Sanitation plays an essential role in preventing the contamination of dairy products. That's why it is important to have a written sanitation preventive control program.

A sanitation program should cover cleaning and sanitizing of everything in the plant that could affect the product, from receiving ingredients and supplies through to shipping the finished product. This includes:

  • all equipment surfaces and utensil surfaces that come in contact with product
  • any surfaces that may indirectly affect food safety, such as outer surfaces of equipment, equipment framework and the handles of utensils
  • the environment where products are processed, including walls, floors, drains, ceilings and overhead structures (such as lights and utility lines)

The program should also include:

  • the areas or equipment to be cleaned and sanitized
  • instructions on how to clean and sanitize them properly
  • who is responsible for cleaning and sanitizing them
  • a schedule that indicates how often each area of the plant or piece of equipment should be cleaned and sanitized
  • how to judge if the job has been done right
  • when cleaning and sanitizing should be done
  • what records should be kept

Use check lists to record and monitor daily tasks such as cleaning and sanitizing of processing equipment, utensils, and floors and drains in processing areas.

Develop a Master Sanitation Schedule to Record and monitor the tasks that aren't done daily, such as cleaning overhead utility lines, light fixtures, air handling units and product storage areas. The Master Sanitation Schedule should outline how often each of these sanitation tasks needs to be done (for example, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually). The best practice is to list all equipment that does not have to be cleaned daily on the Master Sanitation Schedule to make sure that it is cleaned when needed.

Update sanitation programs whenever any changes are made to sanitation procedures or whenever new equipment or rooms are added.

As described below, the written sanitation program should include:


A sanitation program should include Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs). These are written instructions for employees. They describe how and when to clean:

  • specific areas of the plant (such as processing rooms, packaging rooms, storage rooms)
  • pieces of equipment (such as ice cream freezers, cheese vats, pasteurizers) and transport vehicles (such as milk tank-trucks, fork lifts, finished product transport trucks)

Create SSOPs for each specific area or item. Include details such as:

  • how often to clean and when to clean
  • what steps to take before cleaning (such as taking apart equipment or protecting equipment parts such as electrical switches)
  • what cleaning tools or systems to use
  • what cleaning chemicals to use, in what concentration
  • how hot the solution should be
  • how long the solution should circulate
  • what safety precautions to take (such as wearing protective gloves and goggles)
  • what information to record

Specify any special sanitation and housekeeping procedures required during production, such as removing or covering exposed product during breaks or re-sanitizing equipment before resuming work after a break.

SSOPs may specify manual cleaning procedures or automated cleaning systems such as Clean-Out-of-Place (COP) or Clean-In-Place (CIP), or a combination. Regardless of the type of cleaning system used, all cleaning requires four things to be effective:

  1. mechanical action (wash solution flow or manual brushing)
  2. cleaning chemical strength
  3. temperature
  4. time

Manual Cleaning

Certain items need to be taken apart and manually cleaned every day. These include:

  • plug valves
  • some pumps (such as positive displacement pumps)
  • filler valves
  • some filler bowls
  • vacuum release valves
  • other components that cannot be cleaned in an automatic system.

Clean-Out-of-Place (COP) Systems

After taking apart a piece of equipment, pre-rinse each part. The parts can then be washed in a vat or COP tank with a re-circulating cleaning solution.

For COP tanks, make sure the cleaning solution can flow easily around each part so that it reaches all food contact surfaces. When cleaning sections of pipe, it is essential to arrange them in the COP tank so that the solution can flow freely through the pipe, with nothing to block it. The pipe should not have any elbows or loops, and it should have as few bends as possible.

Clean-In-Place (CIP) Systems

A Clean-In-Place system uses circulating cleaners and sanitizers to clean equipment such as:

  • pipeline circuits
  • tanks
  • high-temperature, short-time (HTST) pasteurization systems
  • some filling machines

The cleaning chemicals need to be able to reach all food contact surfaces. CIP components should have no dead ends or inaccessible areas. Regularly inspect equipment that is cleaned in place to make sure the cleaning is effective. Some components in a CIP system may still need manual cleaning. For example, plug valves on a line circuit need to be cleaned manually.

The Seven Steps of Sanitation

An effective sanitation program is a sequence of steps that build on each other. Whether an SSOP focuses on a specific piece of equipment or area of the plant, to be effective it must include these Seven Steps of Sanitation in the right order.

Step 1: Preparation
  • sweeping floors
  • removing materials such as packaging, tools, leftover product and waste from the equipment and area to be cleaned
  • covering equipment as necessary (for example, to protect electrical boxes)
  • taking equipment apart to reach all the areas that need cleaning and sanitizing
Step 2: Pre-Rinse
  • Rinse the area and equipment surfaces with potable (drinking-quality) water until you can't see any product or waste.
  • Do not use high-pressure hoses since too much water pressure may create tiny, airborne water droplets or spray that can contaminate other equipment or surfaces
Step 3: Cleaning

Cleaning requirements:

  • Use the right cleaning chemicals
    • Make sure the cleaning chemicals are appropriate and effective for the equipment or area you are cleaning. Dairy cleaners are stronger than household chemicals. They have been specifically formulated to remove milk fat, protein and other organics, including a large number of bacteria. Make sure the cleaning chemicals you use are safe for use in a food plant. Acceptable products may be listed in the Reference Listing of Accepted Construction, Packaging Materials and Non Food Chemical Products published by CFIA.
    • If chemicals are not on the list, plant operators may seek assurance of their acceptability by obtaining either
      • a letter of non-objection from Health Canada, or
      • a letter of guarantee from the supplier of the chemical

        - For more information on the acceptability of cleaners, visit CFIA's website.

  • Use the right concentration of cleaning chemicals.
    • Follow the manufacturer's instructions. A chemical concentration that is too high can be as ineffective as a chemical concentration that is too low.
    • If chemicals are too highly concentrated, they may cause corrosion and pitting of equipment surfaces, making cleaning more difficult in the future.
    • Contact the chemical manufacturer for the right test kits to check the concentration of the cleaning solution.
  • Make sure the water is the right temperature.
    • If you make up cleaning solutions with water that is too hot, it may "cook" product residues onto the equipment, making them harder to remove.
    • If the water is too hot, employees may not handle the equipment when they need to.
    • If the water is too cold, it may not melt fat residue stuck to surfaces.
  • Use enough mechanical action.
    • Regardless of which cleaning chemicals you use, you still need to use mechanical action. Cleaning chemicals do not replace mechanical action.
    • Mechanical action includes scrubbing or the velocity and pressure of wash solution in a circulating wash system such as a COP tank or CIP system.
    • Apply appropriate mechanical action to all surfaces to remove invisible contaminants and/or leftover product and waste.
    • Make sure that there are no dead ends in the system and that cleaning solutions get to the right areas.
    • Follow the chemical manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Give the chemicals enough time to work.
    • Follow the chemical manufacturer's recommendations.
    • If you rinse off the chemicals too soon, they won't have enough time to clean effectively.
    • If the chemicals circulate for too long, when they cool down they may re-deposit residues on the equipment.
Step 4: Post-Cleaning Rinse
  • Rinse the area and equipment surfaces with potable (drinking-quality) water to remove loosened residues and cleaning chemicals.
  • To avoid creating spray that may contaminate nearby equipment, use the lowest water pressure that is still effective.
  • Don't leave any puddles of water on the floor or any excessive moisture on the equipment.
Step 5: Check for Cleaning Effectiveness

Visually check equipment and areas to make sure they are clean. Don't forget to look underneath tables, tanks and other surfaces. If you find residues, the area needs be cleaned again.

Some residues can't be seen on wet surfaces, so periodically inspect food contact surfaces after the cleaning cycle, once the equipment has completely dried. Look for residues such as milk protein (blue rainbow hue) and milkstone (white to yellow-grey film). Also look for hanging water droplets on food contact surfaces. These indicate a fat residue. If you find residues, re-clean those surfaces, review your cleaning program and consult with your chemical supplier if necessary.

Step 6: Sanitize

Surfaces need to be clean before they can be sanitized. Sanitizing solutions cannot work effectively if there are any residues on the surface that you are trying to sanitize. To kill micro-organisms, the sanitizer must contact them directly.

Sanitizing requirements:

  • Use the right sanitizing chemical.
    • Make sure the sanitizers you use are safe for use in a food plant. Acceptable products may be listed in the Reference Listing of Accepted Construction, Packaging Materials and Non Food Chemical Products published by CFIA.
    • If a sanitizer is not on the list, plant operators may seek assurance of its acceptability by obtaining either
      • a letter of non-objection from Health Canada, or
      • a letter of guarantee from the supplier of the chemical
    • For more information, visit CFIA's website .
  • Use the right concentration of sanitizing chemical.
    • Follow the chemical manufacturer's instructions. A chemical concentration that is too high can be as ineffective as a sanitizing chemical concentration that is too low.
  • Use the right temperature.
    • Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Give the sanitizer enough time to work.
  • To be effective, sanitizers need to remain on a cleaned surface for a minimum period of time. This is called the "contact time."
  • Follow the manufacturer's recommendations. In some cases, sanitizers should be left on. In other cases, sanitizers should be rinsed off with potable (drinking-quality) water.
Step 7: Fill Out Record of Sanitation Activities

As part of the sanitation program, keep a record (such as a checklist) of sanitation activities. This record includes:

  • the time and date that the cleaning and sanitizing was finished
  • the equipment or area cleaned
  • signature or initials to confirm that sanitation activities were carried out as described in the Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs)
  • the temperature of the cleaning and sanitizing solutions used
  • the strength of the cleaning and sanitizing solutions (based on readings from chemical test kits)
  • any deviations from the SSOP or other irregularities and the corrective actions taken

Environmental Considerations


Drains are an especially high-risk area. They provide an ideal environment for Listeria monocytogenes and other micro-organisms that cause diseases and could put consumers at serious risk if they were transferred to food (cross-contamination). To eliminate these micro-organisms, regularly clean and sanitize drains. This includes cleaning and sanitizing the screens and the walls of the drain. To avoid contaminating food contact surfaces, use a brush designated for drains only and store it separately from tools used to clean all other areas. Ask your chemical suppliers about the best chemicals to use.


Employees who clean areas where raw milk or raw milk products are handled or who handle drain components must not clean food contact surfaces or food handling equipment until they have:

  • put on clean clothing or a clean outer covering (such as a lab coat)
  • cleaned and sanitized their footwear (using footbaths or floor foam sprayers)
  • washed their hands
  • put on new gloves

Don't use high-pressure hoses. They may create tiny airborne droplets (also referred to as "aerosols") that can contaminate food products. This is particularly dangerous if hoses are directed at contaminated areas (such as drains) where harmful bacteria could be spread to food contact surfaces.

Cleaning and Sanitizing Tools

Choose cleaning and sanitizing tools that are recommended for dairy plants and are easy to clean so they will not create a food safety risk. For example, don't use tools with wooden or hollow handles since they may hold contaminated water. Don't use metal scrubbing pads because they can leave behind small metal fragments and they can damage the stainless steel finish on equipment, making it more difficult to clean.

Use each cleaning or sanitizing tool only for specific areas or jobs. To avoid using the wrong tool for the wrong job, colour-code them. For example, use one colour for food contact areas, another colour for non-food contact areas, and a third colour for drains and similar areas. These tools should also be stored in separate areas to prevent employees from mistakenly using the wrong tool for the job (and cross-contaminating surfaces).

Keep all cleaning and sanitizing tools in good condition. Clean them before you put them away, and keep them in a clean location. Repair or replace them as needed.

Maintenance tools such as wrenches, screwdrivers, etc. should also be clearly identified and used only for specific areas and jobs. For example, tools used in areas where raw milk or raw milk products are handled should not be used anywhere else. Maintenance tools must also be kept clean and in good condition to prevent cross-contamination.


The plant is responsible for making sure that employees are trained on the sanitation policy and procedures and understand the impact of sanitation on food product quality and safety.

All employees should receive training when required, including:

  • when they are hired
  • before starting new job duties
  • when policies or procedures change
  • to reinforce current policies and procedures

Refresher training should be done at least once a year.

Use a written training program to make sure that requirements are communicated in a consistent fashion.

The plant's training program should include:

  • a list of employees and positions that require sanitation training
  • the training material used to train employees, including written procedures and other resources
  • the frequency of training (including refresher training)

A variety of training formats can be used, including:

  • one-on-one or group instruction
  • job shadowing
  • coaching or mentoring
  • videos
  • presentations
  • on-line courses
  • review of policies, or sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs)

Training needs to be provided in a language that employees understand.

The plant should keep a record of each employee's training history , including:

  • the name of the trainee
  • the date of training
  • a description of the training provided (for example, subject, training materials used, format)
  • the name of the trainer or training provider (for example, cleaning chemical supplier)

Monitoring and Follow-up

The effectiveness of your sanitation practices need to be checked to make sure that the production equipment and environment are sanitary. Do not start processing unless the sanitation requirements have been met.

There are several ways to check the effectiveness of the sanitation program:

  • have a trained person visually inspect surfaces using a flashlight, black light (ultraviolet light), mirror, etc.
  • pay attention to foul, putrid and/or sour odours
  • use portable ATP bioluminesence systems to test food contact surfaces and immediately show how sanitary each surface is
  • use microbiological methods such as:
    • taking swabs of food contact surfaces and testing them in the lab for aerobic plate count, coliform plate count or Listeria
    • testing finished products when they are fresh or at their "best before " date (shelf life tests)
  • use sensory evaluation (examination, taste, smell) to monitor the quality of the finished product as it ages (shelf life)

Record your findings and the follow-up actions taken to correct deviations.

To make sure your cleaning systems are effective, do an in-depth evaluation from time to time (how frequently should be determined by your microbiological test results):

  • Take apart equipment completely to visually check all surfaces.
  • If you find residues, notify sanitation personnel and review cleaning procedures.
  • Record the findings.
  • Check automated cleaning systems to make sure they are operating properly.
  • If necessary, change your equipment cleaning procedure and/or clean the equipment more often. Update the written cleaning instructions (procedures).
  • Record the corrective actions.


Institutions that offer courses:

  • University of Guelph Dairy Science and Technology
  • Cornell University Dairy Foods Research Center
  • University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research

People to consult:

  • Cleaning chemical manufacturers
  • Cleaning chemical suppliers
  • Inspection personnel


For more information:
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