If you’ve ever left a meal feeling sick to your stomach, you might be able to count yourself among the 48 million Americans impacted by foodborne pathogens each year. And while we used to chalk-up food poisoning to things like a spoiled salad at a picnic, advances in forensic technology now allow us to link disparate cases of illness through bacterial matching. It’s likely your Aunt’s potato salad didn’t make you sick — rather, your illness can be traced all the way back to contamination at a food plant.
To combat foodborne pathogens, the FDA introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which requires all food and beverage facilities to have a Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) Plan, to improve the food safety system and cut down on illnesses. Nationwide, 128,000 individuals are hospitalized each year for foodborne illnesses, with 3,000 of those hospitalizations resulting in death. FSMA and HARPC implements standards to help reduce contamination at the source and cut down on illnesses.
A key challenge for facilities — both large and small — when implementing FSMA standards is keeping costs low. However, there are several simple ways to meet FSMA requirements, starting with installing new electrical devices to meet HARPC regulations.
Prepare With Preventive Controls
The ultimate goal of the FSMA is building a food safety system centered on prevention. Achieving that goal will take some time. However, each implementation of a preventive control brings facilities a step closer to reducing or entirely eliminating food safety hazards.
The HARPC plan is a key component of FSMA, which mandates facilities to have a preventive control plan in place. Facilities are required to implement a written controls plan that follows seven steps:
- Evaluate the hazards that could affect food safety and identify preventive steps or controls to minimize or prevent the hazard.
- Develop and implement a series of risk-based controls at the critical points of the manufacturing process where the identified hazards must be prevented.
- Implement a monitoring program that continually evaluates and records the facility’s control measures to determine whether the preventive controls are effective.
- Correct any deviations that occur on the control measures.
- Verify that the HARPC plan is operating correctly.
- Maintain documents and records related to the facility’s food safety/prevention control system for at least two years.
- Re-analyze the HARPC plan whenever a significant change might increase a known hazard, or at least every three years.
The HARPC plan hinges on the use of preventive controls, which are designed to keep errors from ever occurring, to limit contamination risks. One area these types of controls are easily installed in facilities is sanitation controls.
Low-Cost, Big Impact
While FSMA compliance can mean extra costs to a facility, it greatly reduces the chances a facility will need to spend money on cleaning up an outbreak — the cost of a recall currently averages $10 million. However, building a plant from the ground up with food safety in mind is perhaps an easier task than upgrading an older plant to meet FSMA requirements, despite the cost. A good place to start is to look for areas where improvement is easy.
Small things, such as electrical equipment, are often overlooked. Many facilities forget that electrical systems are a simple solution that can help prevent a product contamination recall. Advances in electrical systems, including wiring devices embedded with antimicrobial growth inhibitors, support HARPC plans while providing stronger protection. These solutions are considerate of FSMA regulations and also of the broader future of food and beverage processing — safety and efficiency.
Standard mandatory safety protocols, such as chemical washdowns, can’t guarantee reliable and enduring antimicrobial protection for a facility’s electrical wiring devices and equipment. And without antimicrobial protection, plants could be harboring dangerous molds and bacteria that could pose a risk. A simple, low-cost solution is installing antimicrobial watertight wiring devices.
Some facilities consider the application of antimicrobial protection to the surface of their electrical cords and components to be good enough, but the use of antimicrobial industrial wiring devices goes beyond that by actually storing antimicrobial growth inhibitors inside the products themselves. Embedded protection ensures that when microorganisms appear on the surface of a protected wiring device, antimicrobial compounds make contact with them and disrupt the microorganisms’ attempt to live and multiply.
These wiring devices feature antimicrobial additives embedded into all polymer components to ensure the suppression of microbial growth throughout the device, meaning all outside surfaces and hidden inside surfaces. The additives are gradually released to the surface of the polymer, providing continuous, long-lasting protection against the growth of bacteria, molds, mildews and fungi.
The continuous protection against microorganisms works to prevent the large-scale outbreaks some facilities have experienced. Never allowing microorganisms to gain a foothold in your facility can help prevent similar outbreaks.
Ensuring a large, fast-paced food or beverage facility meets FSMA requirements can feel like a daunting task. But starting small with easy-to-install components can put your facility on a fast track to checking off all the preventive control requirements in your HARPC plan. Turning to innovative, low-cost solutions, such as antimicrobial wiring systems, empowers your facility to meet FSMA standards and cut down on foodborne pathogens. Reducing bacteria growth at the source ensures that the next time you’re at a family picnic, you’ll leave feeling satisfied, not sick.
Jeff Seabury is Industrial Product Manager at Legrand.