How can knife hygiene affect food safety?

A product contact surface is something that comes in direct contact with the product you are handling. Knives are product contact surfaces.

If this surface becomes soiled or contaminated, the contamination can be carried from one product to another. This is known as cross-contamination. Both visual contamination such as grease, ingesta, hair, wool and non-visual contamination such as micro-organisms or bacteria, can be harmful to meat production.

Therefore it is important to sterilise knives to kill harmful micro-organisms or bacteria. Knives are sterilised by immersing them in a steriliser containing hot water at a minimum of 82C.

You should sterilise your knife:

  • before starting work for the day
  • after grinding, honing or steeling a knife
  • if visually contaminated
  • as required by workplace procedure or regulations, for example sterilising between carcases.

The scabbard should be cleaned and scrubbed every day.

How and where do you store your knife while you are working?

When you are not using your knife, always keep it in a scabbard attached to your belt. At present the two-piece plastic scabbard is used in most plants and is considered the easiest to keep clean.

Knives that ‘rattle’ in a pouch are losing their edge from banging against the plastic or metal. Clean rubber bands will hold them steady and in place while not being used, and will also stop them falling out onto your foot or into your boot!!

How do you attach the steel and scabbard?

The chain belt worn by meat workers must be rust resistant and have a safety link. White plastic is the most common type of chain; it’s easy to clean and won’t rust. This link or snap will allow the knife kit to be pulled away safely from the worker if it becomes accidentally caught in the machinery or a fixed object.

Steels must be carried on the worker at all times and not left in sterilisers or work benches or tucked into boot tops. The steel is hung from a chain attached to the belt. The chain must be long enough to allow freedom of movement while you are steeling but short enough so that the steel does not touch your boots. This helps prevent cross contamination: floor contacts the boots, boots contact the steel, steel contacts the knives, knives contact the product. Some plants use a steel holder attached to the belt, or place the steel through the chain belt, with no chain attached to the steel.