Audit and Relative Risk Assessment of Harvest Processing Equipment Sanitization in Commercial Packing Plants

Project Title

In-Plant Validation of Harvest Processing Equipment Sanitization Best Practices


Travis Tennant (West Texas A&M University)

Ty Lawrence, Loni Lucherk (West Texas A&M University) Tyson Brown (Cargill Meat Solutions) Xianqin Yang (AAFC Lacombe)

Status Project Code
In progress. Results expected in November, 2024 FOS.01.20


Hot water is an effective way to sanitize knives, air knives, etc. in commercial packing plants, when it’s done right. The problem is, we don’t really know what the appropriate combination of water temperature, immersion depth and immersion time are for different types and sizes of cutting equipment. Metal heats up at different rates, depending on size, thickness, porosity, etc. We also don’t have a clear understanding of what employees are actually doing when sanitizing their equipment. This research will determine whether we are telling processing employees to do the right thing, and whether they are doing it.


  • Audit beef processing workers’ sanitation practices of pieces of slaughter equipment used in critically important hide removal tasks,
  • Determine the relative food safety risk of abattoir processing equipment and factors affecting sanitation effectiveness, and
  • Establish time-temperature thresholds of direct contact beef processing equipment to reduce microbial cross-contamination.

What they will do

This team wants to identify what the right combinations of immersion time and temperature are for different cutting equipment (with differing densities and porosities). Initially, they will audit (in-person and using video) what employees who conduct tasks that are critical to avoiding microbial contamination are currently doing (immersion depth, time, temperature) in two commercial plants in Canada. Then they will examine seven different common pieces of plant equipment used in these tasks and analyze how long it takes them to heat up at four different water temperatures.

In a federal research laboratory, knives with different degrees of wear will be sanitized, inoculated with E. coli, immersed in hot water following the commercial plant sanitation practices observed in the first trial, and determine bacterial survival. The last trial will examine whether knives can be cleaned without hot water. Knives will be used to cut meat until they’ve got scraps and grease on them. They’ll be inoculated with E. coli, rinsed in warm water and cleaned (physical cleaning, cleaning with sanitizer, or both) to remove the organic residue to see how effectively this removes organic matter (and bacteria) compared to traditional hot water sanitation.


Hide washes, careful dehiding and evisceration procedures, and carcass washes, sprays and pasteurization help packing facilities significantly reduce bacterial contamination in beef. Better understanding and addressing the human element will reduce food safety risks still further.