The Right Tool For The Job


Perhaps you’ve tried to do a job at home and said to yourself, “This would be so easy if I had the right tools!”  Aficionados of home improvement shows know that the projects seem so easy simply because the host always magically has every specialty tool that they need.  


This same idea -- the right tool for the job -- can be applied to all industries. In the food, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, this plays out in “sanitary design.”


What Is Sanitary Design?


Sanitary design means setting things up for sanitary conditions right from the start. This applies to buildings, equipment, and even the clothing worn by workers.


Think about it: it’s much easier to keep a food plant clean if the floors are properly sloped to ensure drainage, the walls are made of smooth, easily-cleanable materials. and that the wall/floor juncture is coved to allow water to run away from the walls. 90° angles can easily trap water and debris, and are hard to clean.


The Law Regarding Worker Clothing


Let’s take a look at what your workers are supposed to wear. In the Code of Federal Regulations, the regulation states the following;


(b) Cleanliness. All persons working in direct contact with food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials must conform to hygienic practices while on duty to the extent necessary to protect against allergen cross-contact and against contamination of food. The methods for maintaining cleanliness include:


(1) Wearing outer garments … in a manner that protects against allergen cross-contact and against the contamination of food, food-contact surfaces, or food-packaging materials...


(6) Wearing… hair nets, headbands, caps, beard covers, or other effective hair restraints.


(7) Storing clothing or other personal belongings in areas other than where food is exposed or where equipment or utensils are washed.


The regulation does not specifically define what plant workers and visitors must wear, but it does set basic guidelines.  This kind of regulation is known as an “interpretive regulation”. In other words, it gives each company options for compliance. The key wording is “protect against allergen cross-contact and contamination of food.”


Okay, so, what is appropriate? It really depends upon the operation. A processor that is manufacturing aseptic beverages or puddings in a closed system will face different issues than a plant that processes and packages ready-to-eat products like smoked salmon or luncheon meats. Let’s get specific.


Safe Clothing in Sanitary Design


  1. Safety-oriented clothing should be comfortable and not prone to shredding or shedding.


  1. Clothing should be secured with snaps or Velcro.


  1. Some companies favor smocks which tie in the back. These are good work clothes, but some safety experts discourage ties, which could conceivably get caught in moving machinery parts.


  1. Make sure there are no pockets located above the waist. Why? If someone has a pocket, they will inevitably something in it (like a pen), which could fall out and end up in the food.


  1. Garments provided by the company must fit properly so they don’t pose any kind of risk.


  1. Look for breathable fabrics, which are more pleasant to wear. Workers in a hot environment wearing garments made from polyester are going to get very uncomfortable.


  1. Workers must have a place to change from street clothes to work clothes. This should be a place where they feel that they, and their valuables, are secure.


  1. You will also need to set up a system for cleaning and sanitizing worker clothes. This can be done in-house or through a contract company. Whichever you choose, it’s important to ensure that laundry is done correctly. That means washing, drying, storage and handling not only to clean the garments, but to protect them from contamination once they are cleaned.


  1. Another part of the equation is hair restraints. You’ll need hair nets or beard nets (snoods) to cover all hair on the head and face. Hair restraints come in different styles and weaves, so find something that is effective and comfortable. Also consider color when selecting hair restraints. Light-colored hair restraints allow managers to more easily monitor workers, since they can see if they are being worn, and if they are being worn correctly. If your work force has dark hair, black or brown hair nets really don’t allow your managers to easily monitor compliance.


  1. Sometimes, sanitary design includes boots, safety shoes, plastic sleeves, masks or gloves.  


  1. A critical piece to the Sanitary Design equation is education.  Make sure that your workforce is taught not only what they must wear, but also how to wear it properly.


  1. The final note in the system is compliance. Your managers must know that their duty is to enforce the safety rules within your company. Of course, they shouldn't be looking to “catch” and “punish” people, but offenders place themselves, their colleagues, and your company at risk, and they need to be reined in. Safety rules are no joke, and the consequences for violations can be very scary. This is why enforcing the rules is so vital.


In summary, if you give your workers the right tools, the right environment, the right training, and the right supervision, then you are using a Sanitary Design approach.


Written by Rob Brown