Rainy Winters Bring Spring Flowers… and Roof Leaks!

The recent wet winter brought long-needed rain and snow and tested the infrastructure of California (just ask the Oroville Dam operators).

It also may have uncovered leaks in your facility’s roof that can cause major problems. The previous years of drought may have allowed the roof to fall off the “radar screen” of your plant maintenance activities. Without regular inspections and cleaning, debris can build up in gutters and drains, preventing them from working properly and allowing water to pool on the rooftop. These standing pools of water, when combined with any damage or deterioration in the roofing material, can leak into the facility below. What else is on the roof? Bird droppings— not something we want dripping onto the production line!

…peanut butter contaminated with Salmonella tennessee sickened 425 people in 44 states and triggered a major recall.

Such roof leaks can have serious consequences. In 2007, Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter contaminated with Salmonella tennessee sickened 425 people in 44 states and triggered a major recall. An investigation at the ConAgra processing facility in Sylvester, GA revealed that a faulty sprinkler system and a roof that leaked in heavy rains allowed water to drip into the building. It is thought that Salmonella-laden peanut dust in the plant environment became moist, allowing the bacteria to grow and multiply. This spread the bacteria in the facility and was the likely source of contamination in the finished product. Recall expenses, plant repairs and food safety upgrades ultimately cost ConAgra $275 million. Roof leaks also plagued the Blakely, Ga. facility that was at the epicenter of the 2009 Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) recall, contributing to the product contamination that sickened 714 people and killed nine.

Facilities need to have a game plan for dealing with roof leaks and avoiding these problems.

Facilities need to have a game plan for dealing with roof leaks and avoiding these problems. The first step is to inspect the facility. Outside, this includes regular inspections of the roof to check for the drainage and standing water issues listed above, as well as a regular cleaning/maintenance schedule for gutters and drains. Inside processing and storage facilities, check the ceiling regularly for any signs of water damage or leakage; also look for any water stains on the equipment, floors, walls and structural supports.

What should be done if there is a leak? Discard any products, packing materials or ingredients that got wet and cease operations in this area until the leak is stopped. Permanent roof repairs should be done as soon as possible; there are also temporary roof leak diverters that can be attached to the ceiling and divert dripping water via a hose into a floor drain. These diverters are not a permanent solution but may allow operations to resume until repairs are completed. With the leak controlled, any areas impacted by the leak must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized; environmental monitoring (swabbing) should be done to verify the effectiveness of these sanitation efforts. After repairs are completed, frequently monitor the area impacted by the leak to be sure the problem is solved.

Internal audits / plant inspections are one of the most important verification activities in a food safety program.  We highly recommend anytime there’s a rain storm, particularly early on in the season, that staff members be given responsibility to inspect the facility for any evidence of roof leaks or other water seepage which may be an issue. As with all maintenance and sanitation efforts, document the activities in your roof program.

A leaky roof can have serious, even deadly consequences if not addressed. A roof maintenance and sanitation program can help you avoid these problems…and enjoy those spring flowers!