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In the wake of the listeria outbreak that continues to plague South Africa, it is imperative that manufacturers and wholesalers in the food and beverages industry ensure their factories and kitchens are effectively cleaned and sanitised.

According to a Times Live interview with Dr Juno Thomas of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD): “The listeria bacteria is hard to test for, as it is not homogeneously distributed in food. It can also ‘hide away’ in cracks or niches in factories. Consumers who stored recalled products in their fridges should disinfect them.”

In conjunction with Dr Thomas’ advice, it is important to note that listeria can survive in the fridge even at two degrees Celsius. All fridges, counters, storage spaces, faucets, basins and floors should routinely be disinfected with effective cleaning products. “The bacteria could get stuck on pallets used to move foods. It could stick to the crates goods are packed in. It will survive just about anywhere,” continues Dr Thomas. Therefore, especially in factories where raw materials and products are being moved from place to place, the importance of cleaning and disinfecting the entire factory before and after each occasion of shipping and handling of products becomes vital.

According to John J Coetzee, CEO at Green Worx Cleaning Solutions, within the duties of facilities management is ensuring the health and safety of employees and customers. “A healthy environment must be created, one that will not negatively impact on the long-term health of employees, clients or the environment.”

As is made evident by the ongoing listeria problem, the importance of properly sanitised facilities is again being highlighted. “This is for the health and safety of not only the employees, but of customers consuming products that were housed within these facilities as well,” adds Coetzee. “The answer is bio-friendly products. The problem is that many traditional chemical cleaning agents are still widely used across many facilities. These are often large facilities; the more chemicals used, the greater the exposure to harmful volatile organic compounds becomes. Additionally, many of these products and disinfectants are useless against listeria due to the biofilm.”

To ensure the effective cleaning and sanitising of kitchens, factories and storage facilities, green cleaning products are ideal. The accumulation of bacteria develops a biofilm, which is a protective matrix made up of organic polymers (EPS): polysaccharides and proteins. This biofilm renders most conventional, industrial cleaning products ineffective.

“It is necessary to use an enzymatic cleaner that breaks down the biofilm’s organic matrix. Once the organic matrix has been broken down, the disinfectant properties eradicate the dangerous bacteria,” confirms Coetzee. “The Directorate of Food Control has confirmed that Odorite Deep Clean Enzymatic is the only environmentally friendly product with SABS 1828 approval for use on hard surfaces in cleaning-in place (CIP) in food industries, in South Africa. Using these types of products plays a critical role in eliminating the listeria bacteria (while vastly improving health and safety compliance).”

It is also important to dispose of any products that may have been contaminated, as well as anything that was uncovered and housed or transported in/on the same containers, pallets or refrigerators. These products can be returned to suppliers but should not, under any circumstances be placed in regular bins for refuse disposal or fed to pets. “These products need to be incinerated to destroy the bacteria effectively. All affected areas must then be sanitised to prevent reinfection,” concludes Coetzee.

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