Food manufacturers often use squeegees as a tool to remove condensation from overhead surfaces. This practice is done to reduce the likelihood of environmental pathogen contamination by eliminating condensed-water droplets that could fall from overhead surfaces during production. However, this practice may actually spread environmental pathogens across these surfaces, defeating its purpose and further increasing the risk for contamination in the processing area. To understand the risk associated with this common practice, test pipes inoculated with Listeria innocua ATCC 33090 were exposed to steam to produce condensation, which was then removed by squeegees. The pipe surfaces, droplets, and squeegees were subsequently analyzed for Listeria to determine the distance the organism spread across the pipe and how many organisms were transferred to the droplets and the squeegees. Results showed that Listeria traveled as far as 16 in. across the surface of the pipe, and bacterial transfer to the droplets decreased as the squeegee traveled further from the contaminated area. Sanitizers alone were able to remove about 1 to 2 log CFU of Listeria per in2 from the squeegee blades when materials were contaminated with Listeria (>6 log CFU/in2). Among the cleaning protocols evaluated, an extensive cleaning regimen was able to remove 3 to 4 log CFU/in2, which would be recommended to reduce the risk associated with environmental pathogen transfer. This study provides evidence that supports recommendations for minimizing the cross-contamination risk associated with condensation management practices.
Food manufacturers remove condensation from overhead surfaces manually.
Condensation removal may increase the risk of spreading environmental pathogens.
Listeria bacteria traveled at least 16 in. on surfaces due to condensation removal.
Rubber squeegees are more sanitary than sponges and easier to clean.
Cleaning regimes applied to cleaning tools are critical to prevent transmission.