Establishing Clean Breaks and Verification in Packinghouses

Daniel Cooper Food Safety, Packing, Tip of the Week


By Clara Diekman, Taylor O’Bannon and Michelle Danyluk

Many citrus packers already rely on product lot codes to aid in the traceability of their product in the case of a contamination event. These product lots can be determined in a variety of ways, including the date of harvest, field, harvest crew, etc.

Regardless of the method used to assign lot codes, a sanitation clean break is needed, before and after the production of a lot, to separate it from the remaining product produced. A sanitation clean break or “clean break” is defined as a documented production break where food contact surfaces have been properly cleaned and sanitized using a verified and validated process.

The Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule defines food contact surfaces as “surfaces that contact human food and those surfaces from which drainage, or other transfer, onto the food, or onto surfaces that contact the food, ordinarily occurs during the normal course of operations.” This can include surfaces which water contacts and then contacts the produce, like nozzles or spray bars.

Establishing lots and clean breaks is often thought of as a business decision, because it defines the amount of product that must be recalled in a contamination event. Additionally, conducting a clean break requires down-time in production and labor, so frequency is determined by risk and costs.

When establishing clean breaks, it is important that proper cleaning and sanitation occurs and that the process is verified and validated. Written standard operating procedures can ensure processes are being completed and steps are being followed properly.

The first step is to clean, which is the physical removal of soil from a surface, including the use of water and detergent while manually removing plant debris, soil and other organic matter. Cleaning is often verified by visual methods to ensure all debris is removed and can be followed by adenosine triphosphate (ATP) swabbing to quantitively verify effectiveness. ATP swabbing provides a method to verify cleaning activities by measuring the amount of organic matter on a surface. The use of ATP swabs can be a valuable training and verification tool, however, standards for what is considered “clean” must be established on the surfaces it will be used on.

A sanitation step that is validated for effectiveness on food contact surfaces must follow cleaning activities, ensuring all sanitizer labels and steps are followed and documented. If used, ATP swabbing must be performed before sanitation as sanitizer residue can skew results. Additionally, improper cleaning reduces sanitizer effectiveness as sanitizer binds with organic matter.

Read more information about establishing a lot through sanitation clean breaks here or reach out to Taylor O’Bannon.

Establishing a Lot through Sanitation Clean Breaks in Produce Packing Facilities (.pdf)

Clara Diekman is an education and training specialist, Taylor O’Bannon is a state food safety Extension agent, and Michelle Danyluk is a professor — all at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.

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