Preventing Contamination: 3 Common Areas of Concern for Clean Rooms
For industrial facility managers that utilize clean rooms, cleanliness is a key factor for maintaining quality control and regulatory compliance. Although no two warehouses are the same, there are common areas of concern that run across all sectors when it comes to preventing contamination.
Contamination at the Loading Dock
While loading docks are not typically considered a “clean” operation area, contamination from environmental separation and control problems, stemming from the dock areas, can impact your entire facility operation.
Regularly opening dock doors are generally a sign of an active, healthy business, but they also are an opportunity for outside contaminants like bugs, rodents, birds and other pests to enter., Likewise, open dock doors can invite potentially damaging heat, wind, rain and dust into your operations. These contaminating factors are often facilitated by trailer doors that are opened on the drive approach prior to docking or when the doors remain open for an inordinate period of time before the trailer finishes backing into the dock.
Even when trailers are secured to the dock, it is possible for rain, snow, heat or pests to infiltrate the facility through small gaps between a trailer’s back-end and the edges of the loading dock. For these reasons, attentive facility managers keep their dock areas up-to-date with effective dock seals and shelters, such as Rite-Hite’s Eclipse and Eclipse NH shelters. For the ultimate in environmental control, many warehouse operations managers are modifying their docks to incorporate a drive-through design utilizing vertical levelers.
Inside the facility, there are similarly problematic areas prone to contamination if not properly addressed. Freezers and coolers can be particularly troublesome areas, especially if those spaces are accessed continuously, resulting in their doors being bumped by forklifts or other traffic. Doors that get bent or knocked off their hinges by accidental contact can lead to improper freezer or cooler temperatures, diminishing product quality. Temperature issues can also be caused by cooler/freezer doors that are accidentally left open, don’t seal correctly or take an inordinate amount of time to open and close. Rite-Hite’s FasTrax and LiteSpeed cooler/freezer doors can prevent these problems thanks to their high speed, tight seals and impactable design that allows them to quickly snap back into their tracks if hit.
Listeria & Other In-Plant Clean Room Contamination Concerns
Industrial doors and walls often harbor bacteria, fungi and other problematic microbes, particularly on and around flat or enclosed surfaces. Fungal growth problems may be exacerbated by issues with plant equipment, such as leaky roofs or inefficient ventilation systems. But even for facilities that diligently follow the government-mandated cleaning schedules for walls and doors, the corrosive effects of bleaches, detergents and other cleaning-related chemicals may cause them to degrade over time. That is why Rite-Hite has designed its clean wall and door products to stand up to repeated cleanings with harsh chemicals.
While new technologies have been created to deal with contamination issues, some advancements have created new concerns. In the food industry, for example, the explosive growth of the ready-to-eat (RTE) market has meant increasing separation of process spaces in processing facilities, specifically keeping raw products away from cooked products. Per FDA regulations, this separation should take place both in processing and shipping areas. Zoneworks anti-microbial SCW walls are increasingly popular for this application.
The growth of the RTE market has meant a parallel growth in aseptic processing.Aseptic processing involves the filling of a commercially sterile product into sterilized containers with a hermetically sealed, sterilized closure in an environment free from microorganisms. While this has generally been positive development for both industry and consumers, there is a somewhat counterintuitive flip-side: an increased risk of listeria.
Clean rooms and areas are “all about prevention of listeria,” said Jason Bolton, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Food Safety Specialist.. “Ease of cleaning is one of the things that state-of-the-art facilities have been focused on.”
Contamination From Outdated Technology and Facility Infrastructure
Old technology and infrastructure can also facilitate contamination, particularly in legacy facilities. According to Richard Brouillette, food safety director with New Orleans consultancy Commercial Food Sanitation, “In many of these facilities, they may be patching the structural wall of the building, but it’s not sticking.”
“Additionally, if it’s an interior wall and you have wet cleaning activities, you start damaging the wall over time,” Brouillette said. “This could be a harborage point for bacteria or pests.”
Instead of looking at more permanent (and thus more expensive) fixes, some facilities may consider taking the easier, more low-cost road – a “Band-Aid” approach that rarely pays off in the long run.