An effective shoe sanitizing program is critical in preventing employee work shoes from contaminating food production zones and ultimately finished food products. In this blog, we'll explore why standard practices for shoe sanitation in food safety don't work and what you can do to implement a footwear hygiene program that keeps pathogens from entering your food production zones.
Common Misconceptions About Shoe Sanitizers for Food Safety
You’ve put in the time to create hand washing guides, proper gowning procedures, validate your hygiene standard operating procedures (SOP's), and conducted food safety training and retraining...
Unfortunately, all that hard work, effort, and the resources devoted to employee hygiene can be undone by poor shoe sanitizing. This happens routinely due to basic misconceptions regarding the effectiveness of common shoe sanitization methods, poor industry habits, and an overall lack of awareness of the dangers posed to food safety by contaminated work shoes.
There are several standard practices for shoe sanitation in food safety that can actually result in the further spread of pathogens rather than the elimination of these contaminants from footwear. A few common examples that may surprise you include manual shoe sanitizer pans (commonly referred to as “foot baths” or “boot dips”), door foamers, dry quat pellets and boot brush stations with brushes for the manual scrubbing of shoes. In fact, each of these standard industry practices for food safety are usually highly ineffective because they rely upon multiple factors that often vary due to human behavior.
To be effective, shoe sanitation solutions need the appropriate “kill” concentrations of shoe sanitizer chemicals and the appropriate “contact time” required for the chemicals to be effective. Manual shoe sanitizing pans, for example, are demonstrated vectors for the spread of listeria because manual intervention is required to maintain the proper PPM level of the sanitizing agent (for Quats, the FDA recommended concentration vs. listeria is >800 PPM). Any employee shoe sanitizing practice that allows for variability or that requires manual intervention will be inconsistent and therefore cannot be a validated SOP. So what can you do to ensure that employee work shoes do not contaminate your production zones?
The Solution? Consistency and Validation Is Key to An Effective Food Safety Program for Shoe Sanitizing.
To truly be effective, a shoe sanitation program must be consistent and validated regularly. Contact time is critical, and food production companies should validate the effective sanitizing of employee's work shoes using different contact times to determine what is most effective. For example, a door foamer with variability in the concentration of chemical over the surface of the floor won’t be effective if there is less than a second of contact time per shoe. The required contact time should be documented in the sanitation standard operating procedure (SSOP) and PRP section of the HACCP plan, continually reinforced with regular training, and validated on a consistent basis to ensure effectiveness. Additional factors to evaluate are space considerations, traffic flow and zoning, cost, and shoe tread patterns for overall cleanability, comfort, and safety.
While captive footwear programs are a great way to reduce the introduction of pathogens by using dedicated shoes that do not go outside of the sanitation area, these programs are being implemented very slowly in U.S. food production because both shoe sanitizing equipment and the management of these programs come at a high cost.
The easiest and most cost-effective solution for ensuring effective footwear hygiene is the use of fully automated shoe sanitizing stations that automatically maintain the proper “kill” concentration of shoe sanitizer chemicals and contact time with footwear.
What to Look For in Automated Shoe Sanitation Equipment
Automated boot scrubbing stations and dry shoe sanitizing equipment are available from many suppliers, both U.S. and foreign. However, when you are evaluating shoe sanitizers for use in your footwear hygiene program, there are some critical questions you should ask to ensure you are making the best choice:
- How will the equipment guarantee effectiveness? Has it been clinically validated?
- How will it be serviced?
- How will it be calibrated and certified for your quality control system?
- Is the shoe sanitizing equipment built with safety in mind?
- Is it designed per hygienic design principles and is easy to clean?
- Where is the equipment manufactured?
- Does the equipment provider protect your investment with a warranty?
- In case of any repairs, are replacement parts easily available?
Successfully Implementing a Shoe Sanitation Program for Food Safety
From manual shoe sanitizing pans to boot brush stations, common industry misconceptions are leaving your food production zones at risk of contamination from employee work shoes. To reduce the spread of these harmful pathogens, a consistent and validated shoe sanitizer solution must be included as part of your captive footwear program. While many products are available, automated boot scrubbers & footwear sanitizing systems are the easiest and most-effective solution for consistently ensuring the proper sanitation of shoes for food production zones.