Keeping Food Contact Surfaces Safe

Tacy Callies Food Safety, Tip of the Week

food contact

By Matt Krug, Michelle Danyluk and Taylor O’Bannon

Basic cleaning and sanitizing steps implemented on food contact surfaces are fundamental for reducing the risk of cross-contamination of foodborne pathogens during citrus harvest and post-harvest. While these steps may seem straightforward, several variables can influence effective implementation. A regular review of practices can ensure your operation is set up for success.

When reviewing or developing new packinghouse activities, it is helpful to map the flow of citrus movement to prevent potential contamination from foodborne pathogens. Through this process, you can identify food contact surfaces, which are high priority areas due to their direct contact with citrus and high risk of product contamination. Food contact surface examples include pick sacks, harvest/storage bins, conveyors, brushes, rollers, tables, racks, utensils and worker hands.

Cleaning and sanitation of food contact surfaces are key practices laid out in the Food and Drug Administration’s Produce Safety Rule. The proper implementation of these activities will reduce contamination risks in citrus. It is critical to consider if these surfaces can be fully cleaned and sanitized. For example, porous materials such as wood are commonly used for some situations but may be difficult to clean and sanitize due to its rough and absorbent nature. Ideally, food contact surfaces should meet the following criteria to facilitate proper cleaning and sanitation:

  • Non-absorbent
  • Non-toxic
  • Resistant to corrosion
  • Smooth
  • Resistant to scratching and chipping

Equipment and tools that are food contact surfaces must also be properly designed to facilitate cleaning and sanitation by meeting the following criteria:

  • Easy access
  • Ability to remove/access rollers, brushes and nozzles

Sometimes packinghouses may have older or retrofitted equipment that may not be ideally set up to facilitate these processes. To reduce the risks from these types of surfaces, consider the following:

  • Air dry wooden surfaces after cleaning.
  • Discard any materials that cannot be cleaned properly.
  • Retrofit with materials that can be cleaned and sanitized.
  • Make sure seams are smoothly bonded.
  • Consult with manufacturer about the new purpose of the equipment.
  • When possible, invest in new equipment that can be properly cleaned and sanitized.

When implementing cleaning and sanitation, it is critical to know the difference between the two:

  • Cleaning: the physical removal of dirt from surfaces by using clean water and a detergent
  • Sanitizing: the treatment of a cleaned surface to reduce or eliminate microorganisms

The cleaning step must always come first as it removes any dirt or organic matter that could lower the effectiveness of a sanitizer applied later. It is impossible to sanitize a surface without cleaning it first. To make this clear, the Produce Safety Alliance has outlined a four-step cleaning and sanitation process to use for food contact surfaces.

The adequate frequency of cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces will depend on the individual operation. It is important to document each time these steps are completed and establish what is known as a “clean break,” which creates lots for traceability reasons and limits the risk to an operation during a food-safety contamination event. For more information, see  

Matt Krug is a statewide food science Extension agent at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee. Michelle Danyluk is a professor, and Taylor O’Bannon is a state specialized Extension agent in food safety — both at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.

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