Food Plant Sanitation: How to Integrate Regular Cleaning Into Your Facility’s Processing

Most of us enjoy cooking food that we love to eat. It’s the cleanup that we hate. Have you ever made a home-cooked meal that didn’t involve cleaning? Probably not. Also, those of us who like to cook would never start with dirty utensils and pans, right?

Food manufacturing facilities operate in the same way. They aim to produce high-quality products while minimizing the cleanup involved, but they must first begin processing with clean equipment. But that can be easier said than done.

Before jumping into how to easily make cleaning a part of your facility’s processing, let’s take a look at why it’s so critical.

Cleaning is important, really important

You may be thinking, “This is obvious, Mike. Of course we clean our facility.” But how much is sanitization truly a part of your plant’s daily routine? Cleaning can sometimes fall lower on a priority list because it adds no direct value to the product, but the cost of not taking proper precautions can be astronomical.

I often work with dairy manufacturers, and the leading brands all pay the highest degree of attention to the sanitary design of their plants. It ranks up there with production volume and efficiency. Why? With dairy, cultures and other organisms can easily contaminate other products if facilities don’t establish proper cleaning procedures. Without proper cleanup, the same products can’t be made from day to day. The same principle applies to any facility, though, regardless of what it produces.

Although cleaning is critical, plant owners are often discouraged by how time-consuming it can be. On average, 20 percent of a food and beverage plant’s day is spent cleaning equipment. But, how can you have a sanitary facility while not having to completely shut down for cleanup every day?

Clean-in-Place (CIP) vs. Clean-Out-of-Place (COP)

When it comes to cleaning your equipment, there are two different approaches.

1. Cleaning in Place (CIP)Cleaning your equipment without disassembling parts. This is typically done by running sanitizing chemicals, heat and water through process equipment, pipes, etc.

2. Cleaning Out of Place (COP)Cleaning your equipment with the disassembling of parts. A basic everyday example of COP is washing the dishes after dinner.

In a side-by-side comparison, there are benefits to both CIP and COP systems. However, when it comes to water conservation and recycling, CIP offers more opportunity for recycling and refiltering water. A water-recovery CIP system’s benefits include:

  • Maximizing cleaning solutions
  • Conserving water
  • Decreasing disposal fees
  • Improving ROI

Whichever system your company chooses, you should never “drink from a dirty cup.” If you wouldn’t do it at home, why should your facility be any different? Cover your bases by ensuring all of your processing equipment is kept clean in order to produce the best product.

Easier said than done? Let’s look at three basic steps that make routine cleaning a little easier.

How to integrate regular cleaning into your facility’s processing

1. Start each process with a clean systemJust like you would never cook for your family with a greasy pot, you shouldn’t produce product on dirty equipment. Making a casserole in a slightly dirty dish may seem like a shortcut at first, but it will only make the cleanup take longer. The same holds true in your food plant. Starting processing with clean equipment will make it that much easier to clean.

2. Have a clear definition of “clean”One facility’s “spotless” might be another’s “spotty.” Have a plant-wide understanding of clean standards.

3. Establish a cleaning schedule—Integrating regular cleaning into your plant’s schedule will ultimately make your life easier. Plus, routine cleaning will shorten cleaning times in the long run. Having a record of these processes is also a crucial reference during facility inspections or in the event of a contamination crisis.

At the end of the day, there is no silver bullet for CIP or COP systems—it’s all about knowing your facility and understanding that cleaning is not an afterthought. A food processing plant is a complex network of systems that rely on each other; therefore, process and cleaning cannot be separate. You can’t have one without the other.

Unfortunately, there are many examples of what can happen when proper attention is not paid to food safety. The lack of a cleaning plan will always cost someone something sometime down the road.


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