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A successful sanitation programme is heavily reliant on the correct and consistent application of a given process. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Dale Grinstead speak, you’ve likely heard him say “process beats chemistry every time.” A grocery store could purchase the most effective cleaner and sanitizer combination known to mankind, but if the products aren’t actually used, the results will be disappointing. The local corner market with excellent compliance will have better outcomes using any detergent and bleach plucked from their sales floor than a store spraying down the floor with water every other day.


First and foremost, a well-trained team is essential to have a fighting chance against those pesky biofilms that can build up in any department. Retail chains do an excellent job of providing training, job aids and other training materials to their employees, and I often help our customers by developing these materials. A lot of emphasis is also placed on sanitation verification. Companies often use ATP, APC or other sampling to verify processes. Sanitation audits also provide valuable feedback on programme compliance.


Verification tools are undoubtedly important. They provide valuable information to food safety teams and store management. However, what’s more important is how we react to the information accrued from these various tools.


Let’s use an analogy. You go to your yearly checkup and get your bloodwork done. Your HDL cholesterol levels are way too high. The doctor provides you with some suggestions for lifestyle and diet changes to get back on the right track. It’s that advice and information that actually provides the value to getting your blood drawn — not the act itself. Verification tools are the same; compliance data in the absence of actionable guidance has little value.


This brings us to the next issue with which food safety professionals (and primary care providers, for that matter) are familiar; what happens when your guidance is ignored, when the folks at the receiving end of your advice don’t seem to care much about improving? As we know, behaviour doesn’t change and results remain dismal. APC/ATP counts remain high. Food safety audit reports are flashing neon red. Ultimately, people might become ill.


Over the past year I’ve been part of sanitation trainings in over 100 grocery stores across the country. It did not take long to notice a strong pattern. The locations with store managers and department managers who were engaged with the training were much cleaner than the locations where managers didn’t have the time or didn’t seem to care. This is an anecdote. I can’t provide a p-value on these observations. The most advanced evaluation tools in these situations were my eyes and frankly, my nose. However, data supporting the critical role of management in sanitation success does exist.


In my graduate research under Dr. Haley Oliver we conducted a 6-month longitudinal study on the prevalence of L. monocytogenes in 30 retail produce departments. Then, we enrolled the 9 stores with the highest levels of L. monocytogenes in an intervention which consisted of training, deep cleans, and enhanced SSOPs. We observed various levels of success in reduction of L. monocytogenes levels. We evaluated and categorised each store’s level of management support (high, medium, and low) and the data showed that the stores with high management support were also those stores that had a statistically significant reduction in L. monocytogenes (Burnett, 2018 ).


Likewise, in “Infrastructure, sanitation, and management practices impact Listeria monocytogenes prevalence in retail grocery produce environments,” Sophie Wu writes “having peer role models for employees in the employment structure, as identified in our study, had a greater correlation with lower L. monocytogenes prevalence, compared to other management methods. . . Among all options in the survey response, role model selection was the most interactive approach. It may imply that higher food safety behavior compliance positively results from a more engaged management strategy” (Wu, 2019 ). As the late David Theno said, “you get what you demonstrate you want.” An active management style will help to drive compliance in any task.


Very often when lapses are detected during audits or otherwise, the first step taken is to provide additional training. A recent meta-analysis of food handler training and education interventions determined that, while such strategies improve food handler knowledge, they do not statistically improve other outcomes, including food handler attitudes, behavior, and inspection scores (Young, 2019 ).


It is clear that we as an industry can do a better job of improving food safety by brainstorming innovative ways to drive increased sanitation compliance. We have an excellent opportunity at the 2020 GFSI Conference to share ideas, experiences and outcomes towards this common goal. Diversey will be moderating a breakfast session panel on Friday, Feb. 28th at 8:00am, which will discuss, in part, connected compliance tools that allow for streamlined sanitation verification. Panelists will discuss the ways that they’ve utilised data to enhance active managerial controls in order to improve food safety by improving food safety culture.


GFSI’s 2020 Conference will be an excellent opportunity for creating partnerships between businesses as well as between industry and academia to design and investigate methods for increasing sanitation compliance, and therefore food safety.


Works Cited

  • Burnett J, Jordan C, Manuel C, Wu ST and Oliver HF. 2018. Deep cleans, optimized sanitation standard operating procedures and management engagement can reduce Listeria monocytogenes prevalence in retail produce departments. International Association for Food Protection Conference 2018. July 10, 2018.


  • Wu ST, Burnett J, Wang J, Hammons SR, Veenhuizen DR and Oliver HF. 2020. Infrastructure, sanitation, and management practices impact Listeria monocytogenes prevalence in retail grocery produce environments. Food Control. Vol. 109.
  • Young I, Greig J, Wilhelm BJ, and Waddell LA. 2019. Effectiveness of Food Handler Training and Education Interventions: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Food Protection: October 2019, Vol. 82, No. 10, pp. 1714-1728.



This blog was written and contributed by:

Jack Burnett
Food Safety Process Owner


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