This article is written to meet the following sections of the Standards:
|BRCGS Food Safety Issue 8||8.1.4 Ambient high-care|
|BRCGS Packaging Issue 6||Not applicable|
|BRCGS Agents & Brokers Issue 3||Not applicable|
|BRCGS Storage & Distribution Issue 4||Not applicable|
|FSSC22000 Version 5.1||No specific clauses|
|IFS Food Version 7||No specific clauses|
|SQF Edition 9||No specific clauses|
If you’re wondering if you need to apply ambient high-care principles – take a look at our Risk-based Facilities article, where we explain the difference between high-risk, high-care and ambient high-care.
The purpose of ambient high-care is to prevent pathogenic cross-contamination.
Examples of ambient high-care products would be:
- Cocoa beans
All of the above would be at risk from Salmonella contamination – as this pathogen is known to be present in raw nuts, seeds and beans. So, there’s a risk of Salmonella from the raw materials and contaminated ready-to-eat materials.
But not all nut, seed and cocoa bean processing needs to have an ambient high-care area. The key is whether you handle raw materials as well as treated materials.
For example: A site that purchases roasted nuts and blends and packs them, wouldn’t need an ambient high-care area – as there’s no risk of microbial cross-contamination from raw to ready-to-eat. This is because they already buy roasted nuts, so the Salmonella hazard has already been removed through heat treatment.
However, if a site was to purchase raw nuts and then roast, blend and pack them – then there would be a risk of Salmonella from the raw nuts, contaminating the roasted nuts. And therefore, an ambient high-care area would be needed.
To define what controls are needed, a risk assessment should be conducted. The procedures required will be dependent on the level of risk defined in the risk assessment but should include consideration of:
- Segregation requirements.
- Process flow.
- Air quality.
- People movement.
- Transfer points.
- Equipment and tools.
Ambient high-care areas must be segregated from other designated areas, but they don’t need to be physically segregated with walls. Floor marking is sufficient.
Anything entering the segregated area must be decontaminated to ensure that pathogenic contamination isn’t transferred into the area as well, this includes:
- Equipment and tools.
- Materials and product.
The process flow should be logical and ideally linear from low-risk to ambient high-care and then only out of the area – once the product is packed. This is important to ensure that raw and treated (and therefore decontaminated) product doesn’t come into close contact and that a box can be physically drawn around the ambient high-care area.
Anything that enters the ambient high-care area must be decontaminated. This means that all materials that need to be used inside the area must be decontaminated, through either cleaning or treatment.
Cleaning methods include:
- Passing packaging materials through a hole in the wall, and only the clean inner packaged materials being pulled into the ambient high-care area.
- Using equipment which travels from low-risk to ambient high-care, such as sanitising tunnels.
Treatment methods include:
- Travelling heat treatment (such as roasters) which start in low-risk and end in ambient high-care.
- Static heat treatment equipment, such as with double door ovens, where the product is loaded in low-risk and exits on the other side into ambient high-care.
The forms of transfer must be identified and then validated, to prove that they remove the target pathogen(s).
The design of fabrication and equipment in the area, must not pose a risk of contamination. This means that materials used for walls, floors and ceilings needs to be of a high standard so that they can be cleaned and sanitised.
Where ambient high-care is physically segregated from other areas, and would therefore benefit from controlled air – the air should be filtered. Where segregation isn’t physical, improved air quality isn’t necessary.
Even people need to be decontaminated before they enter ambient high-care. This is achieved through:
- Putting on workwear and footwear, that’s dedicated to the area and visually distinctive.
- Handwashing and sanitising.
The ambient high-care area must be accessible through the changing facilities.
Equipment and tools
Equipment and tools should ideally be dedicated to the area, so that they don’t need to be moved. However, where this isn’t possible – the equipment and tools must be cleaned before entering the area.
The route of disposal of waste must be controlled. This means you need to set a route for waste to be taken out, so that it doesn’t pose a risk of product contamination.
Drains must flow away from ambient high-care and you’ll need a drain schematic to prove that this is the case.