Should We Allow Cell Phones in Food Manufacturing

Let’s face it, our cellphones have literally become attached at the hip. Our workers, our customers and even ourselves nearly panic when we don’t have our cellphones with us. They have become our life line to the world and we are not ready to give them up so easily. We take them in the breakroom, in the restroom, virtually everywhere we go. To those in food manufacturing, this poses many problems, not only for food safety and productivity, but for confidentiality purposes. Thus, we have the great cell phone debate and ask should we allow cell phones in food manufacturing?

First, let’s discuss confidentiality. Cell phones, or smart phones as they are more commonly known as, are nearly 100% of the time equipped with a functioning camera. And users, they are ready to point and click at every opportunity to share it on social media and let their world know what they are up to each day. This practice can lead to problems like revealing of trade secrets, or even worse, images may be taken out of context. These images can be stored on the internet indefinitely and impact your organization for years to come.

Distraction is also an issue when employees are engaged in their cell phone rather than the task at hand. In a production area, not only does this impact productivity, but it also can have a negative impact on your safety programs. Tight schedules and production demands are a part of every day life in food manufacturing, even just a small distraction can have a big impact on the bottom line.

Each facility must have a glass and brittle plastics program in place that commonly includes an inventory of such items. With each employee having a call phone, it makes this program virtually impossible to manage. Additionally, if a cell phone is dropped and shatters, glass particles may have the opportunity to contaminate your food products. An incident like this will cause a stoppage of production, product placed on hold, and potential disposal of products.

Lastly, and most importantly, cell phones are carriers of thousands of germs and bacteria including pathogens that can cause illness. The most common types of bacteria found on cell phones are Streptococcus, MRSA and E.coli, just to name a few. Watch this video to learn about a study conducted on cell phone bacteria.

Germs, Bacteria, and Disease Living on Your Phone

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) requires that food and beverage companies have a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) policy in place. However, it does not prohibit companies from allowing their employees from carrying their cell phones with them in any food processing, handling or production areas. Therefore, it is a choice to be made by each manufacturing facility.
While the regulations do not specifically call out cell phones, our recommendation is to disallow cell phones in any food production or storage areas. This will eliminate the following:

• Potential bacterial contamination issues
• Broken glass in production
• Safety incidents due to distracted workers
• Decreased productivity

Eliminating cell phones will surely be unpopular with the workers, and many excuses will be given why cell phones are needed, it is important for the company to protect the consumers and the products first and educate employees on the specific reasons why cell phones are not permitted. Hopefully, employees will understand.

Now if your facility chooses to allow cell phones, there are many products that claim to clean phones, from sanitizing stations to sanitizing wipes, and this may seem like a popular solution, but remember, to effectively clean the phone, it must be removed from the case completely and may take upwards of 10 minutes to complete the cleaning process. Are these items 100% effective, no one really knows.

Plant hygiene and sanitation are top priorities in all food and beverage facilities and cell phones can be a major contributor to bacterial issues on the production floor. Whether the phone itself is on the floor or an employee is using it without washing their hands prior to touching food or food contact surfaces. 21 CFR Part 117. (b) under cleanliness states that “All persons working in direct contact with food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials must conform to hygienic practices while on duty to the extent necessary to protect against allergen cross-contact and against contamination of food.”

The best and most effective way to remove germs and bacteria from your hands is by washing them. While washing your hands after touching your phone is important, washing alone is not enough to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. You must also thoroughly dry your hands with a clean paper towel. If an employee is constantly touching their phone throughout the production day, can you be sure that they are properly washing their hands?

At Safe Food University our online courses are designed to enhance the training experience by using interactivity and engagement as the foundation to maximize learning for all members. Some of the courses we offer will help you train your employees and they are: Intro to GMP, Personnel Practices and Disease Control just to name a few.

Take our trial course here and find out for yourself!


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