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Common Footwear Hygiene Methods Compared

by Meritech, on May 29,2020

A University of Arizona study determined that 96% of shoes held Coliform and E. coli bacteria. Imagine this entering your production zones. Footwear hygiene is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of your Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs). 

What exactly does footwear hygiene mean?

As Paul Barnhill, Chief Technology Officer at Meritech explains:

“Footwear hygiene really means the ability to remove soils and debris as well as sanitize the footwear of bioburden or microbial load - or simply, to remove dirt and kill the pathogens.”

For organizations, footwear hygiene helps prevent contaminations from outside environments as well as cross-contamination within their facilities which may pose a risk to consumers. Each footwear hygiene method has its benefits but some have critical pitfalls that can result in ineffective pathogen reduction. Here are some of the most common footwear hygiene methods used today and the pros and cons of each:

Download Footwear Hygiene Methods Guide

Not sure which method is best for you? Use our footwear hygiene method infographic to choose the best method for your facility! 

Manual Boot Scrubbers

One of the more common methods of footwear sanitation, especially in wet facilities with debris, is manual boot scrubbers or washers. These can be as rudimentary as a bucket of sanitizing solution and a scrub brush or a fixed brush station where someone can manually scrape debris from their footwear. The main drawback of these manual scrubbing stations are that they are dependent on human behavior. No matter how stringent a facility’s footwear hygiene procedures may be, humans are prone to variability and error that can result in a poor footwear hygiene event and increased risk of pathogen spread. Additionally this method may be a safety risk as individuals, especially older team members, try to balance on one leg while scrubbing the other foot.

Benefits Potential Concerns
  • Low cost
  • Familiar system to most
  • Entirely dependent on user behavior
  • Training and retraining required for effective footwear hygiene
  • Manual scrubbing process means a longer hygiene event per user
  • Doesn’t replenish concentration of fluid automatically
  • Requires someone to mix the proper chemical concentration
  • Potential safety risk of fall for users

 

Automated Footwear Hygiene Systems

One of the best ways to consistently remove debris and pathogens from all employee footwear is to remove the variability of human behavior form the footwear hygiene process entirely. An automated footwear hygiene station uses mechanized brushes to remove debris while also applying the proper amount of sanitizing solution on footwear to reduce the risk of pathogen spread.

Benefits Potential Concerns
  • Removes the variability of human behavior
  • Bi-directional capabilities and compact design
  • Automatic application of sanitizing solution at effective PPM for footwear sanitation. 
  • Floor draining required
  • Some additional on-boarding is needed for use

 

Manual Boot Dips

Also common in wet food processing facilities are manual boot dips. While these are a low-cost footwear hygiene solution, they also require constant monitoring and maintenance to ensure an effective PPM of solution to properly sanitize footwear. If a facility has debris, these types of footwear hygiene solutions are not recommended as the debris goes nowhere and has to be removed and cleaned manually. Because it is a manual method, the main drawback of these manual boot dips are that they are dependent on human behavior. No matter how stringent a facility’s footwear hygiene procedures may be, employees may not maintain effective contact time with the sanitizing solution resulting in a poor footwear hygiene event and increased risk of pathogen spread. This footwear sanitation method is placed at doorways and often is overstepped as some team members do not like stepping in them.

Benefits Potential Concerns
  • Low cost
  • Familiar system to most
  • Entirely dependent on user behavior
  • Training and retraining required for effective footwear hygiene
  • Manual process means employees need to ensure enough contact time to be effective at killing pathogens
  • Doesn’t replenish concentration of fluid automatically
  • Requires someone to mix the proper chemical concentration for pathogen removal

 

CleanTech® Footwear Hygiene Enhancements

Sole-CleanFor CleanTech® automated handwashing stations, there are two options for footwear hygiene: the automated boot dip and the Sole Clean low moisture footwear sanitizing pan. Both systems are designed to sanitize footwear that is already clean of heavy or impacted soils. Each can be affixed to the CleanTech® Automated Handwashing Station to simultaneously clean employee footwear during a CleanTech® 12-second hand wash cycle.

Benefits Potential Concerns
  • Removes the variability of human behavior
  • Simultaneously cleans employees hands and footwear in 12 seconds
  • Automatic application of hygiene solution at effective PPM for pathogen removal
  • Automatic replenishment of solutions
  • Floor draining required for boot dip
  • Some additional onboarding is needed for use
  • Requires CleanTech® automated handwashing station

 

Door Foamers

For wet production environments with large doorways, door foamers are a good option. With these, the sanitizing solution is spread across areas on a timed basis to sanitize the floor and the footwear of employees or the wheels of production equipment passing through the area. To be effective, the foam spray needs to be the correct height and calibrated to spray enough foam, often enough to ensure that worker’s shoes and equipment is always sanitized without circumvention and without excessive foam causing a slip hazard. These systems are very dependent on the environment they are installed in and need to be calibrated for each situation. If there is a cross breeze or constant traffic the foam breaks down quicker and the application of more foam may be necessary.

Benefits Potential Concerns
  • Suitable for large doorways as foamers cover a large area
  • Can be used both for foot traffic and equipment such as forklifts
  • Creates a slick surface that can be a safety hazard for human traffic/employees
  • If not installed correctly, it can be circumvented by human traffic
  • If not installed correctly it can spray beyond the floor or footwear and onto the employee’s ankles.
  • Timing needs to be optimized to keep optimal concentration for traffic flow

 

Dry Quat Pellets or Powder

A very visible method of footwear hygiene that can be used in both wet and dry environments is dry quat pellets or powder. By clinging to shoes or wheels, this material helps sanitize the footwear of employees and equipment. However it does get everywhere in the facility, so additional precautions need to be taken if your facility is “vertical” or has catwalks above production zones to prevent the Quat pellets from falling and creating a potential contamination risk to products below.

Benefits Potential Concerns
  • Clings to footwear
  • Can be used in both wet and dry environments
  • Pellets are tracked everywhere
  • Pose significant risk to food and employee safety
  • Cannot be used in vertical facilities as pellets can fall onto production lines
  • May need some moisture to activate

 

Tacky Mats

Another footwear hygiene method that is suitable for dry environments is tacky mats. Often used in cleanroom environments, these mats will remove particulates from employee shoes, but perform no sanitation of the footwear and don’t kill any pathogens. These mats should not be used with heavy debris as they can easily become compromised depending on the soil levels. These mats also require human intervention to be changed on a regular basis to be an effective hygiene method.

Benefits Potential Concerns
  • Can be used with all footwear types
  • Removes small particles and dust
  • Easy to install
  • Can be used for multiple entrances
  • Only suitable for dry environments
  • Performs no sanitation of footwear / kills no pathogens
  • High maintenance - Needs to be changed out frequently depending on volume of personnel and soil levels
  • Can be costly to replace often
  • Not effective on pathogens

 

Booties / Shoe Covers

Many dry production environments also use booties or shoe covers before or after another footwear hygiene method, like tacky mats. These covers do not sanitize the footwear, only protecting the production environments from particulates, not pathogens. These can be used with all types of footwear and are easily used by all, but do pose a safety hazard as they make footwear slippery and can be costly if facilities are replacing them often for large numbers of employees.

Benefits Potential Concerns
  • Easy to use
  • No use of sanitizing chemicals
  • Low maintenance cost and effort
  • Don’t protect from pathogens, just particulates
  • Can be costly to replace often
  • Can cause significant waste if replaced often
  • Not suitable for environments with any moisture
  • Makes shoes slippery, causing a safety hazard to wear and put on

 

UV Lights

A new method of footwear hygiene is UV lights. While these lights claim to sanitize footwear, not much evidence exists to prove its efficacy against a broad spectrum of pathogens. UV lights also take a significant amount of time to sanitize the footwear, which may be inefficient for high throughput areas that need to quickly sanitize large amounts of employee footwear. To date, there has not been any regulatory approval accepting this method for footwear hygiene in food manufacturing.

Benefits Potential Concerns
  • Easy to use
  • No use of sanitizing chemicals
  • Unproven technology not currently used in many applications.
  • Needing regulatory buy in prior to use.
  • Not effective against pathogens when any debris / soils exist
  • May not be effective against a broad spectrum of pathogens for shorter time periods
  • Not ideal for large shifts as it takes a long exposure time to properly sanitize footwear
  • Lacking peer reviewed efficacy data

 

The highest risk of contamination for your facility obviously comes from the people working there. It is important to put processes and tools in place that ensure compliance and emphasize a culture of hygiene excellence. Here at Meritech we strive to save lives and prevent the spread of disease by overcoming the variability of human behavior with fully automated footwear hygiene stations. Interested in learning more about how Meritech can help your business ensure the highest level of employee hygiene? Check out all our automated footwear hygiene stations here!

Topics:Footwear Hygiene Resources

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