Simple Auditing Helps Improve Food Safety

A recent update from Bill Marler’s food safety blog reviews the FDA’s findings during the investigation of a Listeria outbreak traced to clover sprouts. The overall conclusion was that there was a general failure to maintain a sanitary environment in the processing facility. More importantly however, the FDA findings form the basis of a simple checklist that plants can use to “self-audit” and identify areas where improvements to food safety practices could prevent problems before they occur. No special training is needed to conduct a simple audit. A checklist such as the one shown here, combined with some common sense, can go a long way to identifying areas where improvement is needed.

Here is a suggested checklist:

  • Are my raw materials and food products stored in a way that protects them from contamination – e.g., in clean closed containers and off the floor?
  • How effective are my cleaning and sanitation programs for food contact surfaces? Are there cracks and crevices where food residue and debris is accumulating?
  • As an aside, Birko’s CON-TACT-IT® Bacteria Detection System is a simple yet effective tool that small plants can use to evaluate their cleaning programs
  • How clean are the non-food contact surfaces and the plant environment? These can be sources of contamination and need to be included in the sanitation program.
  • Is my facility secure against the entry of pests, broken windows or screens, gaps under doors, cracks or holes in walls and roofs?
  • Do I have an effective pest control program for rodents, birds and insects? These can all carry Salmonella into a facility.
  • Is trash or other debris accumulating in or around my facility?
  • Is the landscaping around the facility, including weeds, grass, shrubs, etc., maintained? These areas can provide a place for pests to hide and breed.
  • Is my building maintenance up to date? Are there corners or other overlooked areas that need cleaning? Do I need to paint or clean up mold?

Once problem areas are identified then an action plan can be developed and implemented to address them. Food safety can be complex, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. You owe it to your business, your brand and your consumers to provide them with a safe product.

Elis Owens, Ph.D., Director, Technical Services, Birko, can be reached at, 303-289-1090.