Experience is often the best teacher, and learning from mishaps that have almost happened is just as important as leaning from those that do. In the occupational health and safety sector, inci-
dents that could create larger problems—such as repositioning a box
on a shelf before it has a chance to fall or cleaning up a spill
before an employee can slip and fall—are recorded as “near
misses.” These incidents are valued not only for their imme-
diate impact on safety but also for their ability to point out
flaws in existing processes.
In the food industry, sanitation near-misses can be:
• Finding a clean drain brush stored with other clean
brushes that are used on food contact surfaces
• Storing food-grade sanitation chemicals in the same
room as office cleaning supplies
• Storing allergen ingredients in unlabeled containers
• Forgetting to verify the cleanliness of a processing line
after a sanitation activity has been completed
Preventive controls can work together with learning from
these near-misses to improve sanitation safety standards.
Recommendations on Preventive Strategies
Creating proper sanitation controls is about much more
than just fixing a problem when it has occurred; it is about planning
ahead to addressing the root cause(s) of issues to avoid not only
actual but also potential food safety problems from happening in the
The following are some proactive approaches that could help avoid
near-misses during an operational sanitation regime:
Conduct a comprehensive food safety hazards risk assessment:
Having a robust food safety plan that has a detailed Hazard Analysis in
place can act as a good blueprint in avoiding any sanitation-related (or
other) mishaps within a facility.
Manage the process flow to control contamination: To avoid potential violations in hygienic zoning between, say, the raw and ready-to-eat zones, the site must control the process flow. Also, the flow and
movement of air, water, waste, people, and items must be monitored,
as uncontrolled flow may compromise food safety and sanitation.
Make use of color-coding as a preventive control: Color-coding is
effective and relatively inexpensive. As a preventive control, it can communicate the process status, act as visual cues for identifying items,
separate hygienic or sanitary zones, and help promote food safety culture among employees.
Implement a well-integrated cleaning and sanitation approach:
Having good Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures is important
but equally so is the education, training, and competency of the employees who are carrying out sanitation tasks.
Invest in hygienically designed facilities, equipment, and materials:
Hygienically designed facilities, equipment, and materials of construction are easily cleanable, more durable, and are less like to carry contaminants of a food safety concern (e.g., allergens, foreign materials,
Monitor and maintain the quality of the sanitary environment
continuously: A good monitoring program
not only verifies the effectiveness of sani-
tation tasks but also tracks the key haz-
ards (pathogens, allergens, and foreign
material contaminants) that help develop,
implement, and maintain risk-based food
safety prevention programs.
Aiming for Zero on Sanitation
Although processors can and should
learn from any near-misses, it’s vital to
also continue to improve the processes,
conduct regular employee training, and
explore relevant tools to eliminate or
reduce these almost-mishaps. Here are
some tips for the industry:
• Allocate resources to issues that are
most critical to food safety and sanita-
tion, and monitor or trend them regu-
larly to ensure continuous compliance.
Educating and training staff members
conducting these tasks is most impor-
• Do not take a “near-miss” on a sanitation issue too lightly. Conduct a thorough analysis of its root cause and
consider all significant factors.
• Test your food safety system to ensure
it is resilient and able to stand up to
the “worse-case situations” that may
compromise food safety and sanitation. Avoid falling into the “comfort
zone” of assuming that everything will
always be fine.
• Encourage employees to report any
near-misses in sanitation even when
food safety, integrity, quality, and
legality has not actually been compromised. Management can then deal
with these cases on a risk-by-risk basis
and take steps to ensure they don’t
• Invest in tools and technologies that
can make a beneficial difference to
food safety and especially to the sanitary conditions in the plant. Proper
selection, storage, care, and maintenance of cleaning and material handling tools, for instance, can make a
Preventing sanitation mishaps can
assure auditors, inspectors, customers,
and other stakeholders that the facility
is processing safe and wholesome food.
The goal for the food industry is to work
toward significantly reducing or eliminating the near-misses encountered during
sanitation that might compromise the
product safety or sanitary conditions
within a food processing environment.
Learning from “Near Misses”
FOOD SAFETY INSIDER