Form fits function

September 1, 2006
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Choosing to build a new plant rather than renovate or expand an existing one is based on any number of necessary functions. The existing facility may be outdated and operating costs excessive. Or, a new location may offer advantages such as reduced labor costs, lower taxes, improved access to markets or simply the room to grow. Whatever the reason, it behooves operations and plant managers to plan carefully and understand where they are going and why. Today, a commitment to build a new plant is a commitment to sanitary design.

It starts at the bottom. Most production entails wet processing, which means wet cleaning. Plants must have floors with drains that can handle both food waste and water used in processing and cleaning. The drains must be installed as the floor is being installed. The last thing that anyone wants to do is jackhammer a floor to replace existing drains or install new ones. The floor should be properly graded so water flows toward the drains. And, the concrete needs to be protected. Options range from chemical resistant brick in a chemical resistant setting to a wide range of coatings and epoxies. The processor needs to select the surface that will be most effective, cleanable and safe, specifically, not too slippery. Remember to consider drain cleaning as well. Drains are known to be a prime source of Listeria monocytogenes.

When the walls go up, the wall and floor junctures should be coved to ensure that they drain freely and don't allow dirt to accumulate. The walls themselves should be constructed from materials that are easy to clean and maintain. Reinforced fiberglass and stainless steel may be the best materials, though many operations use tile. Keep in mind that tile can be problematic because it tends to break and grout can accumulate moisture, thus harboring microorganisms.

Consider the plant's overall workflow too. Plants that are designed so that the process flows in one direction are often the most efficient. Raw materials, whether they are frozen or refrigerated, wet or dry, may be unloaded into ingredient warehouses at one end of the plant and the finished goods stored at the opposite end.

For the equipment, use the same thought processes that went into building the plant. Plan ahead. A lower-priced unit may cost more in the long run. Equipment that is built to sanitary design principles allows sanitation operations to be conducted more quickly, efficiently and economically. Such equipment will also help minimize the potential for product adulteration, satisfy regulatory requirements and, most important, ensure that customers are satisfied.

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