Food Engineering

The simplicity of sanitation

November 4, 2005
By turning to basic principles, plants can avoid the most common design flaws.

Richard F. Stier
The author John Gaule once said, "A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works." That statement rings particularly true in sanitary design.

In other words, keep it simple. Equipment needs to be comprised of materials that are easy to clean and maintain. The harder the equipment is to work on or work with, the lower the chances are that it will be properly cleaned and sanitized. This is especially true of equipment that needs to be disassembled to be cleaned.

First, consider open-ended or hollow rollers with holes on belts and open-ended supports or legs on equipment. These are hard to clean, very inaccessible, will accumulate products and water and definitely create a niche for bacteria grow. These units basically violate all ten principles of sanitary design, yet they can still be found in plants. Why? The main reason is probably cost. It is cheaper to build an open-ended roller. Yet, sacrificing cost for safety is asking for trouble.

Motor installation can also pose a sanitation problem. When equipment is installed, the motor often gets mounted directly over the line. The company then installs a drip pan to catch any lubricant that leaks, but it forgets to monitor and clean the pan. Although, today's motors are much more efficient and less likely to leak, mounting the unit over the line is still asking for trouble. Why not turn the motor 180 degrees so it hangs in space and completely prevent any accidental leakage?

Many plants often purchase equipment that is designed to be installed at floor level. This is a problem because there's no access for cleaning. If either equipment or personnel can't get underneath the unit to clean it, water, waste and bacteria can accumulate underneath it. When it comes to floor level units, at least four inches, and preferably more, are needed to allow access for cleaning.

Developed by the American Meat Institute, these principles are applicable to all food processing applications.
Consider too where you install an air intake for compressed air or vacuum pumps. I once watched a company use compressed air to split sausage casings in preparation for slicing. The air intake for the compressor was in the drain. Although most of these systems include filters, why position an air intake near a drain or in a part of the plant that is not the cleanest? In addition, processors should understand that air and vacuum lines need to be cleaned once in a while-and the equipment manufacturer should provide instructions on how to do it.

These are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sanitary design. There are also many simple design features that can be incorporated into equipment to allow it to remain clean. For example, if hollow-tubed steel is used for structural supports, it should not only be sealed but also be designed so it will not accumulate foods on the surface. Round tubes or triangular supports with the point up allow water and food particles to roll or slide away.

Along these same lines, if flat metal supports are used, make sure that the flat side is perpendicular to the ground. If a unit has casters or rollers, make sure that they are sealed. Hinges, quick release features and other devices allow access for cleaning, and are available in stainless steel. As an example, if a company has installed a cover over a line to protect product from airborne contamination, adding hinges so the cover can be flipped open will allow greater access. Look to your own operations and try and determine if there are minor modifications that can be made to make life easier for your cleanup crew.