Sue Springett of hygienic furniture and equipment supplier Teknomek discusses reducing food contamination risks.

Food hygiene has hit the headlines again in recent months and this should raise alarm bells across the sector. Any outbreak linked back to a food production facility can result in a shutdown to resolve the problem. Looking longer term, it can also have a devastating impact on client relationships, which can threaten trading viability. So, you cannot afford to take any risks.

The cutting room may not appear to be problematic given a lack of liquids which can harbour listeria (in particular). But this is no guarantee that it will remain pathogen-free. Airborne contaminants, including salmonella, can hitch a ride into hygiene-controlled areas on dust motes. Keeping surfaces free of dust should be a primary concern. Consider deploying anti-microbial PVC curtains to reduce the risks, but only regular sweeping is a sure way to prevent bacteria gaining a foothold.

Root cause analysis of swab-testing reveals furniture is one of the most significant risk factors in any facility handling food. In context, look at where previous audits have flagged amber alerts; there’s a disproportionate chance those recurring flags will come down to the fixtures and fittings.

The issues usually lie with ‘harbourage points’ – dirt traps that exist thanks to poor design decisions. Unnecessary ledges, seams, ingresses, raised welds and so on are all guilty of offering refuge to dust and those unwelcome microbial hitchhikers.

Anything fiddly can also make the item more time-consuming to clean. As a general rule, if an item of furniture isn’t food-grade, it has no place in a facility. If it’s nearing the end of its life, the safest option is always to replace it.

Brushes and brooms may seem innocuous but using the wrong type could end up increasing cross-contamination risks by spreading microbes around the workplace. It’s worth investing in specialist anti-microbial and non-shedding versions.

If you use manual teams, consider the surfaces on which they work. Polyethylene is a safe bet, as it’s non-blunting, non-absorbent and doesn’t harbour bacteria. Poly tops also speed up clean down, fitting into the standard cleaning procedures alongside the tables on which they’re housed.

Your cleaning equipment and furniture procurement choices play a central role in reducing risk. Moreover, taking the time to assess the hygienic qualities will allow you to operate more efficiently, with a positive impact on operating expenses over time.