Sanitation workers: the champions of food safety

Sanitation workers have always played an important role in food safety as well as occupational health and safety. However, amid a global pandemic, sanitation receives increased attention and motivates even greater collaboration. Production and other frontline staff work together to deep clean and use new machinery for sanitization.

Sanitation is a critical step in any food manufacturing facility. Sanitation ensures that food is processed on clean machinery, lowering or eliminating the risk of microbe, pest, and allergen issues. We simply could not have a safe food system unless people work on the front lines and keep processing plants clean.

What does a sanitation worker do?

A sanitation worker cleans manufacturing plants on a regular and scheduled basis, in accordance with government regulations, the public health code, and generally accepted food industry sanitation standards.
sanitation workers in a food processing plant

Sanitation workers complete forms as directed by the sanitation and quality departments throughout the cleaning process. These forms keep track of sanitation procedures and show proof that equipment has been cleaned should an audit occur. Finally, they clean and sanitize production equipment based on a cleaning schedule. Schedules provide workers with information of what tasks are to be performed on their shift.

The number of people a sanitation worker works with varies depending on the size of the company. Many sanitation workers work independently and are given specific tasks to complete by the end of the shift. However, these professionals may be required to work as a team at times, such as when cleaning a large piece of machinery.

Sanitation workers spend nearly all of their time on their feet, constantly moving. They are required to stand for the duration of their shifts and, in many cases, to climb ladders. They must also have good mobility because they must reach high to clean things like roofs, fans, ceilings, and walls using specific procedures as directed.

Sanitation workers come into contact with a wide range of chemicals throughout the day, and it is critical for their own safety that they understand what they are using. They look to a Material Safety Data Sheet for information on chemicals, which is a document that has information on the potential hazards (health, fire, reactivity, and environmental) of a chemical product. As a result, sanitation workers must have a basic level of writing and reading comprehension. Workers must understand what each chemical does and how to use them correctly.

What does a sanitization worker need to be successful?

Good memory

Although sanitation workers have written Standard Operating Procedures, these take time to read every day. Over time, sanitation workers develop a good working memory by watching other people perform. Having a good memory ensures faster times and better muscle memory as well.

Task planning and organizing

Sanitation workers must be adaptable and ready to change their tasks at any time. For example, a plant may receive an unexpected order requiring them to clean a machine right away. They have a good idea of how long each task will take so that they can plan their day more effectively.


Many sanitation workers work independently. As a result, they must be able to make decisions such as when is the best time to perform a task, use proper equipment, and deal with a problem efficiently.

The best part about this job is that no prior experience or education is usually needed. On-the-job training will be provided by facilities. Formal training is sometimes provided, but you will learn the most from your colleagues and supervisors.

It is a good occupation that allows you to start with no formal education and work your way up the ranks and pay levels. You could begin as a sanitation worker and work your way up to a sanitation lead, and in some cases, you could even begin working in the quality or production departments.

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