Tip of the Week: Facility Fitness

Get fit with AIB! In July our Tip of the Week series is featuring our Plant Education (P.E.) tips to get your facility in shape. This week we're featuring tips on glass and brittle plastics.

One of the most serious contaminants in food and beverages is glass. Yet, glass is a material that is found in all food handling facilities. It is for this reason that there must be a program to control glass and brittle plastics for effective product protection. The Glass and Brittle Plastic Program must include the elimination of all non-essential glass and brittle plastic, protection and inspection of essential glass and brittle plastic, and procedures for cleaning up any breakage. 

While glass is easily defined, brittle plastic may be more difficult. Brittle plastic is one that is capable of shattering. Brittle plastic is made of acrylic and goes by some common names such as Plexiglas and Lucite. Acrylic is considered brittle since it breaks into pieces when subjected to blows beyond its impact resistance. 

The first component of a complete Glass and Brittle Plastic Program is the establishment of a “no non-essential glass and brittle plastic” policy. This is important as it recognizes that glass and/or brittle plastic will be present in the facility for some purposes, such as lighting. It also allows the plant to reasonably track the glass and brittle plastic that is present by limiting the amount of glass or brittle plastic present. Non-essential glass and brittle plastic may appear in personal items, in equipment, or in structures where other materials, such as non-brittle plastic, are easily substituted. 

Personnel responsible for purchasing materials and equipment must be familiar with the “no non-essential glass and brittle plastic” policy. Glass or brittle plastic could appear in unexpected places such as a container for an ingredient or laboratory chemical, on a forklift headlight, on a bulletin board case, or on a piece of sanitation equipment. Personnel responsible for approval of new items, such as ingredients or equipment, must include an evaluation for glass and brittle plastic in the approval process. If glass or brittle plastic is present, it must be determined if it is essential. If it is non-essential, it should be replaced with an appropriate material. If it is essential, it must be added to the essential glass and brittle plastic inventory and may require special handling procedures to be developed.  

Personnel responsible for receiving must be trained to inspect incoming materials for any non-approved glass or brittle plastic and be educated about how to respond to rejecting or quarantining the material. For example, if a forklift has been sent to an outside service provider to have headlights installed, the person ordering the modification should specify in the work request that a non-brittle or otherwise protected plastic cover should be placed over the bulbs. In addition, the person responsible for receiving the forklift when it returns from the outside contractor should inspect the equipment for cleanliness and glass and brittle plastic components. Documentation from the supplier will be needed to demonstrate that the material meets the requirement.

A complete “no glass” policy is unrealistic. There is going to be glass in every facility and possibly brittle plastic as well. Light bulbs are made of glass. Ideally the bulbs will be coated with a shatter-resistant material, but they are still glass. 

An inventory of essential glass and brittle plastic must be maintained as part of the control program. The inventory should include structural, equipment, and utensil glass and brittle plastic. The inventory should cover any area where product or product containers are stored, transferred, or processed. This includes warehouses, production areas, packaging areas, and equipment washrooms. The inventory should not include glass or brittle plastic found as packaging material. Glass packaging is addressed below. 

Items that typically are included in an essential glass and brittle plastic inventory are:

  • overhead lights
  • light covers
  • emergency lights
  • forklift headlights
  • windows
  • gauge covers
  • sight glass
  • computer screens

Once the inventory is established, it should be used to conduct routine audits of the essential glass and brittle plastic. It is suggested that all items be inspected at least monthly. More frequent inspections may be appropriate for items that are in direct contact with product or in product zones.

The main purpose of the inventory is for inspection. Once an item is identified as damaged or missing, corrective action must be implemented and documented. The finding may be something as simple as a missing end cap over a light tube, or it may be evidence that broken glass may have entered the product stream. It will be the responsibility of the food safety committee or management team to determine the appropriate corrective action and to recommend and implement any preventive measures.  

For essential glass and brittle plastics, there must be specific written procedures for handling these items. For example, it is accepted that light bulbs in a facility will be made of glass. Therefore, a written procedure for changing light bulbs should be established. It should include who is authorized to change the bulbs, whether or not changes can occur during production, any measures needed to be taken to protect product and product-contact surfaces in the area, ensuring that any protective materials (such as sleeves and end caps) are replaced, and how to properly dispose of the old bulb. 

When glass or brittle plastic breaks, a timely and effective response is critical to ensure that no potentially contaminated product reaches consumers. There should be a written procedure outlining how to respond to any breakage, including how to clean the area. The first step is to quarantine the area to prevent spread of any shards or other pieces. Next, an account of all pieces should be made whenever possible. For example, if a chip is missing, all attempts should be made to find the chip.  

The procedure must specify that if there is any product including ingredients, finished products, or work-in-progress potentially contaminated by the breakage, this material must be discarded. A record of product disposal must be kept. All equipment and areas where spillage has occurred must be cleaned to remove any debris. 

When glass packaging is used, such as jars or bottles, special handling procedures must be in place. These procedures should include segregated storage, inversion, cleaning prior to use, and established procedures for clearing the line if there is any breakage. 

A well-planned response to glass or plastic breakage can minimize the impact of such an event. 

Use this helpful checklist to grade your facility's glass and brittle plastics control fitness today!

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