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Upholding safety standards in the food processing industry are crucial for consumer safety. Facilities follow the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) standard; however, these guidelines are the bare minimum facilities should bestow to prevent cross contamination. In addition, it is also recommended that facilities have rules in place regarding high- and low-care areas, also meaning high and low risk.
Having high- and low-risk areas establishes physical barriers of protection against cross contamination and creates the opportunity to institute a process, such as food washing or cooking. This applies to the use of personal protective equipment—such as the use of disposable gloves—but also to the facility itself. The regulations determine clear starting and stopping points for various parts of production within the supply chain. Overall, this prevents contamination, microbial growth, and more.
What are high- and low-care areas?
When deploying these guidelines, it is important to note that they vary by facility, as each has its own set of standards. However, there is one overarching factor that must remain consistent: as food products move up the supply chain, the control standards become stricter. To put it simply, as the food goes from farm to table, it will move through the low- to high-care areas of production.
Low-care areas require a lesser standard of hygiene and sanitation than those of high-care segments. Though the food products in these areas of the processing/supply chain will potentially come in contact with the environment surrounding, they are not at risk of contamination. Food processing applications executed in low-care areas include receival, preparation, and cooking.
High-care areas require the highest level of hygiene standards. These sections of the facility are primarily temperature controlled. Before one enters any of the designated high-care areas, they must don the appropriate personal protective equipment. This is designated at appointed changing stations in addition to thorough washing of hands. In use cases where equipment and materials are moved throughout the different areas in the facility, sanitation procedures must be deployed.
How do facilities designate high- and low-care areas?
As you can imagine, there are several factors considered when establishing high- and low-care areas. These factors establish the different barriers between sections within a given food processing facility. These are often comprised of different installations and personal protective equipment.
For physical structure, there are several different features present in both high- and low-care areas; however, there are more extensive sections in high care. This can include entrances, filtration systems, airborne particles, color-coded flood marking, and more. Color coding can also be applied to personal protective equipment, primarily used for processing and appliances.
The physical separation also includes designated transfer points. These are places within the facility between high- and low-care areas when employees must execute designated actions to avoid cross contamination. Prior to employees or materials and equipment pass from one area to another, they must undergo sanitation and hygiene procedures within the transfer point. In some cases, employees cannot move below high- and low-care areas at any point.
How do facilities establish a flow to prevent contamination?
As you can imagine, food processing plants and facilities have specific guidelines and layouts to ensure applications and tasks in low-care areas do not affect high-care areas. One key example of this is drainage. Drainage systems within facilities must flow from a high to a low-care area to ensure no contamination. One example can include blood and pathogens from livestock being transmitted to cooked foods.
Another part of the overall flow within food processing is cooking. Because foods are normally raw prior to processing, they begin cooking in a low-care area. This requires segregation throughout the kitchen to distinguish raw and cooked foods. This can include physical barriers such as an oven with double doors.
The amount of food processing has increased compared to previous years, thus growing the supply chain process. This means that often in one step or another, our food is being processed in another location—either inside or outside the country. This can mean various types of food processing standards. Standards and guidelines are consistently expanding with the supply chain and market. It is important to keep your business safety up to the most recent standards to avoid any chance of contamination. Whether you are serving baked goods or processing the flour used to bake the delicious treat, personal protective equipment and safety guidelines are crucial.