The hazards mops, brooms and shop-style vacs create in your food facility

Are you still using manual floor cleaning equipment in your food facility? Mops, brooms and shop-style vacuums are still the primary cleaning tools in many food processing and manufacturing plants.

The problem is that they don’t get the job done. Not only that, but they create hazards that can cause problems for both your food safety plan and your fall prevention program.

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Mops

Mops are a frequent go-to for cleaning up spills. In smaller facilities, they may also be used to clean the floor as part of the routine cleaning regimen.

But, if there are bacteria on the floor (and there are — floors are a common source of pathogens), mopping is probably doing more to spread that contamination than to contain it.

A main reason is that the very first time the dirty mop is dipped into the mop bucket, the water becomes contaminated with bacteria (as well as dirt and other grime), and the cleaning chemical in the bucket starts to lose its effectiveness. The more you dip the mop in the water, the more contaminated it becomes. The result is that you spread the contamination across the floor.

How mops are typically stored also contributes to the buildup of bacteria. This has been known in the healthcare cleaning industry since 1971, when a study of housekeeping procedures found that “mops, stored wet, supported bacterial growth to very high levels and could not be adequately decontaminated by chemical disinfection,” even when using very high (i.e. “uneconomical”) amounts of disinfectant.

To prevent the spread of contamination (which they colorfully call “the daily painting of…floors with thick suspensions of…organisms”), the authors recommend replacing the mop head every day, replacing the wash and rinse waters every 60 minutes, laundering mop heads at the end of every shift and allowing them to dry thoroughly, and more.

The bottom line is that unless new mops are used every day and a rigid protocol is followed, mopping simply spreads bacteria around.

Floor scrubbers solve these problems. The machines continually dispense a solution of clean water and active chemicals, and the vacuum on the scrubber removes the solution immediately, so that the contaminated liquid isn’t moved across the floor. The scrubbers also use brushes and pads, which won’t accumulate bacteria between uses.

Brooms

Just like mops, brooms are commonly used both for cleaning up spills (e.g., flour in a bakery) and as part of the regular floor cleaning routine. And just like mops, brooms often cause more problems than they solve.

Sweeping with a broom kicks up dust particles from the floor, causing them to become airborne so they can easily travel to other areas of the plant. If these dust particles contain pathogens like Listeria, they can cause cross-contamination.

But, the hazards of dust dispersal don’t stop there. Dust that’s kicked up into the air will eventually settle somewhere, often in a vent or on an overhead pipe. This creates a combustible dust hazard.

Despite the fact that the food industry accounts for almost one-quarter of all combustible dust incidents, this hazard is often overlooked in food facilities. But the fact is that almost every ingredient used in food has the potential to become a combustible dust. That’s why the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has published several standards for the food industry and why OSHA relies on these standards in its own rulemaking.

Similar to how scrubbers prevent cross-contamination, industrial sweepers pick up debris while keeping dust under control. Our patented DustGuardTM technology traps and suppresses fine dust before it is dispersed into the air.

Shop-style vacuums

Finally, many food facilities looking to upgrade their manual cleaning equipment purchase shop-style vacuums. However, these vacuums compound the hazards associated with mops and brooms. Not only do they spread bacterial contamination and disperse dust into the air, they can also provide another key requirement for a combustible dust explosion: an ignition source.

Vacuum cleaners can be highly effective at helping prevent cross-contamination and dust dispersion in food facilities as long as they have the right type of filtration. Vacuums used in food processing should have HEPA filters both as part of the main filtration mechanism and downstream to guarantee that contaminants won’t exit the machine via the exhaust.

The trick is that many off-the-shelf shop-style vacuums don’t have true HEPA filters. True HEPA filters must be individually tested to verify that they are at least 99.97% efficient at trapping and retaining particles down to and including 0.3 microns. The filters in most shop-style vacuums haven’t gone through this verification process, which is why they’re labeled “HEPA-type” or “HEPA-like,” rather than “certified HEPA.”

If your vacuum cleaner doesn’t have a certified HEPA filter, then it’s no better than a broom at preventing pathogens and dust from traveling around your facility.

An additional problem with shop-style vacuums is that they aren’t explosion-proof. Since most food facilities have some kind of combustible dust, the equipment used in them needs to be compliant with NFPA 652: Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust. This standard specifies, among other things, that vacuums must be constructed from conductive materials and that hoses must be conductive or static dissipative (see the full requirements). Shop-style vacs typically don’t meet these requirements. As a result, they can create an explosion hazard in food processing and manufacturing facilities.

Only by using an industrial vacuum specifically designed to prevent dust hazards in food processing facilities can you ensure the safety of your facility and your workers.

 

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Ultimately, what mops, brooms, and shop-style vacuums do is provide a false sense of security. Your floors may look clean and safe, but your products and your workers are still at risk.

Fortunately, this is an easy problem to solve. By using cleaning equipment specifically designed to meet the challenges of the food processing industry, you can prevent cross-contamination and boost worker safety. Learn more in our new eBook: 3 steps to cleaning compliance for your entire food facility.

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