pockets above the waist and no buttons on the garments.

The uniform suppliers’ role

When looking at the role uniforms and garments play in a plant’s HACCP program, customers should expect more than just clean garments. Uniform and work apparel companies must offer specialized HACCP-conscious uniform programs to companies whose success is dependent on food safety. Uniform companies should adopt a HACCP mentality as a part of their daily business, so their customers have one less control point to address. Uniform suppliers should include the following Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) in their HACCP program to ensure every step of their processes should guard against cross-contamination.

Critical SSOPs

Wash Formulas and Temperature: It is accepted and verified by many scientific evaluations that linen and garments processed in a well-engineered wash formula are hygienically clean upon completion of the washing process. Hygienically clean is defined as “a reduction in microbial counts to a level free of bacteria, viruses and other disease-producing organisms,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Soaps or detergents loosen soil and also have some microbicidal properties. Hot water provides an effective means of destroying microorganisms, and a temperature of at least 160 degrees F for a minimum of 25 minutes is commonly recommended for hot-water washing.
Regardless of whether hot or cold water is used for washing, the temperatures reached in drying, especially during steaming, provide an additional layer of antimicrobial protection. Once clean apparel passes through a steam tunnel, it is taken from the racks and sorted three times to ensure worn or deteriorating garments are removed from the supply chain.
The preceding process is highly effective at producing hygienically clean garments but there is still a risk of cross-contamination after the garments are washed, cleaned and processed. Such cross-contamination can occur at any point after the drying and conditioning processes within the processing plant, during transportation to distribution centers or even on the delivery trucks to final clients. This is why wrapping the clean garments in a polyurethane bag shortly after conditioning can virtually eliminate the risk of cross contamination.
Transport and Delivery:
It’s important to know the safeguards uniform suppliers have in place to avoid cross-contamination during transport and delivery.

Some of the Critical Control Points (CCPs) are as follows:
1. Garment Material and Design:
Traditional materials used for aprons, like vinyl and polyurethane, have cleanability issues. The right materials can promote both food and employee safety. A vinyl apron, for example, tends to stiffen after repeated sanitizing and exposure to cold temperatures. The plasticizers used to make vinyl what it is — a pliable material —will start to leach out. On occasion the material becomes hard and brittle, and it could start flecking into the food supply.
A line of work apparel must include various shirts, pants and smocks specifically designed for food-processing environments, all without buttons or pockets which could add potential for contaminants. In addition, color-coded garments can help managers better identify workers and visitors who could be contaminating food products by being outside their designated work areas. Research indicates 100 percent spun-polyester garments provide higher levels of anti-microbial protection as compared to cotton.
2. Carts/Plastic Tubs:
Carts used to transport clean clothes should either be designated for carrying clean clothes only or be equipped with a disposable plastic liner or a disposable nylon liner/cover to ensure clean clothes do not contact carts or soiled garments.
3. Pest Control:
Each laundry-processing plant should have an effective pest control program in place to minimize possible hazards.
4. Gloves:
Disposable gloves should be worn during the sorting of dirty garments, with all sorters wearing disposable gloves that are changed regularly. Gloves should also be worn by handlers of clean food apparel before being poly-wrapped.
5. Cross-contamination on the Service Route: The process for servicing food accounts must be designed and executed in a way that prevents cross contamination.
Cross-contamination can occur when dirty clothes are picked up and placed in the same cart in which clean garments are delivered. Dirty garments should be placed in a disposable plastic laundry bag within the delivery cart and should be stored in a specific location on the truck to avoid cross contamination. The delivery person should wear disposable gloves when delivering clean garments and picking up dirty garments.

6. Training: All vendor employees must be trained regularly and certified on basic food safety and preventing cross-contamination. Educational programs must include steps to avoid cross-contamination between different departments (meat, bakery, etc.) within the same plant or store on their route, as well as how to handle soiled and cleaned garments at the customer’s facility and on their trucks. Your uniform vendor should also be able to inform your employees in the proper handling and storage of clean and soiled garments.
Employees of apparel companies should be trained on the company’s HACCP work-apparel cleaning procedures which revolve around specific processes and steps in their wash process, including standard procedures and formulas in their washing protocols to ensure maximum cleanliness. All precision-washed garments ultimately must undergo a steam-tunnel conditioning process with temperatures over 230°F to ensure bacteria elimination, as well as a set-steps quality inspection before the garments are returned to customers. The entire process must be documented, step-by-step, for compliance.
7. Lockers:
The lockers within the food plant should be cleaned on a regular basis to avoid contamination. Lockers must be kept in a clean designated area, away from any potential contamination.
8. Service Trucks:
The service trucks should be kept free of dust and dirt to avoid contamination. Soiled and cleaned garments must be physically separated on trucks to prevent cross-contamination.
9. Mats:
Regularly scheduled cleaning and change out of mats at doorways and within the plant must be conducted to ensure they are safe and clean.
10. Racks within Plants:
Storage racks must be cleaned regularly to avoid contamination. Using lightweight shelves is the recommended alternative to wood and laminated material because it is resistant to chipping and breaking while providing economical storage areas.        

Assuring safety

The assurance of safety comes from the process of identifying hazards, establishing controls for the identified hazards, monitoring controls and continuously verifying that the system works. Because the responsibility of HACCP falls on the individual processing plant, it leaves some feeling like they are drowning in paper. If food plants rely on trusted vendors to provide sanitary uniforms this could help alleviate a critical control point within the plant.
By selecting the right uniform supplier, employee uniforms and garments can be a simple, but effective way to increase plant hygiene and reduce cross-contamination.
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