How Effective Is Your Cleaning & Sanitation Program?

Cleaning and sanitation programs are indispensable in a food manufacturing plant, as they assure the safety and quality of food being produced. These programs are also key in protecting the integrity of your brand.

Through proper cleaning and sanitation, many biological risks can be prevented and controlled. In order to confidently state that a cleaning and sanitation operation was conducted successfully, the process should be verified on a regular basis. Choosing appropriate methods and relevant test points, determining an adequate sampling frequency, and analyzing the data collected over time, are all critical elements of a sound sampling, testing, and monitoring plan. Reliable data is derived from quality instruments or test kits that are routinely calibrated and tested for accuracy, and to eliminate human variability, individuals collecting the samples must be properly trained. For as long as these concepts have been known in the industry, many methodologies have emerged in the test kit market for verification of cleaning and sanitation as a part of an environmental monitoring program. Each method brings value to an environmental monitoring program, but choosing the right tools is key.

Visually Inspecting

Visual inspection is a longstanding method and allows for a big picture assessment of the equipment and surfaces. It simply means visually evaluating a piece of equipment or a plant floor location with a flashlight or blacklight. This can be useful to find the buildup of foodstuffs that were missed during cleaning as well as discovering damaged equipment. Although it has benefits, visual inspection has several limitations. It is a subjective and imprecise means of verifying proper cleaning. More importantly, even if a surface appears immaculate with no apparent residue, this does not mean it is. Visual inspection cannot ensure that the entire food residue from the previous run has been cleaned away or that a sanitizer effectively reduced the microbial level on the surface.

Microbial Enumeration

Another enduring tool in an environmental monitoring plan to verify cleaning and sanitation is microbial detection through direct enumeration by a microbiological medium. This includes not only pathogens but indicator organisms as well. The main limitation of microbial detection through traditional methods is the amount of time it takes to obtain results, especially when compared to other methods.

Before the sample reaches the microbial enumeration medium, it must first be successfully collected and also released from the collection device. Not all materials used as collection devices have the same efficiency in recovery. It is important to choose the best collection device material for all surface types being tested and ensure that the material is biocide-free.

Specially designed for use in the food and beverage industry, polyurethane sponge bags pre-hydrated with HiCap™ Neutralizing Broth provide surface sampling solutions superior to standard collection methods. Medical-grade polyurethane sponges are non-toxic, super absorbent, and more resistant than traditional cellulose sponges, making them ideal for sampling rough surfaces. Hicap™ Neutralizing Broth outperforms traditional broths. It provides superior neutralization, is validated up to 72 hours, is nonallergenic, has a two-year shelf life, and is compatible with 3M™ Petrifilm™.


The most common rapid approach used in many facilities to assess sanitary conditions post-cleaning and sanitation before starting production is the measurement of levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) on surfaces or in rinse water (e.g., closed systems). Unlike other methods, ATP testing provides results in seconds and is sensitive, quantitative, effective, and simple.

ATP is the universal energy currency in all living cells. It is present in all viable microorganisms (with the exception of viruses) and in foodstuffs. High amounts of ATP can be found in some fresh foods like vegetables, while other foods, especially highly processed foods such as fats, oils or sugar, contain very low amounts of this molecule. It is also important to know that ATP can be found in the environment in its free form hours after a cell has died. An ATP bioluminescence assay operates on the principle that ATP in food/food residues and microorganisms, in the presence of a luciferin/luciferase complex, leads to light emission. The amount of light emitted is proportional to the amount of ATP on a surface and hence its cleanliness.

There are many ATP systems available on the market to support cleaning and sanitation verification in manufacturing plants. Some systems are more reliable than others and will provide results that are meaningful, accurate and repeatable. Be sure, therefore, not to choose a system solely based on its price. As the first sanitation verification device to be approved by the AOAC Research Institute, use of  NeogenAccuPoint Advanced provides customers assurance that the system produces consistent and reliable data for evaluating sanitation program effectiveness in food processing and food services facilities. AccuPoint® Advanced Sanitation Verification System is a handheld ATP reader that accurately detects ATP from surfaces and rinse water samples. A total of 3 different samples are available, depending on the application, for surface testing, rinse water testing, and narrow openings (e.g. small pipes, fill nozzles).

In Summary

Visual inspection, microbial enumeration, and ATP detection all have a role to play when verifying cleaning and sanitation. Visual inspection allows for the quick, simple detection of heavily soiled surfaces. Microbial detection can help determine the source of product contamination, identify niches harboring specific classes of microbes missed during cleaning and sanitation, and track where microorganisms may be going next. ATP bioluminescence systems provide a rapid, actionable result if cleaning and sanitation did not successfully remove foodstuffs or microbes. The key to link all of these tools together is to analyze the data and monitor for trends to gain a true understanding of the large picture in regards to microbial control in a facility.

FC-BIOS is the sole distributor for Neogen and Nasco Whirl-pak products in Malaysia. Learn more about our solutions for your environmental monitoring program.