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5S Sanitation for Food Plants

  • Post By: Ray Humienny

Lean sanitation is more than just equipment hygiene; 5S, a five-step sanitation procedure, is intended to treat your plant’s work space as a second home through common housekeeping etiquette.

If you’re managing a food plant, nothing is more important than trusting that your product is safe and that your facility is regularly washed. Consumers expect safe food, and a clean facility is necessary for a consistently safe product.

Determining which sanitation strategy is most suitable depends on your type of operation and its scope. Is it cost effective for you to hire a sanitation group to oversee facility hygiene, or should you dedicate an in-house team to do so?

Knowing the answer requires insight. By introducing lean strategies to sanitation, you can help trim waste and equipment downtime.

What is Lean?

Lean is an umbrella term that describes strategies to identity and minimize waste while maintaining a steady production cycle. Its key principles derive from the Toyota Production System (TPS) developed between 1945 and 1975 that capitalized on two primary concepts:

  1. Making the demanded product in the correct amounts at the needed time (just-in-time manufacturing); and
  2. Human interaction with automation (autonomation), primarily through correcting defects, maintenance and reducing waste.

These two principles are related according to TPS, and food plant manufacturers can apply both to combat waste acquired via the production process. In fact, TPS identifies eight different types of waste to consider:

  1. Idle time during production
  2. Product surplus
  3. Product transportation internally and externally
  4. Misused storage space
  5. Worker movement
  6. Not using individual employees to their best abilities
  7. Byproducts of running machinery
  8. Damaged product

In an earlier white paper, we noted ten lean principles to incorporate into your food plant. While these concepts make it clear that lean is often paired with “manufacturing” or “production,” its application to sanitation upholds the same basic tenets.

A Lean Approach to Sanitation: 5S

The USDA states that “each official establishment shall develop, implement, and maintain written standard operating procedures for sanitation (Sanitation SOPs) … to prevent direct contamination or adulteration of product.” Applying lean concepts to sanitation SOPs streamlines the cleaning procedure down to five steps, known as 5S:


First, take preemptive measures by flagging all essential and non-essential items for sanitation. This involves tasks such as—though, certainly not limited to—developing pre-wash checklists, designating barriers against spray contamination and value stream mapping.

Setting in order

Place essential items as close as possible to their original place of operation before cleaning. Food Safety Magazine reported in 2016 that the installation of clean out-of-place washrooms can help prioritize the flow of disassembled parts.

“Color-coordinated cleaning tools are helpful and shadow board carts help ensure that all parts are accounted for when disassembly occurs during cleanings,” Emily Diersing, process engineer with Food Plant Engineering, says.


Once you’ve completed your pre-wash checklist and set all necessary equipment in order, clean the area around the equipment.

Consider replacing or sealing worn surfaces in your facility to reduce the potential for bacteria growth. Maintain a crack free surface on the floors and allow the detergent to penetrate any present food residue before scrubbing. In his lecture at IPPE 2017, senior director at Maple Leaf Consumer Foods Steve Tsuyuki emphasized the importance of “shovel-up zones” for pre-rinsed floors littered by any food soils. Additionally, sanitation teams should not substitute scrubbing or sweeping with pressurized water alone.

Equipment hygiene is just one small part of the 5S sanitation design; lean sanitation helps you envision your plant as a home with thorough organization and a holistic approach on hygiene.


Diersing says to keep all employees—from hourly workers to corporate—in the loop regarding hygiene and cleaning standards. This step is meant to maintain accountability when it comes to sanitation SOPs by coaching everyone on how your sanitation procedures are performed.

Don’t be afraid to involve your human resources personnel in this step. Those unfamiliar with your plant offer an outsider’s perspective to what rules should be in place. Also, keep in mind, that while bacteria that grows inside your facility is always a concern, bacteria may come from loading docks and other movement circulating from outside your operations.


Consider how you can place equipment for the next cleaning. Food Processing Magazine refers to rapid changeovers and error-proofing to shorten the clean-up time between live operations. In other words, identify sanitation procedures that can be performed while running a facility, those that cannot and others that are unnecessary.

Additionally, safety factors during sanitation are crucial. Diersing says to always implement employee observers while cleaning to monitor any risks or physical obstacles that could impede the process or harm workers.