Microbiological sampling is a useful tool for verifying the effectiveness of your sanitation program and cleanliness of the production environment.
Systematic microbiological testing will give you a clear understanding of the microbial condition of your plant and help you to identify and monitor areas of greatest concern.
An effective environmental monitoring plan will incorporate the following principles and elements:
1. Identify what ou want to look for
These could be specific pathogens of concern to the product (e.g. Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes) or indicator organisms (e.g. E. Coli)
2. Strategically identify your sampling points
For example base these on the ICMSF Zone Concept:
Zone 1 - (the highest risk) - including food contact surfaces. Examples: Racks, utensils, slicers, filling machines, cold rooms.
Zone 2 - Equipment close to the product flow. Examples: Floors, refrigeration units.
Zone 3 - Areas less likely to contaminate product, but still within the processing area. Examples: Walls, drains, internal phones, door handles.
Zone 4 - Outside of the food production area, but which could lead to the transfer of pathogens if not properly controlled. Examples: Staff areas, hallways.
3. Establish a baseline
Establish a baseline that demonstrates the production environment is under hygienic control – this will enable you to compare results over time and quickly spot any variations.
4. Design a sampling plan
Design a sampling plan that allows all areas of concern to be sampled over a period of time.
5. Conduct a regular review
Regular review and comparison of test results will identify long term trends and potential weaknesses in the sanitation program.
6. Record corrective actions
Keep a record of any corrective actions or investigations you may have undertaken when test results exceed the tolerance levels set for each organism.
7. Good aseptic technique
Ensure that sampling is undertaken with careful regard to aseptic techniques and that only trained and responsible persons are permitted to engage in sampling.