Revisiting the ‘level of clean’ for environmental surfaces
It is essential to verify whether cleaning has been carried out effectively, and normally, the ‘Level of Clean’ of an environmental surface falls under one or more of the following classifications:
- Sanitary: The surface must be free of pathogens in the interest of public health. Micro-swabbing accompanied by testing the surfaces is generally conducted.
- Micro-clean: Apart from keeping surfaces pathogen-free, spoilage organisms should also be significantly reduced. This not only enhances food quality and shelf-life, but also improves environmental hygiene overall.
- Allergen-clean: This involves cleaning surfaces to remove allergens. Rapid detection allergen test kits are available to verify the presence or absence of specific allergens on the surface after cleaning.
- Quality-clean: Here, surfaces are cleaned to remove debris, dirt, or soils from the surface, which may affect product quality. Post-cleaning verification using ATP rapid detection swabs is common. Acceptable ATP thresholds need to be established and records maintained for inspection by auditors as evidence of assuring a quality-clean.
It is not generally acceptable to conduct “as-needed” or “emergency cleaning”. Instead, scheduled cleaning of food contact (FCS) and non-food contact surfaces (NFCS) should be the norm, with FCS (e.g., equipment surfaces) being regularly cleaned and disinfected before and after use. Equally important is cleaning NFCS (e.g., drains, ceiling fixtures, wall junctions, equipment bearings, etc.) since contaminants can easily transfer from these areas to food and food contact surfaces.
For the control of pathogens, like Listeria monocytogenes, a site can adopt a Seek and Destroy approach. Here, the goal is to find Listeria in locations where you’d least expect to find them and use appropriate controls, like regular cleaning and disinfection, scrubbing, and biofilm removal strategies, to minimize their presence in any micro-harborage area.