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Tip of the Week: Divide and Conquer - Establishing Environmental Monitoring Zones
Tip of the Week: Divide and Conquer - Establishing Environmental Monitoring Zones

The best way to identify environmental monitoring sampling points is to use the sanitary zoning concept which divides facility operations into four zones based on the levels of risk.

Refers to all direct food contact surfaces in the plant (e.g., blenders, conveyors, utensils, work tables, etc.). It is not recommended to swab for pathogens in a zone 1 environment because it is not an effective way to capture product contamination.

Total percentage of swab testing from zone 1 is normally 10-20%.

Nonfood-contact areas that are closely adjacent to product contact surfaces should make up zone 2. In general, this is the area where environmental contamination is most likely to affect the safety of the product (e.g., equipment framework, maintenance tools, drip shields and chainguard housings, etc.). The focal point of zone 2 testing will be to validate sanitary design of the equipment. These are the areas in the framework that collect food particles, but are not easily broken down for proper cleaning. 

Total percentage of swab testing from zone 2 is normally 40-50%.

Zone 3 refers to nonfood-contact surfaces that are not close to zone 1 surfaces (e.g., walls, floor, roof, drains, air handling units, etc.). If zone 3 is contaminated with a pathogen, it could lead to contamination of zone 2 through employees’ actions or movement of machinery. Zone 3 monitoring will show if there is a weakness in building design or poor employee sanitary practices.

The total percentage of swab testing from zone 3 would be around 30-40%.

Zone 4 includes areas remote from product processing areas (e.g., office areas, locker rooms, employee lounge, maintenance rooms, etc.). If zone 4 is not maintained in a good sanitary condition, it can lead to cross contamination of zones 1, 2, and 3. Zone 4 is not considered a high risk of potential cross-contamination.

The total percentage of swab testing from zone 4 is usually <10%.

It is vital for the environmental monitoring team to define zones 1-4. Once zones are determined, carefully consider which specific tests are going to be used before beginning sampling.








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