Testing your food processing environment

Food safety experts are shifting their focus from testing end products to ensuring the entire processing environment, including equipment and surfaces, is free of contamination. The old adage – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – has never been truer for the food and beverage industry.

Legislation is helping shift the industry focus toward prevention. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) takes a proactive approach to environmental monitoring. This guidance from the United States Food and Drug Administration establishes hazard analysis and risk-based prevention measures including having preventative controls, monitoring and verification, corrective actions and record keeping.

A bright idea for proactive food safety testing in the processing environment

Testing for different microorganisms and residues in a food processing clean-trace-luminometer-lm1-environmental-monitoring-hygiene-3m-food-safetyenvironment, including those that heighten the potential for spoilage, helps food safety experts take a proactive approach. By measuring adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and protein-based residues, plant sanitation and quality assurance professionals can measure the hygiene of a surface in a quick, simple way. ATP is the energy molecule that is in all living biological cells and it indicates residue from food, biofilms from bacteria and surfaces that were touched by human operators.

Tests for these residues can provide an objective assessment of the cleanliness of equipment and surfaces. Removing organic matter, which serves as a food source for microorganisms, reduces the chances for bacteria and mold to grow. By measuring for these residues, food manufacturers can reduce both direct and indirect risks.

Hygiene monitoring tests use a bioluminescence reaction to indicate the presence of ATP, and a color-based reaction to indicate protein residues. Results from are usually available within minutes, and ATP-based tests take only seconds.

Direct and Indirect Risks

The Environmental Monitoring Handbook, authored by food safety experts from universities, 3M and other companies in the food industry, lays out three steps for development of an environmental hygiene monitoring programs to test for ATP- or protein-based residues:

Set up a program to validate cleaning.

Establish routine verification.

Review and adjust the program regularly.


To ensure inclusive sampling, map out sites for testing using a risk-based approach – considering the significance of the hazard (i.e., how close a surface is to the food), and the probability that a hazard may occur (i.e., how hard it is to clean the surface or equipment).

If you obtain a failing result, it is important to take immediate corrections. As part of your plan, determine what steps must be taken to ensure contamination is eliminated and avoided in the future. Ongoing monitoring and planning are also imperative to maintaining a safe food processing and handling environment.

“Environmental monitoring will not reduce food safety incidences. What we do with those results will.”

– Martin Wiedmann, Gellert Family Professor of Food Safety at Cornell University

What’s in the handbook?

Learn more about the importance of environmental monitoring and the steps you can take to be more proactive about food safety in your facility. Download the full handbook by visiting 3M Environmental Monitoring.


Each chapter includes in-depth guidance on important topics for food processing and handling facilities.


Chapter 1: Learn about the importance of environmental sampling in food safety and quality programs.

Chapter 2: Get a closer look at the purpose of ATP- and protein-based hygiene monitoring. These quick and simple tests can provide a measurable and objective assessment of the cleanliness of equipment and surfaces prior to food processing.

Chapter 3: Read about environmental monitoring for indicator organisms. Indicator organisms reflect the general microbiological condition of a food or the environment. They can be used to understand the microbial ecology of the processing environment and validate cleaning and sanitation.

Chapter 4:  Learn about environmental monitoring for pathogens. Companies perform monitoring for foodborne pathogens in food handling or processing facilities to identify and eliminate pathogen sources to reduce the risk of food contamination, which can lead to recalls and foodborne illness.

Chapter 5: Review environmental monitoring for spoilage organisms. Microorganisms that increase the risk of spoilage are often well-adapted to survive in food manufacturing plants. Microbial spoilage can decrease quality, lead to decreased shelf-life and possibly recalls. See how environmental monitoring can reduce spoilage and threats to quality.

Chapter 6:  Take a closer look at environmental monitoring for allergens. In recent years, food and beverage manufacturers have focused more on allergens as more people are diagnosed with food allergies. Programs for allergen testing, monitoring and cleaning are helping prevent cross-contact during food processing.

Chapter 7: Read about driving impactful change in your organization through environmental monitoring programs.

Additional information: Review environmental sampling guidance and a glossary.