Food First Blog | Tip of the Week: Techniques for Effective Food

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Tip of the Week: Techniques for Effective Food Plant Inspections Part 1
Tip of the Week: Techniques for Effective Food Plant Inspections Part 1

With the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and media coverage of food safety issues and recalls, ensuring a facility is maintained in a condition that allows safe production of food has become a paramount issue on the minds of food manufacturers.

Conditions can change daily in a food manufacturing environment. To verify that these changes are not negatively impacting food safety, a robust food plant inspection program is needed. This program will help ensure that the processes in place are working as designed to control issues that could impact product safety. In this case, verification is the on-the-floor physical review of conditions in the facility when the site is in production — and when it is not.


Appropriate preparation is key to ensuring a successful inspection program. This means setting aside uninterrupted time to accomplish the physical inspection; determining the needed tools and access (lifts, ladders, flashlight, screw drivers, wrenches, spatulas, cabinet/receiving area keys, etc.); and dressing appropriately. The inspection should include time while the plant is down to gain access to equipment and provide a thorough evaluation of the conditions.

In most cases, it is not practical to inspect an entire site in a day. Instead, facilities will often break down their self-inspection programs so that one-fourth of the facility is inspected each week with the entire site inspected monthly.

One way to organize an inspection is to start at the beginning. Follow the process flow from receiving to shipping if that makes the best sense for your site.

Why should this be completed on a monthly basis? Because the life cycle of most stored product pests is approximately a month, so inspecting monthly helps identify pest issues before they become fullblown infestations.

Data that is gathered through other programs such as tailings logs, environmental monitoring, or IPM trend reports and sighting logs also may be used to help identify areas of risk that require a more in-depth evaluation. For example, has there been an increase of rodent pressure as evidenced by the catch log or pest-sighting log? Did microbiological trend data increase in an area that could indicate an issue with a floor, drain, or piece of equipment that could provide harborage? Do tailings logs show that stored product insects or larvae are identified whenever flour is pulled from a specific bin? Such monitoring data can be used to provide focus on potential problems in the facility.

Who is on the food safety inspection team? Is it one person or is it comprised of a multi-disciplinary team with different talents and expertise that can lend to the inspection process?

A bearing that is ready to fail may be considered simply an annoying noise to one team member, while an experienced maintenance team member may recognize the sound as a bearing that is failing. The more eyes on the facility, the greater the opportunity to identify issues that could impact the safety of the food being produced.


When in doubt, start at the beginning. Follow the process flow from receiving to shipping if that makes the best sense for your site. However, this may not make the best sense if the facility handles raw, cooked products, pasteurized, and unpasteurized products. In those cases, to protect finished product, a better plan of action would be to start in the finished product areas and work backward through the process. This will reduce the risk of pathogenic bacteria being transferred from the raw- to the cooked-product side of the facility.

In the next two articles (this is the first, Part 2 will be linked next week), we'll provide tips on receiving, storage, and support areas and some additional insights.

Find the right seminar, increase your FSMA knowledge, reach your goals, and see your facility improve after returning back to work.

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