Food Safety – SSOP (Standard Sanitation Operating Procedures)

The SSOP is a written program describing cleaning techniques used in a food processing facility, which describes how a clean environment is maintained.

The picture above is of an organism that can not be seen with the naked eye. It is Escherichia coli O157:H7 – also known as E. coli O157:H7. Infection of this organism often leads to hemorrhagic diarrhea, and occasionally kidney failure, especially in young children and the elderly, and in the worst cases, death. This organism is naturally found in the intestinal tract of bovine (cattle).

So, how does it make its way into the food chain? It’s simple: improperly designed or executed sanitation pperating procedures within food processing establishments. It is this reason that all establishments must have a well designed and properly executed sanitation operating system backing up their HACCP System. Without a properly designed system to maintain sanitation, all other systems, including HACCP, will fail. It is this reason that all working meat establishments must have an active and approved SSOP program that has been signed and dated.

The SSOP consists of step-by-step procedures explaining exactly how sanitation will be maintained within the food establishment. The SSOP basically works as a plan for preventing contamination of product – derived from equipment or employee’s product handling practices. The main objective of the SSOP is to allow a wholesome, safe product to be produced within a sanitary environment.

Validating HACCP & SSOP with GMP’s – Good Manufacturing Practices

SSOP Planning and Design

The most important components of a properly developed SSOP are the Design and Execution. Each SSOP is “plant specific,” meaning it was designed for a specific establishment. It is possible to modify a SSOP that has already been designed, or one can be created specifically in style of the establishment in which it will be used. As long as it meets regulatory requirements, is approved, and has been proven to be a working plan, it should be acceptable.

When deciding on the SSOP design, a general idea of the design and operations of the establishment must be known. For example, one would want to focus more on sanitation in a room that packs fully cooked product (such as bologna or sandwich meat) than that of a storage room. The storage room must be monitored, but probably not as much as the room that packs fully cooked product. Other equipment such as saws, grinders, table tops, cubing machines, knifes, and sterilizers, are examples of equipment that would need to be included in the first step of the SSOP design. There must be cleaning steps identifying how these food-contact utensils are cleaned and sanitized.

The SSOP Outline

The written SSOP should begin with a description of the establishments SSOP program. This description should give a clear and brief understanding of the establishments standard sanitation operating procedures, including: the establishment name, city and state in which the establishment is located, an approximate number of employees working within the establishment, any special safeguards (such as good manufacturing practices and pest control programs), management structures, equipment and facilities, and a recordkeeping system.

The next step will be to describe the pre-operational sanitation check (before operations begin) where designated employees will actually perform a visual check and cleaning techniques of the equipment and facilities – placing primary focus on food-contact surfaces, and the operational sanitation check (after operations begin) where sanitation is monitored and documented during processing hours.

The SSOP “checks” are normally performed at least twice a day. These checks include a “pre-operational sanitation check” (performed before operations begin) and an “operational check” (performed during operations). Each sanitation check is performed by the designated employee and their findings are documented within a SSOP recordkeeping system. It is this recordkeeping system, as well as the actual monitoring of the SSOP, that is reviewed by USDA Inspection Personnel to verify the establishment is providing a clean and sanitary environment to produce their product.
The Pre-Operational Sanitation Check (Pre-Op)

The pre-operational sanitation check (also known as the “pre-op”) is performed prior to operations. Before any food product enters a room, the pre-op should be performed in that room to verify that facilities, equipment, and utensils were properly cleaned after the previous work day. As mentioned above, all equipment and utensils are cleaned and sanitized before operations begin.

The pre-op often consists of a general walk-through of the establishment to verify the facilities, all equipment, utensils, and all food contact surfaces that may come in direct or indirect contact with the product are clean and acceptable. Often, plant personnel will use a pump sprayer, equipped with an approved sanitizer to spray all equipment and utensils before operations begin. This will likely eliminate most of any bacterial growth that may have occurred between the clean-up and the pre-op.

The Operational Sanitation Check

The operational sanitation check is performed similar to the pre-operational sanitation check, but it is performed during operations (while product is being processed), and at least once per day. The primary objective of the operational sanitation check is to verify that processing is being performed under sanitary conditions (including employee handling) to prevent any direct or cross-contamination of food products. This includes food contact surfaces as well as non-food contact surfaces. As with the pre-operational sanitation check, the results or findings of the operational sanitation check must be documented on some form of SSOP report.

SSOP Forms and Recordkeeping

It is entirely up to the establishment as to how their SSOP forms and record keeping systems are designed. The forms will be acceptable as long as they show documentation of all findings (or no findings), and any corrective actions that were needed upon a noted deficiency within the SSOP. There are no specific standards as to how the forms are designed.

Final Thoughts – Standard Sanitation Operating Procedures

Perform the sanitation checks exactly as described in the approved SSOP. Properly and accurately record any findings (or no findings if none) and complete and properly file the form(s) at the proper times. While SSOP Checks are being performed, it is recommended to use a flashlight and have the proper form(s) ready so they can be completed at the proper times. Double check the “hard-to-get” places for meat and fat debris – if these are overlooked the meat inspector will likely find them!

Identify and record any corrective actions as listed in the plant SSOP for any non-food contact surface deficiencies. Inspection Personnel will gladly assist in answering any questions that may arise pertaining to the SSOP. If there is anything that is not understood, ask the USDA Inspector. They will assist through outreach.

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