Tip of the Week: Contractors in the Food Industry

You would be hard pressed to find a food company that doesn’t provide some form of food safety, food defense, and occupational safety training for its employees in today’s industry. But, the same training is not as freely available for contractors, such as equipment technicians, pest control operators, vending service personnel, uniform suppliers, etc. Many contracted workers are not familiar with food safety, food defense, occupational safety, and other rules specific to the facilities they service. Maybe it’s time to evaluate your training program to ensure that contractors understand that they are expected to follow the same policies that your employees follow. 

Here are a few real life examples of contractor practices observed in food plant settings: 

  • Welding and grinding in the warehouse near pallets of products with no protection between the pallets and work area
  • Carrying items, such as tools, pens, etc., in shirt pockets
  • Propping open external doors that open into the facility
  • Cutting PVC pipes in a packaging room and not containing the dust from the saw
  • Filing PVC pipes on top of product totes
  • Storing non food-grade chemicals in production rooms next to packaging and food items
  • Using finished product containers as trash containers in production rooms 

An effective contractor training and education program covers all of the information required for contractors to conduct their work in various areas of the facility. Some companies develop complete manuals that are provided to contractors before work begins. These manuals should be specific to the tasks that will be completed by the various contractors. Obviously, the training required for a vending service contractor is not as extensive as the training needed for a contracted production equipment technician. It is critical to review various policies with contractors to ensure that they understand and will follow them. It is also a good idea to require contractors to sign a commitment to follow your company’s policies in the service contract. 

Consider the following questions when designing or evaluating your contractor training program. 

Have you established a designated route that contractors will use to enter the property and building and travel within the facility? 
Identify the driveway or gate contractors should use to enter the property, a designated parking area and specific doors they should use to enter the building. Minimize travel routes within the facility. Extra precautions should be taken in a microbiologically sensitive facility. You would not want a contractor working in a raw material area of a dairy or meat facility to travel to a finished product area without taking necessary measures to address microbiological concerns.

Who are the contractors entering your facility? 
Contractors should be required to provide government and company-issued identification that can be verified by company personnel prior to entering the property. The contracting company should provide a list of authorized employees who will receive all necessary training as outlined by your company before performing any work.

Do you provide contractors with visitor badges or other identification? 
Employees should be able to recognize contractors working at your facility. By providing visitor badges or another method of identification to your contractors, employees can monitor persons within the operation and know if they are approved.

What are contractor clothing requirements? 
If your operation requires all employees to change into uniforms prior to entering the facility, does it make sense for contractors to be allowed in the facility with street clothes? It may be necessary to provide contractors with smocks or other outer garments before entering sensitive areas. 

What level of oversight is provided for contractors?
It is important to establish this responsibility with company personnel. A company representative should maintain close contact with contractors to ensure the company’s policies are followed. The representative should be available to answer any questions the contractors may have while conducting their work.

Have you established designated work areas? 
Typically, equipment and building contractors will be assigned to a designated area where pre-fabrication work is conducted. These areas should be properly cleaned and maintained to ensure they meet the facility’s expectations. Even outside work areas should be kept tidy and organized. Often, long-term contractors will have a designated location where their trailers, trucks, and mobile offices are located. It is important to keep these areas organized, to make sure materials are stored off the ground, and to keep break areas free of debris and trash to assist in the pest control efforts around the facility. You may consider periodic inspections of these areas to provide oversight and feedback to the contractors.

Which areas inside the facility are contractors allowed? 
Contractors should be restricted to only the areas of the facility necessary to perform their jobs. If a contractor is servicing the boilers in the boiler room, he should not be found wandering in the production or warehouse area.

Does the work being performed have the potential to contaminate food or equipment?
Set expectations about precautions that must be taken to properly segregate contractor work areas. It may be necessary to provide temporary shields, tarps, or other ways to contain the dust and debris generated.

What is the condition of tools and equipment the contractors are using? 
Contractors may need to use their own forklifts, high lifts, gang or tool boxes, etc. These items should be cleaned and inspected before entering the facility. Forklifts may have dirt, debris, or pest issues present from previous jobs. High lifts should be kept clean and the platforms free of debris to prevent it from falling off during work. Gang or tool boxes should be inspected prior to entering the facility to determine if they are free of unauthorized chemicals, that tools are relatively clean, and that there is no food, drink, tobacco, glass, etc. stored in them. 

The food industry relies on contractors to maintain facilities and equipment and assist in daily activities. Are you confident that these activities are carried out in a safe manner that will not jeopardize your employees, product, or brand?

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We invite you to learn more about our Applied Baking Technology course, an online-based introduction to the science behind baking. This course was designed especially for line workers, apprentice bakers or new management in an efficient, comprehensive package that saves you time and money.