In September, Alison Smith, Meritech’s Senior Director of Strategic Accounts sat down with Paul Barnhill, Meritech’s Chief Technology Officer to discuss the topic of using automation to build a sustainable food safety culture & consistent hygiene SOPs across an organization. Below is a transcript of their conversation:
Alison Smith: Thank you so much for having us here today! We’re going to be talking about using automation to build a sustainable food safety culture and consistent hygiene SOPs across your organization. So Paul, let’s get underway! Talk to me about the importance of building a good food safety culture.
Paul Barnhill: A food safety culture for all your staff, all your people, your business, and mainly for your customers and the products you produce is really a pinnacle device that you need to have that really takes you to another level. Obviously we have food safety programs, you know, we have GMPs and SOPs and so forth and so on. And, you know, we have documents and procedures that guide people through, but really one of the things that’s at the heart of all this is when you create that culture and you need that culture, to really focus people on understanding really what we call the why.
And why do we want to create that culture so that everybody understands their purpose behind it, understanding exactly what they bring to that, to food safety. And it really starts with that culture and everybody’s gotta be on the same playing field. One of the things I’ve said for many years is really when you create that culture, it doesn’t matter if you’re a frontline worker or you’re the CEO of the company when it comes to this culture, everybody is on a flat line. So everybody’s on that flat line of leadership. So they can focus on that and make sure that they achieve the goals of the company. And ultimate safety comes along with that and producing quality products along with that as well.
Alison Smith: Absolutely. Paul, what resources does Meritech offer to help people who are looking to build out their food safety culture?
Paul Barnhill: Meritech has a lot of different assets. First and foremost, we have an entire crew of trained professionals in regards to basically human hygiene. What do you deal with inside a plant? But also available to you is what is called a hygiene toolbox.
This hygiene toolbox has six different modules that kind of walk you through the real basics of employee hygiene. But talk about first and foremost is what we’re talking about today is culture. How do you develop the culture? One of those things is really a hygiene social contract. That really lays out clearly and it’s also something that you can modify that can be specific to your facility. That’s one. Then we talk about hand hygiene, then we talk about, footwear hygiene you know do you lay out a hygiene zone correctly that will give you the best in both consistency and efficacy and compliance. Okay. Then really one of the big pieces out there is like that validation, you know, what do you have for validation? Well, we give you tools to help with that validation process, not only for the number of events, but also how do you validate the automated technology? How do you validate manual hand washing? And then really the last part of that is really carrying you back into that really tells you how to kind of stay up and repeat.
How do you deal with that again and again. You know, training’s a huge piece of food safety, you know, every time when you get hired on a company, either you’re a new hire, you’re a temporary, you know, you’re using contract labor. First and foremost, training has to be on food safety, has to be on, what do you do for hygiene training?
How do get into the plant? How do you do your job? And these are really critical aspects, especially in these times that can be easily missed. And we can’t afford that, that puts too many other people at risk. So those are some of the assets that we have to help them develop their programs or to refine their programs
Alison Smith: and where can people access this library of resources?
Paul Barnhill: We have that directly, not only with the knowledge base within our team of people, both within our sales staff, as well as in our service engineers in the field, as well as it’s available for all download directly on our website.
Alison Smith: So let’s talk a little bit about consistency as it relates to hygiene SOPs. So hygiene is an important component of a good, robust food safety culture. Why is it so important to have consistency and hygiene SOPs across the organization?
Paul Barnhill: The challenge when you don’t have consistency is really creating again, that culture, you know, it’s a little bit hit or miss in the processes you go through. Sometimes it’s enforced. Sometimes it’s not enforced. And when you look at hygiene. You know, it’s a black and white, there’s no gray to it. And so you have to have that and you, again, you start with that culture and you have the procedures behind it, but you really have to make sure that that hygiene aspect and that consistency is done the same across the board. So everything from, you know, how has my facility laid out? To, how am I onboarding and training that individual to come into that facility? You know, the processes that they go through, the directionality of people, once they leave a hygiene zone or something like that, all that has to be orchestrated a little bit in advance to make sure that it works well for the organization. Works well for the hygiene of the people. That you’re not running into, you know, physical challenges.
One of the things we talk about the most when we talk about creating consistency, that is something that we call the three P’s. The people, the place, and the products. Once you understand these, not only can you create hygienic areas, you can create processing control behind it, but you understand that people, the place, and the products, now you understand how we build that culture within that food safety.
Alison Smith: Excellent. So in conjunction with consistency really is standardization. Having a standard in every process to follow, to make it simple, easy, and executable by all employees.
Paul Barnhill: Absolutely. So one of the challenges is getting people doing the same thing over and over again and doing it the same way over and over again.
And, you know, am washing hands correctly? One one of those things is the human behavioral piece. And if you’re dealing with the human behavior piece, every time we wash our hands manually, we’re going to do it differently. Every time we sanitize our footwear, we’re going to be doing it a little bit differently, depending on how that process is.
So by automating that process, and that’s the beauty of automation is you’re doing the same thing the right way, every single time. That’s where Meritech comes into play and helping out create those processes. Developing and selling automated hand-washing systems to be able to help solve that human issue so it does become consistent. Everybody is doing the same exact thing every single time.
Alison Smith: Absolutely. It reminds me of an acronym that I know we’ve discussed in the past pertaining to consistency, which is the SAVE acronym. SAVE standing for standardize, automate, validate and educate. Which I think might be helpful for the attendees today as just a small takeaway to really drive a possible process for developing consistency. Keeping that in mind.
Paul Barnhill: A hundred percent agree because one of the challenges is, you know, if you have a manual process, it’s really hard to validate. And one of the things we talked to a lot of plants and you know this as well, is that, you know, how do you know that you’re getting the compliance you need? How are you getting that consistency that you need? Well you can only do it one way.
And that’s police that behavior. That’s really challenging in today’s times, especially with, you know, a shortage of staff. People are working longer, harder hours. You really need to automate these things to be able to get control in it. And then you can automate something that has that consistency. You cannot build quality without consistency. They’re inseparable.
Alison Smith: So we’re going to go through a demonstration of the CleanTech® Automated Handwashing Systems today, but these handwashing systems are a great way to build this culture around consistency, through hygiene SOPs, because the technology is standardized because it’s clinically backed, and because it guarantees an effective wash from every person to person whether it’s a temp worker, seasonal workers. Very easy, straightforward process that everyone can use to ensure effective hygiene, reduction in potential pathogens in the facility and controlling contamination.
Paul Barnhill: Absolutely agree. So Alison, one of the things that we talk about often is really what are the challenges when you have maybe, a company that has multiple locations or within an operation or a plant, they actually do different things.
How do you go about that? How do you deal with those challenges, especially when it comes to hygiene of the staff?
Alison Smith: Absolutely. So really, as a carry on to what you talked about, Paul, having a robust food safety culture, that exists at all levels starts with leadership and really is reinforced within each department.
It’s the responsibility of those departments to look at their processes and where there are deviations, inconsistencies and really develop ways to standardize and drive consistency amongst their process. Specifically for hygiene, you know, it’s difficult enough just to get consistency from person to person within an individual facility, let alone, when you’re considering organizations who are manufacturing, high care products, at multiple locations, maybe across the U.S. Or even globally, there can be a lot of opportunity for inconsistency from site to site, from person to person.
So finding technology, developing processes to really help standardize and create procedures that are easy to follow for staff, easy to onboard, easy to train for is going to help reinforce and drive that consistency and ultimately that food safety culture throughout the company, as a whole.
Paul Barnhill: Absolutely. And I think one of the bigger challenges, and I think you would agree is, you know, especially when you have, a multi-layer facility or multiple facilities, obviously every building’s a little different.
So that, trying to get everybody to kind of do that same thing where you even have staff, even leadership moves from plant to plant a little bit. And so by developing that consistent culture across their entire spectrum of plants really helps for that transitionary period. Helps to make sure that everybody understands what those consistent goals need to be.
Alison Smith: Absolutely. Each plant will have their own unique needs, but Meritech had can help with this. Our team of hygiene experts can come in, evaluate the needs of an individual facility. Take a look at the hygiene zone, the flow of employees, and provide recommendations for the best consistent practices. And that can include utilizing our automated hand washing or footwear sanitizing systems.
To give a standard clinically back means for each employee to have effective hygiene going into high-care production areas or any other critical egress points.
Paul Barnhill: Excellent point. Even those plants that do things like “I’m dealing with raw or cooked”, that’s an intervention step we teach often within our education processes and teachings that we do as well as in our site surveys, look for those pitfalls.
Though, a lot of these things are known by our experts that are, you know, these food safety sanitarians that are basically in these plants, these QA quality directors and so forth that are in process, or even the HR people there for that onboarding, they bring these things to light, but sometimes it just takes a little bit of momentum to kind of get them to that next level.
It’s like, all right, “we’ve got to step this up or we gotta to do something different or we could, we can improve.” We always look at as that. Yeah. We want to look at a process improvement. It’s it’s like 5s for food hygiene professionals. It’s really what a commonality is. You know, you’re really wanting to create that within your organization
Alison Smith: And promote it. Once you do establish those best practices, it’s the responsibility of leadership and all departments to promote those across facilities, share that information so that everybody can harmonize to the best practices as a company.
Paul Barnhill: That’s that flatline leadership within that food safety culture. That’s what’s really important. You know, the hygiene social contracts are really good creating that culture, but also, you know, it ties back to a lot of companies have these food safety committees. It goes right in line with that. That’s really important.
Alison Smith: And we at Meritech have had a lot of success with corporate partnerships. And what we typically see is that those corporate partnerships do start with a commitment from the leadership. That they have looked at the process and identify certain gaps that have areas for improvement for employee hygiene. Those gaps can be anything from, you know, ineffective practices or employee compliance. It might be inefficiencies that they see in the process, or even just a desire to improve for audit readiness.
And so once we have commitment from leadership, typically, what we’ll see is then that they engage department heads. So to your point about having a food safety committee, also once corporate leaders determined that they do want to evolve and improve hygiene practices, they will get food safety, quality, facilities, sanitation, all involved so that they can understand the desire, change, and process and work alongside Meritech to really put together a plan for the best process to improve. Sometimes that might include starting with just an individual location so that one site can get comfortable with this change of process, understand what it takes for installation and also get employees using a new process that’s more consistent and get them excited about it.
Once that first facility is excited and ready to go, then it’s kind of like wildfire, right? I mean, then it’s about driving that message to all the other facilities. Which may include the adoption and the change to SOP.
Paul Barnhill: That’s always a challenge for plants, isn’t it? Because you know, one of the things that we see, especially on, you know, we see it on our healthcare side of the business, but you see that reluctance because, “oh, writing a procedure, making a change in procedure can somewhat be a daunting process.” And that’s one of the advantages of the toolbox that we have is that that work is already done. That’s a free downloadable that really helps them guide through that process. Not only on manual, but in an automated process. So that it feels as if here’s an example in a sample that you can use to really bake into those hard documents we require, you know, not only do professionals require it because the companies want it.
Not only do you have third-party auditors want to see that. Obviously regulatory wants to see that. So, you know, again, it’s another process to help him improve that, to just make that transition and that training.
Alison Smith: Earlier, I talked about the SAVE acronym for standardization, automation, validation and educate.
So, Paul we’ve already talked a lot about standardization and automating, especially employee hygiene with Meritech systems. But how specifically can companies look at doing validation when they want to put a new employee hygiene SOP in place?
Paul Barnhill: Yes, that’s a great point. Some people may overthink that and it’s a little challenging, but it’s really not.
So one is we know that’s a requirement. You know, not only do you want to have that for your own peace of mind, but you’re going to get asked that by regulatory or third-party auditors or even, you know, if you’re making goods for someone else, they may want to do that. That’s a really good point. And it’s easy.
It’s not complicated. So we have over 50 different studies that the advocacy that Meritech has performed over the 30 years of challenging, against true pathogens with an FDA certified laboratory to an ASTM standard. So not only do they have that within their budget, then they also have what is called calibration certificate for Meritech. A Meritech, you know, service engineer has come in, we have validated. Our technology is operating exactly like those studies were set up and done and perform. So we have that, but then we also have also available within the toolbox is ways to validate, on your own. So again, giving you peace of mind, you know, we’ve developed process alongside Hygiena of using an ATP test system, the hygienist system that measures adenosine triphosphate to be able to really measure what is my, basically our ROU before and post hygiene event.
So you really can collect data, show that you’re getting the reduction show that you’re putting people in the right place so that you do have that peace of mind. And that’s, I think a really , valuable tool for people to do is look at exactly that we actually have a download, that they can do an entire procedure that walks them through the steps, that helps them really close that loop in that.
So, yeah, validation is really important. I mean, every business does it. They want to make sure that they’re doing it the right way to make sure that it’s been through science. The challenge with that is it’s not like when you deal with a hard surface. That’s a real challenge. You know, it’s either that is black or white, unfortunately was skin and it having living flora of it that has a certain microbial load.
You have to look at that in a little bit of that gray. And so that’s why using the ATP, following that process measure, using these three pieces that really tie that together to close that loop. And yes, we have a standard, we have a process and now we have a validation of it.
Alison Smith: Absolutely. And then once the validation has taken place, it’s important to educate, right? So making sure that that message is filtered down to employees, that if a new process is put in place, that it’s important for employees to understand why that is so they can really get onboard and understanding the benefits of this new standardized automated process that’s been validated.
And Constant education, always reinforcing, especially with new employees, having good training programs, having appropriate signage, all to help direct and guide them in using the process the right way for ultimate standardization and consistency.
Paul Barnhill: I think one of the things that we’ve done as a company that really helps is, yeah, you can, hang a lot of posters, a lot of words that doesn’t help, the more visual, the better, it really helps guide you through that process, especially when you’re dealing with a diverse culture and multiple languages. So the less in the written word, the more pictorial you’re able to get that, but education doesn’t always have to be about that.
There’s multiple ways to educate without actually really sitting down and teaching a class. As most of us think about it. “It’s just, I’m learning something I’m sitting down and learning something.” Actually, one of the things we offer and you get to lead a lot of these, which is, I think a lot of fun is some of these food safety lunch and learns, we call them. Where you get to come in. We have demonstration equipment, if they don’t have the equipment already, or you talk more about the importance of hand hygiene, you know, we make it fun with, I think one of them is, what the hand hygiene bingo or something like that?
Alison Smith: Absolutely. Yeah, we’ve done a hand hygiene bingo. We participated in hygiene days or safety days to educate, on the connection between employee hygiene, specifically hand-washing and employee health and safety, but absolutely you can make it a lot of fun. Just invite employees to engage and, and learn something and, you know, maybe get rewarded with some fun prizes as part of those programs.
Paul Barnhill: Well they feel valued and then they get to in kind of like a non-confrontational way, really ask questions. It’s really important because that’s one of the things that helps create that culture. People cannot discount that aspect of culture. It really is at the center of what we do as long as there’s a really good high quality culture.
You’re going to have compliance. You’re going to be able to meet the standards that you expect. Maybe get greater output and biggest thing right now is “I may retain more staff” and we need retention of employees right now.
So Alison earlier, we were talking about that, the challenges it is, when you have an operation that has multiple facilities or different processes in the facility.
Can you really give us a story about one of those?
Alison Smith: Sure, absolutely. One example that comes to mind was a ready to eat food processing environment that came to us with questions surrounding footwear sanitizing. They didn’t have robust practices in place at the moment. There were concerns about contamination.
It didn’t have captive footwear. So employees were coming in, in street shoes and really, it was an opportunity for us to work with them, consult and provide recommendations to improve their practices around footwear that ultimately led into improvements for hand-washing as well. So through site surveys, we established what those recommendations were and put systems in place in one of their key manufacturing facilities for evaluation, really to get everybody on board. So employees got to use it. They got that valuable feedback and also they were able to test and verify that this technology was going to improve their process from there. Then there was, you know, really corporate adoption.
They wrote SOPs that included the Meritech systems for use and their facilities. And this is an ongoing partnership that we’re evolving. Paul, you also worked closely with me on this opportunity. I’d love to kind of pose the question back to you. What were some of the areas that stand out in your mind where we got involved in this particular relationship to really help construct a more consistent process?
Paul Barnhill: Oh, excellent. You know, one of the things that first and foremost was really, we created a partnership between the two organizations to really understand what the challenges are. So it’s really doing it in the best ways where you understand exactly. Okay. “What are my challenges? Am I having micro hits?”
So really the first thing we did when we looked at this facility is again, we put into player three, P’s the people, the place, the products to really understand exactly the challenges down to the nitty-gritty. It was a tight facility, you know, a high throughput zone, a tight area. We were getting micro counts where we shouldn’t be getting micro counts.
All of these things, had to be looked at as exact. How do you develop that program? You know, one of the programs we have, you know, we call it 12 seconds clean. Okay. And it just doesn’t focus just on hand-washing, but footwear at the same time, in that 12 seconds. Great advantages to that, you know, call it two birds in one stone.
No one wants to do that, but you really want to accomplish those tasks at the same time, create that process control that has to go back to that consistency, , you know, and having everybody do that same thing over and over again. So that’s one of those things that you want to look at. How do we develop those programs?
Yeah, it’s a great opportunity when we get to work with customers, to be able to sit there and say, what are your challenges?. How can we help you? And this is one of those success stories that we were able to say, yeah, that’s a feather in our cap. We are able to come in, help identify, work in line with them. We made a proposal of exactly what we thought was best practices.
We wanted to give it a validation to make sure that this is going to work. Every plant is different. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last 29 years in this industry, every single manufacturing plant is a little different. Their process, a little different, what they handle a little different, people a little different.
That’s one of those things you have to really focus on to create not only that consistency, but that way, then you can just push right into that culture. And that really changes the game for all people.
Alison Smith: Absolutely. And despite differences from plants to plants, as long as there is a sharing of best practices, they can continue to construct and build that food safety culture at a very high level corporately
Paul Barnhill: Absolutely. Even, internationally we’ve seen with this organization, not only can you do it domestically, but you can do it also internationally to where you can kind of make sure that everybody is operating in that same way.
Again it goes back to an old adage “within consistency, you can build quality” and always make sure that it doesn’t matter where it’s at. It doesn’t matter where it’s made in the world. You know, it’s being done in the same way. And that’s something you can bank on. So Alison now we’ve talked to them about CleanTech® Systems and so forth and automation and culture and so forth, we want to go ahead and give them a demonstration. You just wash your hands. Let’s do it. Let’s go forward. All right.
So what Allison is gonna do is she’s going to go ahead and wash her hands. First thing she’s going to do, is she’s going to put them straight into the hand washer, washing and sanitizing.
The whole thing takes 12 seconds. First, second or so is washing the hands with potable water. That’s to remove the big bugs and so forth from the hands.. And then we’re going to wash with anti-microbial solution for 6 seconds, spinning around the hand, then we’re going to give a water rinse that lasts five seconds. That’s the entire process.
Every hand wash is identical for every single user. So how was it?
Alison Smith: Amazing. So easy.
Paul Barnhill: So now we’re going to kind of talk about really what happened during that automated hand wash. So during that hand wash, when she first put in, actually the cylinder turned on, there’s actually 40 nozzles in there that are actually washing and sanitizing your hand, 20 per hand.
There’s 8 around the wrist. There’s another eight in a helical pattern and four critical nozzles that are dedicated directly to your fingertips between your fingers and under your fingernails. This is really the business part of the hand that we really need to wash. Okay, then it kicks in after that one second pottable water rinse, we kick into the washing and sanitizing cycle.
That’s really six seconds. What that does is that mixes, the anti-microbial solution in the water, and you’re really washing that hand as that turns around those 23 times with all of those nozzles. Then that second seven in the cycle, it switches to a potable water rinse. That’s really where we’re rinsing away all these big pathogens, so forth. They die and then she’s done. She flicks her fingers a couple of times pulls them out and dries the hands directly. We always recommend a paper towel dry for a couple of reasons. One, it’s more hygienic, it’s a faster process to get people through. You’re able to have less cross-contamination is what we’ve noticed over the years of doing hand hygiene.
And so really when you’re looking at that best practices, that’s what we recommend. We know it’s a personal choice. A lot of plants choose differently, but again, it depends on what you’re doing. You know, if you’re a gloved operation, we don’t always recommend from a hygiene aspect to use an air guard because they’re just the time it takes the difficulty of cleaning gloves.
So there’s lots of reasons why you choose what drying apparatus you need. Cause sometimes it’s decided, “what is it we’re doing with our staff”, sometimes it’s by facility choice, and so forth. So now that we talked exactly about what happened during the hygiene event, I think one of the things that we needed to probably describe as really what happens for footwear sanitizing.
And so Meritech has a couple of different options. One, we have one that is really for wetted environments. One that’s more replacing your traditional foot bath mats. And then one that’s designed for drier environments or those, what we call low moisture. And so they work in two different ways. That’s really critical because these are two different types of departments or areas that are dealt with.
So wet plants is exactly that. So it’s a pan sitting in front of the CleanTech® system and it’s sitting there with a quat bath solution, basically 800 to a 1000 parts per million. It’s not like your traditional doormat, you got to go replenish and take people to do that makes it the right ratio. This is actually automated.
So it’s all taken care of by the CleanTech® system mixing that, 800 to 1000 parts per million to get that sanitation level recommended by the USDA and FDA to that level. So that’s really critical. So that’s all automated by the system and it’s constantly replenishing itself and it knows exactly what it needs to do.
So it’s using chemicals designed directly in the system. It’s easily claimed you can do it as your CIP or COP. So it doesn’t have to worry about that. So then you have that whole moisture, and this is a real challenge in the industry. You know, it’s difficult to deal with because, you have facilities they want to stay dry, but we want to clean, but they don’t want the mess.
They know tacky mats are really getting rid of the lens and the soils, but not getting rid of the pathogens. So how do you deal with that? Well, we have what is called the sole clean system. And the sole clean system uses what is called Sanifect D2. It is an alcohol quat combination, chemical that really is a ready to use product.
It sprays it onto a mat, that’s absorbable like a little bit like a sponge that when you step on it, it allows it to get the sole of that shoe damp, but not like you’re in a bath. And that allows you to kind of get that sole, sanitized. You have that 12 seconds contact time with both the wetted and the sole clean version, which is critical. Sanitizers, need time to work.
This allows them to do that. And then what you do is once you’re done washing your hands, step out, usually with the sole clean or the maybe some walk-off mats. So you’re not tracking those pathogens. That way, then it has an opportunity to dry. The Sanifect D2 effect will typically dry in about 20 seconds.
And that’s a real advantage that for those non wet environments or dry environments, allowing that to dry before you’re getting into those areas that you want to keep dry. So there’s really two viable options available for plants. Did I leave anything out there, Allison?.
Alison Smith: No. I just think, you know, as a whole Paul, that, regardless of, you know, what the best fit is for an individual facility, this is all about, you know, driving away from inefficiencies and, you know, really inconsistency in process from person to person.
One of the things that I always mentioned, having gone through a lot of different plants is, you know, witnessing what happens with traditional manual practices. For hand-washing, you know, we see a lot of what we call the splash and dash. People just not remaining compliant to what companies have outlined for the standards for hand-washing be it 20 seconds or longer often we’ll see people, you know, spending four or five seconds, which I think is really representative traditional human behavior.
Paul Barnhill: And 95% of people don’t wash their hands correctly when they do it, manually , and you know, we’re seeing a drop in that still you know, these post COVID times when people are kind of sliding back into their old ways and that’s a behavioral challenge.
That’s something that is very difficult change. That’s why automation comes in and really kind of creates that standard and expectation. I think we had a customer a while back, really clearly say he goes the ” training for this is simple. Put your hands in, leave it until the water stops when you’re done, pull them out. That’s it.” I think that was his entire training method. He goes, “it’s easiest training I’ve done on hygiene in years. So Alison, we’ve talked a lot about hygiene today. We’ve talked a lot about different things, but do you think we’ve covered everything?
Alison Smith: Absolutely. I think, especially going back to the same acronym, we talked about standardization.
We talked about automation and the improvements that can be gained through Meritech systems for hand-washing, and footwear sanitizing. We talked about validation of new automated practices as a best process, and also education. Education at all levels within the organization. And really, I think that summarizes how you can help build a robust food safety culture.
Paul Barnhill: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, because that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about creating that culture, understanding exactly what your challenges are, which is really about your three-Ps. So once you put these three things together, you get your hygiene culture, you get your SAVE, which is incredibly important that people need to think about.
And then you understand your three Ps. You can create a food safety program that really will exceed expectations.
Alison Smith: Absolutely. And definitely want to thank everybody for joining us today. We’ve enjoyed sharing this time with you. And we’re going to open the floor now to some questions and answers.
Paul Barnhill: Fantastic.