Experts offer advice on creating food and beverage processing facilities that are easy to clean, while also looking to a future that includes automating the process.
When it comes to designing a washdown-friendly facility, it really starts before a company even begins to build the factory.
That’s according to Elis Owens, director of technical services at Birko, which offers integrated food safety solutions provided by highly trained and experienced professionals.
The company should ask itself if the actual structure of the facility has been designed in such a way that will make it amenable to effective cleaning, and if the equipment has been designed and built following the principles of sanitary design, he explains.
“It should be designed in a way that can be easily cleaned and with materials that are compatible with common cleaning chemicals,” he says. “The way the equipment is put together into the various production lines and the way those production lines are put into the facility [are important].”
So, for example, making sure there is enough space all the way around the equipment for people to access it for cleaning, including catwalks for cleaning in high areas and making sure the floors in the facility are sloped toward the drains and that the equipment is not installed over the top of the drains, all come into play.
“There’s a whole host of factors that need to be taken into consideration,” Owens says, “foot traffic, product flow, forklifts’ movement around the facility.”
Scott L. Burnett, director of food safety and quality, global food and beverage at Ecolab, says factories should include procedures and structures for hygienic zoning, which complement their food safety plan. The use of hygienic zoning creates a “tortuous path” to reduce the risks of food safety hazards entering the product stream by protecting the critical processing areas.
He adds that a well-structured sanitation program not only encompasses the elements required by regulation, such as the Preventive Controls for Human Food, it also leverages the many valuable resources provided by such groups as the American Meat Institute, the International Association for Food Protection, the Grocery Manufacturers of America and others. A close partnership with a sanitation and hygiene provider is also critical, he explains.
“Inadequate design can add hours to the cleaning and washdown time,” Burnett says.
When it comes to equipment, processors should try to avoid soft metals, and it should be designed so that it can be disassembled quickly, thoroughly cleaned, reassembled and then easily inspected, says John Carnevale, market manager, food and beverage, Rittal Corporation.
The company makes a hygienic enclosure system that’s designed with no gaps or “dead spaces” between the enclosure body and door.
“A commonly overlooked component of a machine is the enclosures used to house the equipment’s vital control systems,” Carnevale explains. “These dead spaces can trap food debris, cause bacteria to grow and create a hazard for food contamination.”
Also, companies need to be aware of the washdown process, which typically includes high-pressure and high-temperature water that can damage the polyurethane foam gasket seal used on typical enclosures. The harsh chemicals used can also break down the PU foam gasket seal over time. That can lead to water ingress into the enclosure that can damage electrical and electronic components, leading to downtime and/or repair costs.
“Food and beverage facilities make money when they are producing food, not cleaning equipment,” Carnevale says. “The sooner they get the equipment cleaned and sanitized, the sooner they can get back to production.”
One thing every processor faces is how to clean motors, which can be especially difficult to clean and sanitize, says Cheryl A. Higgins, product marketing manager, LEESON Electric, a Regal Brand.
“Harsh chemicals like sodium hydroxide and other caustics are used to clean equipment and can be extremely corrosive,” she explains. “High-pressure spray is also employed as part of the regimen, sometimes up to 1,000 psi with the nozzle typically held a few inches away from the equipment to ensure all contaminants are removed.”
And cleaning can often cause equipment to fail, which can lead to downtime.
“One thing that can address all of these issues is the retrofit of specially engineered stainless steel motors,” Higgins says.
LEESON sells the Extreme Duck Ultra motor, which is IP69 certified and tested by an external source, as well as being IP69K tested by IEC 60529.
“These motors don’t have crevices where bacterial buildup can start. They are steam and/or water proof for cleaning in place and other demanding washdown regimens. This is critical, because in food and beverage processing, production is typically based on highly automated, fast-moving processes and systems, where every second of production counts,” Higgins says.
Another solution to water issues is the dry steam sanitation solution from Goodway Technologies.
Evan Reyes, national account manager at Goodway Technologies, says its dry steam sanitation solutions are simple to use, reduce cleaning time and are specially designed for thorough, deep cleaning of food contact surfaces and non-food contact surfaces or for safely cleaning around water-sensitive equipment.
The dry steam sanitation machines are particularly useful in environments where water use is avoided or must be used in moderation. They work extremely well on processing equipment, conveyor belts, packaging equipment, frameworks, environmental surfaces and a variety of other areas that require thorough cleaning in food processing facilities.
Dry vapor steam cleaning produces vapor with as little as 5 percent moisture content. And the steam is superheated and pressurized to provide powerful cleaning and sanitizing properties.
“Using only water, substances such as stubborn grease, oil, dirt and other residues can be cleaned from all kinds of surfaces, even niche areas and crevices, without any need for chemicals,” Reyes explains. “Additionally, mold and a variety of bacteria are instantly eradicated, reducing microorganism counts. Dry steam also helps to remove allergens in dry environments.”
And then, there’s even one step beyond that. Tyson Marlowe is director of global training and business development at Cold Jet, which makes a cleaning system that uses dry ice to basically sandblast equipment.
The dry ice reaches temperatures of -109°F and offers a lot of advantages over plain water. For example, it doesn’t require operators to disconnect a machine from power to clean, which reduces downtime. And it can clean everything from an electrical motor that’s still running to delicate things like a circuit board. It’s also strong enough to literally remove paint from the floor.
It’s a line-of-sight cleaning system, and it’s not a replacement for water cleaning, but it doesn’t produce secondary waste, such as contaminated water. It’s also more expensive than straight water cleaning, but it works really well in the food industry. Marlowe says confectionery companies like Hershey use it, because they don’t want water around packaging.
However, while dry steam cleaning and dry ice systems provide a thorough and deep cleaning, an important follow-up step is to sanitize with an approved sanitizing formula, Reyes says. Goodway’s latest product line, the BioSpray D2 food-grade sanitation system, can be used to sanitize in the same dry environments and water-sensitive areas.
How FSMA impacts cleaning and washdown
Of course, safe cleaning and washdown are intrinsically linked to the biggest piece of legislation impacting the food and beverage industry in this decade—the Food Safety and Modernization Act.
“There are a lot people who really haven’t put a lot of attention or a lot of focus on cleaning and sanitation who are now waking up to the fact that, ‘Hey, we need to be doing this,’” Owens says. “And then, there’s another group that says, ‘We’ve been doing cleaning and sanitation, and what can we do to take our cleaning and sanitation to the next level? And with FSMA, what kind of records do we need to keep?’”
Obviously, sanitation and the prevention of potential food safety risks have always been top priorities for the food industry. However, there has been increased scrutiny and enforcement of cleaning procedures because of FSMA, which allows the Food & Drug Administration to make unannounced visits for facility inspections, Reyes explains.
The FDA has permission to review facility records to initiate a recall or a facility shutdown.
“The FDA has been raising the bar on food safety standards, especially around non-food contact surfaces that have traditionally been a lower priority,” Reyes says.
The regulations will lead many companies to consider investing in new cleaning technologies that are effective and work quickly.
“Because of the stringent regulations, there may be a need to redesign, modify or replace older equipment, with a focus on hygienic design to eliminate harborage points for bacteria,” Reyes says. “Facilities will also need to develop well-written and documented master sanitation schedules and SSOPs, if they haven’t already.”
Something that could help with that is the Ecolab 3D TRASAR technology for clean in place (CIP), which helps ensure every wash is performed as expected every time, providing visibility into operational issues with 24/7 monitoring and alerts. The program also collects actionable data, which is analyzed by experts who provide corrective recommendations implemented by the facility with support from its sanitation team.
“This partnership helps to deliver optimal sanitization results, while providing peace of mind that someone is monitoring their food safety risk 24/7,” Burnett says.
One way a lot of companies might deal with FSMA’s strict standards is by automating the cleaning and washdown process.
“A lot of what we’re hearing from customers is that labor is becoming a huge issue for them in the food industry, so they’re looking at automation as way of overcoming some of the challenges and possibly as a long-term cost-saving tool as well,” Owens says.
And of course, making something like cleaning consistent is especially important when companies are making food.
“If you can automate a process, you can make it more repeatable and more consistent,” Owens explains. “If people are doing the cleaning in a manual way, there can be a high potential for human error. If you’ve got an employee who is cleaning a conveyor, the conveyor is running, and he’s standing at the end of the conveyor, he may get distracted. So, if you fit a spray bottle there to automate it, you can be confident that the entire surface has been cleaned.”
As food and beverage processing becomes more complex, it becomes harder for some of the equipment to be cleaned manually.
“It’s too big, too enclosed, too much time to dismantle the equipment,” Owens says.
And in some instances, it could be a safety issue. For example, a meat grinder can be especially difficult and dangerous to clean, and automation of that process can eliminate a safety hazard.
“Automation is going to continue to become more and more significant,” Owens says. “I think we’re just at the leading edge of that.”
A lot of automation solutions are already on the market, for companies willing to invest in them. For example, Cold Jet and Goodway both are creating cleaning systems that integrate right into conveyors.
So, what’s holding back automation? Owens says for now, it’s still cost. But company culture also comes into play.
“The technology is still being developed. And I think it’s bit of, for certain parts of the food industry, the concept of trying to automate this process is somewhat of a paradigm shift,” he explains. “There has to be a change in the mindset across the company. There’s a little bit of an attitude that cleaning and sanitation is wasting time, because it’s taking time away from when I could be running production.”
But that goes back to automation, because instead of taking six to eight hours out of every 24 hours to clean, a company could take just one out of every 12 hours, if the process is automated.
Owens predicts more growth in the use of enzyme-based cleaners, which are biological molecules that perform specific chemical reactions. So, for example, some enzymes are really good at breaking up fat or breaking up proteins.
“A lot of laundry detergents use enzymes, but outside of [a] place of like laundry, the technology is still somewhat in its early days,” Owens says.
In the end, food and beverage processors really just have to see cleaning and washdown for the vital components of manufacturing that they are.
“Really, you could have the nicest plant, you could have the nicest equipment, you could have the highest-quality raw materials, but unless you’re operating that plant in a clean and sanitary environment, you’re not producing a quality food product,” Owens says. “Cleaning and sanitation is the foundation of product quality.”