Sanitizing deli slicers can be a challenge for retailers as the machines' nooks, crannies and aging parts can harbor microorganisms with the potential to spread foodborne illnesses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration addresses these food safety concerns in its new inspection tips for sanitizing machines.
The FDA's flier and poster, which can be ordered from the FDA's website, show pictures of “deli slicer problem areas that are hard to clean” so machine operators can monitor for “cracks, broken, missing or unattached parts.” The FDA said that slicers should be cleaned every four hours and as slicers get older, cleaning can be more difficult or even impossible due to degraded or defective parts.
“It's a huge problem,” said Gary Ades, president of G&L Consulting Group, a food safety and risk assessment and management consulting group based out of Bentonville, Ark.
“First of all, you can't clean the darn things. They're virtually impossible to clean. They're just not designed to clean; they're designed to slice. And even if you had the time to take to them apart, you can't get to everything that needs to be cleaned.”
The FDA has linked recent foodborne illness outbreaks to deli slicers contaminating food. Ades said that machines can harbor salmonella and listeria monocytogenes, and can pose allergen risks with meat and cheese cross-contamination.
Food safety concerns for slicers include the need for separating raw and ready-to-eat meats, and “routine cleaning and sanitation,” said Mel Kramer, president of EHA Consulting Group, a public health and food safety consultant based out of Baltimore.
Kramer disagrees that slicers are ever impossible to clean since they can always be disassembled. He said it's good the FDA materials highlight sanitation concerns, but he doesn't think they will result in a huge reduction in morbidity or mortality. He listed cross-contamination of raw and ready-to-eat foods, temperature abuse, salmonella, and employee health and hygiene as the major causes of food borne disease.
Ades also sees the FDA materials' promotion of sanitation awareness as a “healthy choice,” but argued that these measures are a Band-Aid on the bigger problem of deli slicer design, which will only be changed when retailers go to manufacturers, ask for new machines and agree to replace their current machines with new designs.