If not handled properly, food can become a breeding ground for various microbial pathogens – viruses, bacteria, fungus, and mold. It can transmit a range of diseases that can even result in the death of humans or animals. CDC estimates that every year 48 million people contract a foodborne illness in the United States. That is 1 in 6 Americans. Of those, 128,000 individuals are hospitalized, and 3,000 lose their lives due to these diseases.

Food safety is a scientific discipline that aims to prevent foodborne illness through safe handling, preparation, and storage of food. It recommends guidelines and routines that food handlers should follow to avoid health hazards and keep consumers safe. In the United States, three organizations are in charge of controlling food safety conditions and food laws: the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

These agencies have introduced Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) for the purpose of producing safe and wholesome food in the processed food industry. They apply regardless of what type of food you’re processing – fresh meat, meat products, egg products, fresh fruits, other types of fresh produce, perishable foods, refrigerated foods, or something else entirely.

Importance of GMPs

Good manufacturing practices are not to be confused with standard operating procedures. SOPs represent individual tasks performed in the production process or routine methods for performing specific operations during production.

GMPs, on the other hand, are related to the procedures performed by a food processor that has an impact on the safety of the final food product. These practices encompass equipment, people, processes, and the processing plant environment during food production.

GMPs bring many benefits to food businesses and consumers alike:

  • Extended shelf life and storage life of food items
  • Reduced product reprocessing
  • Reduced risk of product suspension
  • Reduced risk of food poisoning
  • Compliance with commercial and federal food safety guidelines
  • Reduced number of returns, rejections, or complaints about finished products

Buildings and Facilities

Manufacturing facilities must adhere to GMP requirements from floor to ceiling to ensure the production of safe food.

Walls, floors, and ceilings must have surfaces that are non-toxic, non-absorbent, smooth, easily cleanable, and resistant to sanitizers and water. They must not have any holes or cracks that could harbor pests or pathogens. All walls must be sealed around openings (such as pipes or equipment parts) and at the juncture with the floor.

Ceiling material in any area – processing or packaging – must not be secured with staples, nails, or screws. Lines or pipes cannot be supported with wires, tapes, strings, or ropes.

There must be no evidence of water leaks or water accumulation. The floor should be properly drained and have no low spots that might lead to standing water.

If they are open to the outside, doors should be self-closing. If they are to remain open, they must be equipped with a strip door or air curtain.

All windows, walls, electrical boxes, ceilings, and floors have to be free of contaminants, dust, dirt, webbing, rust, mold, peeling or flaking paint, and food accumulation.

Ventilation in the processing area has to function correctly, be easily cleanable, and prevent product contamination. All filters, screens, fans, fan guards, louvers, ductwork, or other units should be regularly inspected and cleaned. There should be no condensation, foul odors, vapors, or fumes in the facilities.

Waste management systems should not be a source of contamination. Cleaning and sanitizing dumpsters and waste receptacles are a requirement to reduce the odor and attraction of pests. Evaluate your system for storing and discarding food waste (and other garbage) to minimize the chance of contamination.

Equipment and Utensils

The main purpose of frozen food production and packaging equipment is to prevent microbial or physical contamination. Materials used in making this equipment have to be non-toxic, non-absorbent, food-grade, corrosion-resistant, impenetrable, and smooth in all the places they come into direct contact with the product.

If a piece of equipment falls into disrepair, temporary repair materials such as string, wire, wood, tape, or cardboard must not be used.

Conveyor belts, in particular, have to meet strict standards in the frozen food industry. They must be free of metal clips, loose pieces of rubber, or loose string. One of the best options for conveying frozen food materials is enclosed tube conveyors such as the Cablevey Conveyors Frozen Food Conveyor Systems. They keep the materials safe and clean while in motion and also ensure the cleanliness of plant facilities and low material wastage. Specialized plastic tubing of Clearvey™ Cablevey conveyors also reduces the incidence of black specks on the product, which is quite common in stainless steel equipment.

There must not be any leaks at fittings, gaskets, valves, etc. Similarly, equipment design should divert condensation away from the food product and food contact surfaces.

Pressure gauges, thermometers, and recording charts must be provided where possible. They should be easily accessible and in good working order.

Staff should organize a fixed cleaning and sanitizing schedule for all equipment. This schedule reduces bacterial loads and ensures the wholesomeness of the product. Cleaning procedures should be outlined in cleaning manuals and performed exactly as instructed. No metal sponges or steel wool should be used during cleaning.

Processes and Controls

Adequate sanitation protocols should exist for each segment of production – receiving, inspecting, segregating, preparing, manufacturing, packaging, transporting, and storing of food. Sanitary quality control and sanitary conditions should be under the supervision of one or more highly trained and experienced individuals in this area. These employees are responsible for ensuring that there is no potential for contamination from any source in any production steps.

Where applicable and necessary, testing procedures (such as microbial, chemical, or extraneous-material testing) can be utilized for assessing the effectiveness of sanitation protocols and operations.

Physical factors should be carefully monitored to minimize the risk of microbial contamination and growth of microorganisms:

  • Temperature
  • Pressure
  • Flow rate
  • pH values
  • Humidity, etc.

Manufacturing operations should also be monitored to prevent temperature fluctuations (temperature abuse), time delays, or mechanical breakdowns that could contribute to the decomposition or cross-contamination of food.

These operations include:

  • Freezing
  • Acidification
  • Heat processing
  • Dehydration
  • Refrigeration

Packaging

Frozen food packaging has to be flexible and robust enough to accommodate this type of product. Essential requirements regarding frozen food packaging materials are as follows:

  • Materials should be able to withstand temperatures as low as -40 degrees F.
  • The materials must not allow the migration of hazardous substances into the food. They should be safe and suitable for the purpose.
  • The packaging should be impervious to sealing, freezing, storage, transportation, and sometimes even cooking pressure.
  • Do not store packaging material close to odorous materials, pesticides, cleaning compounds, or other chemical substances.
  • If your product cannot be used all in one go, consider packaging it in resalable food containers to prevent deterioration and contamination.

Inspections and Audits

Because frozen food production requires the highest level of sanitation, regular inspections and audits are imperative.

Results of an inspection are typically compared to established standards or specifications to determine whether the procedure or piece of equipment is in line with them. Audits are systematic examinations of records, operations, statements, data, and the performance of an organization for a particular purpose.

Audits can be:

  • First-party – performed by the company upon itself.
  • Second-party – performed by a customer upon potential suppliers. The customer seeks to determine whether the supplier meets the requirements outlined in their proposed contract.
  • Third-party – performed by an independent team of auditors (or a single auditor) to assess the safety and quality of the food production system. If the assessment is successful, the auditors might issue a certificate of conformance.

Ensure that your facilities and food safety practices are well-prepared for any potential inspections or audits coming your way. Food safety concerns should be dispelled right off the bat.

Conclusion

According to science, foodborne illnesses are 100% preventable. One of the main methods of achieving this is ensuring that the manufacturing, transportation, distribution, and storage facilities adhere to strict sanitation conditions. Food contamination should be reduced to the lowest possible levels.

To prevent contamination, frozen food business operators must meet the required criteria for all aspects – buildings and facilities, equipment and utensils, processes and controls, and packaging. This guidance serves to protect consumers from disease and is regularly assessed during various inspections and audits.

The way you convey your raw materials and products across the manufacturing floor is an integral part of food safety. The conveyor systems you choose must not allow for product build-up, bacterial growth, or contamination from outside sources. They should be clean and non-toxic as they come in direct contact with food.

If you have any questions regarding food material conveying, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Cablevey Conveyors. We look forward to helping your frozen food facilities meet all the required sanitation standards with our enclosed and contamination-free systems.