New year, same elevated emphasis on sanitation and keeping your facility’s equipment and food preparation areas as safe as possible. The turning of the calendar doesn’t change anything in the sanitation game, but the recently implemented FSMA guidelines have shifted the food safety focus from response to prevention. Here are five tips for the coming months.

1. Stress hygienic design

It’s not a new concept, but it can be among the most effective when it comes to prevention. In a 2013 article, Ron Schmidt, Ph. D., broke down hygienic equipment design into four areas: materials; surface finish and modification; construction and fabrication; and installation, operation and maintenance. Paying close attention to these categories when purchasing, installing and using new equipment can drastically cut down on sanitation problems.

Look for materials that are smooth, impervious, nontoxic, nonabsorbent, and corrosion resistant for the equipment’s contact surfaces. Also, surface finishes should be as smooth as possible, which leads to fewer chances that bacteria and other materials can collect. The equipment should be constructed and fabricated without cracks, crevices, sharp angles, or any other spots that encourage the collection of fluids or food particles. And when it comes to installation, operation and maintenance of this equipment, clean-in-place systems are ideal, with 360-degree accessibility.

2. Schedule a sanitary design review

If you’ve implemented and stressed sanitary design in your facility, go the extra step and make sure it is top-notch. Firms like Commercial Food Sanitation offer sanitary design review services that determine how you can optimize the designs of your facilities and equipment in order to help achieve sanitation of the highest quality while also increasing productivity.

The firm’s process will assess a facility’s infrastructure and equipment and offer recommendations for improving the existing designs. If desired, CHS can work with a selected equipment manufacturer to optimize the design.

3. Practice periodic cleaning

Another way to emphasize prevention instead of reaction is the practice of periodic cleaning. As Felix Diets of Commercial Food Sanitation writes, numerous food manufacturers have discovered that effective, routine cleaning practices on food processing equipment are not enough to ensure long-term and consistent hygienic conditions. On top of your usual routine cleaning, a regular and thorough sanitization procedure should be put in place as well.

As noted, poor hygienic design can lead to difficult soil removal, resulting in harborage areas for microorganisms. Also, it is commen for facility operators to not know if all infrastructure surfaces are cleaned to microbiological levels at the correct frequency.

Thus, Dietz says, preventative assessment processes can serve as the primary tools and first steps toward the sustainment of consistent food safety and an increase in product shelf life results. Implement master sanitation schedules, periodic equipment and infrastructure cleaning, and assessments of both to determine your needs for periodic cleaning.

4. Focus on allergens

There is a much higher level of consumer sensitivity to food allergens today, and the sanitization process itself can be a little different when dealing with areas of potential cross-contamination. Employees must go the extra mile to ensure everything is thoroughly cleaned. If a piece of equipment utilizes a sifter, for example, any small chip or chunk of an allergen can easily get stuck, and must then be sought out and removed before reuse elsewhere.

Something as simple as the hard-to-see heart of a peanut getting stuck in a piece of machinery — and then making its way into a supposedly allergen-free product — can be enough to set off a life-or-death allergic reaction in an affected person, or could result in an expensive recall and bad publicity.

5. Plan ahead

If your facility could undergo expansion or updating, consider food safety and sanitation at the conceptual design stage. Approaching decisions with manufacturing operations and those who furnish and supply them should be done with the long-term in mind. This will help avoid building something that may not be suitable or cleanable enough to meet future customer or regulatory expectations. At the same time, all areas in which pathogens and/or allergens could collect and reside should be considered. Early engagement and collaboration with functional partners is key.