Captive Footwear Program Considerations

Welcome to The Wash, your trusted resource for the latest and greatest in public health and hygiene, where we will tackle topics like hand hygiene, best practices in footwear sanitization, creating an employee hygiene program, and more! On today’s episode, we invite Meritech COO Paul Barnhill to help listeners understand the considerations to take into account before starting a captive footwear program at their food processing facility. 

You can listen to the podcast using the media player or read the podcast transcript below: 


PodcastTranscription: Captive Footwear Program Considerations

Abigail: Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Wash, your trusted source for the latest and greatest in public health and hygiene. Today, we're going to talk about captive footwear programs. I'm joined today by chief technology officer and head engineer here at Meritech Paul Barnhill. Paul, thanks for joining us today!

Paul: Thanks for having me.

Abigail: All right, so the first thing that I think our listeners and I need to know is: "What exactly is a captive footwear program?"

Paul:  What a captive footwear program really is , is pretty simple. It's really about footwear that is purchased and maintained by the facility or the employer that always stays at that facility. So you're basically capturing that footwear, it stays within that facility. That is what you're expected to wear. Once you get to work, once you leave, work that for or stays and then you go home. So it's really, that's again, pretty simple. It's about keeping the footwear in the facility where you're going to be wearing them.

Abigail: And why is a captive footwear program so important?

Paul: It's really important because you can kinda just start outlining the ways to define best practices, best hygiene practices, making certain that you're not maybe bringing some type of a cross contamination problem from home back into your plant.

So, just to give you a quick scenario, what that is, for example, you have just regular street shoe. You wear that shoe at your food plant, so forth. You go home, you decide to mow your yard. You know, you may have fertilized, you may not have picked up enough from Ralphie the dog and all of a sudden that gets on your footwear, that ends up in the plant and that's now a cross-contamination event.

And so, by allowing and creating a captive footwear program you're able to really control more of the environment, what you're trying to protect and establish best practices.

Abigail: Okay, so is there a certain type of industry that this captive footwear program is most important for?

Paul: I think it's important for a lot, a lot of plants. I mean, you know, you think about that. You think about food manufacturing: you don't want to bring something into food manufacturing.,You also don't want to take something from food manufacturing that has fallen on the floor, home. That's a concern. Same thing you might find within medical device manufacturing or pharmaceutical manufacturing, you may want to control.  Again, it's about controlling that environment. So there's really not a lot of places in the industrial space, where a captive footwear program doesn't fit in.

Abigail: Good to know -  What are some of the main considerations for a captive footwear program that we're going to go over today?

Paul: Well, there's a lot of considerations : I mean, you have :

  • cost
  • hygienic design
  • hygienic process - where you're going through your facility
  • comfort which is obviously clearly important to the staff
  • safety
  • storage
  • and onboarding and off- boarding staff.

Abigail: So then when considering a captive footwear program, what do you think companies should think about first?

Paul: I think the first thing you have to to think about is really what is your environment like and I boil this down to what I call the three P's: your People your Place and your Products.

So you need to understand that first, understand what are your product that you're dealing with, how do people move throughout your facility? Do you have risk factors or high risk zones and low risk zones built into your factory or your manufacturing plant that maybe an RTE to a Raw or an Allergen area or something, and these are really important so you really need to understand that environment.

One of the reasons I think this is important: I was visiting a pizza manufacturing company not long ago, and we were dealing with heavy soiling of cheese and so forth that was on the floor, that was getting on the footwear and so forth -  it was about 500 pounds a day that was being wasted because it was falling on the floor., it was being tracked  around the facility by the staff and so forth.

I mean, these are understanding your challenges, how do you solve that problem so that we can help solve a hygienic issue? So that's really about understanding, again, that environment first and understanding your People, your Place and your Products so you can put in best practices.

Abigail: Got it., and part of that environment is a hygienic zone.

Paul:  Exactly. So when you're, looking at your factory and your looking at your manufacturing facility, obviously one of the things that's really important is creating a hygiene zone and that hygiene zone, you know, handles all your people and their PPE and so forth that they need to do before they enter the plant.

Obviously, one of the very first things you do is footwear. And so you want to really address that footwear. Either you're in a captive footwear program, where you're putting on that footwear that you wear you're putting your regular street shoes way back into a locker or something where there's need to be stored.

And then you're going through your normal hygenic zone process of, you know, putting on your hair nets, and your frocks, and washing your hands and drying your hands, and if you have to wear gloves, you're sanitizing that glove, etc. So you're going through that whole process through there, but yes, that's where it's all about making sure that they start at that beginning and creating that hygienic process.

Once you've don that footwear you may also need to sanitize that footwear prior to going in, even though it's a plant shoe, you still have to have hygiene for it.

Abigail: So we talked about hygienic zones - does anything need to be changed for a captive footwear program?

Paul: In terms of sanitation of that footwear, the answer is, no. You still are going to sanitize that footwear as if it was a street shoe. You may not have to do as much heavy scrubbing and soiling, but again, it depends on that.People Place and Products. If you're dealing with a heavy soil, you'll still have to scrub that footwear. The larger concern to think about this is during that storage process.

So your hygiene of that footwear, you know, when you're coming into the plant is important, but also when you're coming out of that plant, Where am I storing that? Am I storing that dirty? Am I storing that clean? Is it going to go back into that employee's locker with potentially  pathogens on it, the same place they're storing their lunch and their coat and their gloves?

Those are concerns to think about. So you really have to think about that. So when you design that hygienic zoning, both in and out of the facility is very important. And when you have a captive or program, you gotta make sure that, that you have clean zones. Where I'm putting my footwear on is a clean zone and where I'm storing my footwear is a clean zone. You still want to sanitize it as you enter the facility and then capturing those entrances and exits at multiple places in the facility.

Abigail: Okay, and I mean, you mentioned storage really quickly there, but I want to go back to that and ask: Is that a major problem with implementing a captive footwear program is finding a place to store all these new shoes?

Paul: It's actually one of the largest pitfalls for companies. When they're looking at the overall aspect of how do I create a captive footwear program. And it's one of the things that's most often overlooked. So for example:  Where am I going to put these shoes? Who has these shoes? Are these shared shoes? Are they going into locker? Are they clean before they go in that locker or are they wet? Do they need to go to a drying station first?

There's really a lot of challenges. So plants and general managers and plant managers really need to think about that first and understand exactly the whole process first before trying to implement that program and storage is a key aspect that's often overlooked. Again, take it back to that People Place and Products - understanding those challenges in your planning helps you identify where that storage can be.

Abigail: And speaking of people, how does a captive footwear program work with onboarding and offboarding?

Paul: That's a little bit more challenging. So, because obviously you have ownership of the footwear. Footwear is very, very personal to people. I mean, you'll have staff members that could be standing eight to ten hours a day. So obviously comfort's really important for them.

And when you're onboarding and offboarding those individuals, you really need to, to know who has ownership of those shoes. Are the shoes going to be repurposed? Is that shoe going to stay with that person? Should they leave? Well, what happens in the challenge with working with either temporary or contract labor? What do you do in those situations? That's another consideration you have to think about with that onboarding and offboarding when it comes to a captive footwear program.

Abigail: Now that sounds like it could get pretty costly providing all those shoes?

Paul: It can and that's the first thing that stops a lot of these programs is honestly is: Oh, how much is this going to cost? You know? And that also is based on How many staff do I have? You obviously the smaller over operations. It's very easy to deal with.

It's that middle ground where you're dealing with that really 100 to maybe 150 team members and above. That's where things get a little bit difficult and they understand that there's a large financial commitment to this. Not only do you have the initial upfront cost, then you have obviously maintenance costs. You know, how often am I going to replace this footwear?  Again, what happens if that employee walks off on the job who owns that footwear? Those are the things with onboarding and offboarding.

You also have then additional considerations. You can't put every single person in the same footwear. It just doesn't work that way. So you have people that are the line workers. They may have one certain type of footwear or a couple of different types, depending on what they do. You obviously want to look at those that are in sanitation, they may need a full rubber boot if you're a wetted sanitation process. You have maintenance staff very typically in a very rugged work boot. Do you require a steel toe in that boot? Do you need insulated boots depending on the environment they may work in if they work in a chiller. Again, am I dealing with the wet or dry facility?

Really large considerations to think about when you design footwear. And in a program that works, to make everybody happy, make sure that you have a hygienic process, are getting people in and out of the facility smoothly and have a place to store it - that all comes at that cost.

Abigail:  So Paul, we  talked about all the different footwear that might be for different roles within the facility. What about for different areas?

Paul: You may have different areas. So then, then you get into what is conditional hygienic zoning. So this is really important when you do that and you can look at this in different footwears.

I was in a plant that I was incredibly impressed by they dealt with Raw they dealt with Ready-to-Eat, they dealt with Allergen products throughout the facility. And they really had it zoned in three different zones for three different types of footwear for the staff to go between these zones. When you went from zone A let's just call that our ready to eat. And you had to go to a raw, you had to change your footwear before you went to raw. So that footwear state specifically with raw, you had specific footwear for RTE and specific footwear for allergen areas. Great footwear program, sanitation  steps at all areas and they had storage for them at those zones. So it's a unique process that you can do.

Abigail: Wow. Okay. So that sounds just like a lot of shoes

Paul:  Everybody says, "Oh, I want a captive footwear program". But when they start digging into it, they find out this is really a difficult thing to do. And that's the challenge that a lot of companies is that they start a process and they stop it. I've worked with some very, very large corporations. They said, "Yeah, we're doing captive footwear" and they've got into it, and they started buying shoes and then they started running the problems. Like,"I don't know where to store them, I don't want to clean it. I don't know what to do." And that's where people like Meritech come in where we can really assist with that process. Meritech doesn't sell any shoes.

Learn more about Meritech's hygiene zone design services here. 

But Meritech understands human hygiene and that aspect of bringing people into a plant, understanding, again, that People, Place and Products to be able to kind of get that flow that you need. There's always concerns about that: "How much more time am I spending? What does that donning and doffing period look like for my staff?" And so making sure you have that and understanding all the bigger pictures of it and looking at how do we  basically attack this problem and create a very good hygienic process while we create that culture of hygiene.

Abigail:  And we talk more about that culture of hygiene within the Employee Hygiene Toolbox. We'll provide a link to that in this blog post. We also are releasing the third module and that is all about footwear hygiene. So we go over everything that you need to know about finding the best shoes for your employee that are  able to be cleaned and sanitized, different considerations when building your footwear hygiene program, and more so be sure to check that out!

Paul, thank you so much for joining us today!

Paul: It was great to be here. Thank you.


Topics:Footwear Hygiene ResourcesPodcastsFood Processing