Flooring is fundamental to every processing plant, but depending on the application, food and beverage manufacturers have unique needs related to hygiene, durability and compression and tensile strength. Processors also require specific washdown capabilities, drainage and temperature tolerances.

In addition, food and beverage companies are seeking good looks for a pleasing work environment that also impresses customers—at an affordable price. But striking the right balance among all these factors hasn’t been easy, and flooring manufacturers have had to apply a lot of creativity to keep pace with customer preferences. 

There are four main categories of industrial flooring: urethane cement, methyl mythacrylate (MMA), epoxy and tile. Until 30 years ago, epoxy flooring, spread by squeegees in a thin coat over a concrete substrate, was the norm for food plants. But operators eventually moved away from epoxy because of its brittleness as well as its inability to withstand high-temperature washdowns and the more caustic chemical cleaning agents required to meet increasing food safety demands. 

Most processors know epoxy is relatively affordable, applies easily and gives a uniform finish. Installers can also place colored quartz aggregate onto its surface to reduce slippage or mix in colored vinyl chips to increase its aesthetic appeal. Consequently, epoxy is often still the coating of choice for lighter foot traffic zones, dry storage areas and customer showrooms.

MMA is an acrylic resin often used because of its ability to cure quickly; successive coats require only 45 minutes of drying time. The faster a floor can be installed, fixed or replaced, the less production downtime is required. MMA can also cure in cold environments, down to as low as -20°F, making it a good choice for cold rooms and freezers. However, MMA emits an odor due to its high VOC levels, and workers must wear respiratory masks and use negative air equipment throughout the installation process. Once the MMA is dry, the odor disappears. 

Tile, particularly fully vitrified ceramic, is tough, providing outstanding compressive strength (up to 40,000psi). It’s also highly resistant to corrosive cleaning chemicals and wide temperature swings (think steam cleaning in protein plants, for instance). Its main drawbacks have been its high installation cost and use of grout, which under certain conditions, can crack and become a collection point for dirt, moisture and bacteria. Today’s grouts provide excellent strength and antimicrobial sealing properties, but cause a slightly bumpy surface, making tile less attractive for certain plants, such as bakeries, which have hundreds of metal racks moving around all day from point to point on small wheels.

Tile is still a material of choice due to its aesthetic appearance, as well as the variety of available colors and finishes. Well-laid tile floors can last as long as 40 years, so companies with older tile floors are reluctant to “fix what ain’t broke” until absolutely necessary.

Modern advancements

In 1968, ICI Chemical Industries, now part of BASF, developed seamless urethane cement, also known as cementitious urethane, which combines the best of all worlds. It consists of a resin, hardener and cement-based aggregate that is either mixed throughout in various percentage weights according to specific application requirements, or broadcast onto the wet flooring for added grip and aesthetic appeal.

The more aggregate it contains and the greater its overall thickness, the more compression strength and resistance to wide temperature swings it delivers. Because it is continuous with no cracks for moisture or bacteria buildup, strong enough  to handle heavy loads and tough enough to resist sharp, forceful impacts from dropped tools or other equipment without chipping or cracking, urethane cement installations outpace all other new and retrofit flooring put together. 

A downside is cementitious urethane requires relatively warm temperatures to cure—approximately 40°F or higher. While it will harden as long as temperatures are above freezing, the cure speed is reduced significantly, limiting its use in cold environments. Installing this type of flooring in a freezer, for instance, would require removing all the contents so they don’t thaw; shutting down the compressor; installing the floor; turning the unit on again and waiting for it to cool; and then restocking.  Therefore, MMA is a better choice for cold applications.

BASF’s main seamless urethane offering is UCRETE.  “A major feature, like with other urethane cements, is UCRETE’s coefficient of thermal expansion, or COE, is very similar to concrete, which is by far the most common substrate in food and beverage processing facilities,” states Ashley Davidson, product marketing manager.

Both the concrete and UCRETE expand and contract at the same rate during wide temperature swings, creating little chance of delamination or cracking. One problem with epoxy, Davidson explains, is that under high temperatures, it can expand considerably more than the concrete it’s sitting on. For this reason, it’s often not the preferred system for high stress areas requiring steam or hot water washdowns.

UCRETE is seamless, improving hygiene and washdown performance. “Like other urethane cement flooring,” Davidson says, “it can be a one-step placement, which means less labor and cost to install.”

Sika Industrial Flooring is another supplier of seamless urethane cement flooring solutions. According to Ralf Kubli, Sika vice president of industrial flooring, processors must be careful when choosing a floor. “Sometimes broadcast aggregates and high-gloss topping can defeat the purpose of thermal and impact resistance. Some owners want a nice-looking floor but, in so doing, they may not get the washdown resistance and other characteristics they’re looking for,” he states.

Recently, Sika supplied a Sikafloor PurCem 21 flooring solution in Pearle Bakery’s facility in Ireland. The seamless urethane cement floor was laid in areas surrounding the baking ovens, because it provided a smooth, matte finish and high chemical and temperature resistance. For less temperature-sensitive areas, the company supplied a Sikafloor 261 epoxy self-leveling broadcast system to achieve a slip-resistant profile, important in applications where flour is often present on floor surfaces.

Stonhard of Maple Shade, NJ also supplies urethane cement flooring, as well as epoxy and MMA products under its Stonclad, Stonshield and Xpress brand names. 

Scott Garstka, manager of national accounts at Stonhard, notes food safety is an important feature of cementitious urethane. “FDA now has increased powers to shut down a food plant if there are sufficient food safety concerns. A recent example was a peanut plant shutdown in New Mexico. Floors have to put up with a lot more these days. More [processors] are using PPA, peracitic acid, to fight Salmonella and Listeria, for instance. PPA is very aggressive, but urethane cement can stand up to it.”

‘Green’ flooring

In addition to safety and durability, many processors seek sustainability for flooring projects. Stonclad G2 urethane cement has a unique “green” feature: A portion of the resin used to make it comes from castor beans—a renewable resource. In addition, a percentage of the aggregate used comes from recycled glass. “It’s the only product of its kind I know of that has these two sustainability features combined,” says Garstka. “The significance of this is that producers are able to getter higher LEED points for their facilities, which can bring them tax advantages from the municipalities they’re located in.”

A case in point is the Shearer’s Foods potato chip plant in Massillon, OH, winner of Food Engineering’s Food Plant of the Year award in 2011. The greenfield facility became the first LEED Platinum snack food manufacturing site in the world. 

Oil used in the manufacture of potato chips makes floors slippery and dangerous for employees.  Shearer’s needed a floor that was slip resistant, durable, easy to clean, stain resistant and able to withstand thermal shock. Stonhard recommended Stonclad UT as the best option to withstand impact, abrasion and temperature extremes and, with the addition of a textured aggregate, provide the required slip resistance.

“Another factor that helped with the LEED Platinum designation was low VOC emissions from the urethane cement floor during installation,” notes Garstka. 

Long-term tile

One of the great things about vitrified tile is its low moisture absorption—from 0.1 to 0.5 percent.  Anything above 0.5 percent doesn’t quality as fully vitrified. Anything below 0.1 percent is considered too much like glass, or porcelain, and extremely brittle. “We aim at the ‘sweet spot’ in between,” says Keith Pfaff, engineered linings specialist at Blome International, O’Fallon, MI.

Another advantage of tile is its long-term durability. “If someone came to me and said, ‘I’m building a pilot plant for one or two years and just want it to be safe,’ then I’d steer them toward thinner lining products,” explains Pfaff. “If someone wanted the floor to last as long as possible, beyond 10 years, then we’d ask them to consider urethane cement. However, if that person is looking for 35 to 40 years with little wear or maintenance, then we would specify vitrified ceramics—that’s like three-floors-in-one over the same time period.” Blome’s specialties are Versi-Line ceramic and clinker tile and Thermcrete cementitious urethane flooring. 

Atlas of Mertztown, PA also supplies rectangular (4 in. x 8 in.) and octagonal shaped tiles. Octagonal works well in areas that have slopes where floors drop slightly to feed a drain since the tiles create minimal “lipping” and improve free liquid flow.

Grout is a minimal one-eighth inch wide, with an antimicrobial agent mixed in. Another feature of the system is a fast setting time. “Our setting bed, called VTF, is very moisture resistant,” says Atlas National Sales Manager Steve Abernathy. “We can get onto fresh concrete from 36 hours to five days, which is a significant time savings when you consider the normal curing time is around 28 days.” (Cementitious urethane is similarly moisture resistant and can be laid down in days rather than weeks over green concrete.)

Kagetec Industrial Flooring of Jordan, MN also specializes in tile. “Our tile is fully vitrified and very stable,” says Managing Director Shawn Hamilton. “[Tiles] are set in a proprietary epoxy and use a high-seal epoxy grout to further enhance strength, mechanical loading, chemical loading and antibacterial hygiene.”

A variety of surface options is available as well, providing everything from aesthetic qualities to anti-slip properties that last and don’t wear off. Hamilton admits it’s less costly to install a urethane cement or epoxy floor, but posits that over the long term, tile still wins out because it hardly ever needs to be replaced or repaired. “We have floors in use for 28 years, ever since we started in this business,” he notes.

Kagetec offers tiles in both rectangular and hexagonal shapes. “We also supply stainless steel drains for all our tile installations,” says Hamilton. Kagetec will soon be offering drains not only as part of floor installations, but separately as well due to customer requests.

One of them was Sierra Nevada Brewing Company of Chico, CA. Owner Ken Grossman wanted a solution to a problem with flooring and drains. After considering epoxies, regular ceramic tile and cementitious urethanes, he chose Kagetec for new tile flooring and drains in all the fermentation cellars, based on its longevity. His company will install the same flooring in its new brewery in Mills River, NC.

Allagash Brewing Company of Portland, ME wanted a flooring system that would hold up to heavy traffic and aggressive chemical cleaning solutions. After the initial installation, Kagetec and Allagash will partner once again this year on tile flooring for a new brew house and fermentation structure expansion.

More options

SaniCrete, Farmington Hills, MI, produces the SaniCrete STX cementitious urethane floor system, which contains toothpick-sized stainless steel wire pieces that act like re-bar in concrete. “These wires are evenly dispersed in the medium, which is fast and easy to install. SaniCrete STX is ideal in areas that receive heavy equipment traffic, wide temperature variations and harsh chemical exposure,” says SaniCrete President Keith Kwasny.

About two years ago, the company introduced SaniCurb, which is essentially a barrier system to protect walls. It can also be used to create containment areas around production machines. SaniCurb has a smooth finish that’s moisture and chemical resistant, and a soft core that can absorb impacts from forklift trucks and other equipment. 

Launched in late 2012, SaniCrete’s latest product, SaniCure top coat, is suitable for interior and exterior applications and offers rapid curing, even at low temperatures, without noxious odors. It is UV stable, high gloss, chemical resistant and designed as a base coat, broadcast coat, quartz and chip floor top coating, epoxy top coating and wall coating.

Dur-A-Flex of East Hartford, CT serves the US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean with cementitious urethane, MMA and epoxy. “The largest part of our business is urethane cement,” says Regional Sales Manager Matt Simpkins. “All of our cementitious flooring is antibacterial.” Simpkins says antibacterial additives provide benefits beyond food safety. Since bacteria can cause a floor to corrode, adding elements that fight them can help a floor last longer. The company’s Poly-Crete MD and Polycrete SL cementitious urethane floors are self leveling and applied using a steel gauge rake, squeegee or trowel.

Based in Cleveland, OH, Sherwin-Williams manufactures FasTop S and FasTop M cementitious urethane flooring. FasTop S is a slurry, applied to a maximum thickness of 3/16 inch with a pin rake or squeegee. FasTop M mortar is about two times thicker and applied to a thickness of 3/8 inch with a trowel. 

“Our workhorse is FasTop S,” says Light Industrial Marketing Director Randy Kerans. “It’s easier and quicker to install, and the floor can be installed or returned to service in six hours, minimizing downtime.” Sherwin-Williams offers a variety of aggregates that can provide the right balance between cleaning performance and slip resistance. “Keep in mind if you have a highly textured floor, it makes it more difficult to mop and clean,” says Kerans. “Meanwhile, if your texture is too light, the floor can present a slip hazard.” As is typical with all suppliers in the industry, Sherwin-Williams installers will apply a test patch first, so there are no surprises at the end of the job, and the customer gets exactly what is wanted.

In the last 30 years, flooring has evolved to meet the changing needs of the food and beverage industry. There’s certainly no shortage of options available for each unique and demanding application.

Food & Beverage Industry Flooring Suppliers

For a complete list of flooring suppliers, vist www.FoodMaster.com.

Atlas Mineral and Chemicals Inc.
1227 Valley Rd., P.O. Box 38
Mertztown, PA 19539
BASF Construction Chemicals-Building Systems
889 Valley Park Dr.
Shakopee, MN 55379
Blome International Inc.
1450 Hoff Industrial Dr.
O’Fallon, MO 63366
300 Edwards St.
Madison, OH 44057
2081 North 15th Ave.  
Melrose Park, Illinois 60160
708-681-8800; 866-CONCARE
Cornerstone Flooring
750 Patrick Place
Brownsburg, IN 46112
Corro-Shield International Inc.
7059 Barry St.
Rosemont, IL 60018
Crossfield Products Corp.
3000 E. Harcourt St.
Rancho Dominguez, CA 90221
Dur-A-Flex, Inc.  
95 Goodwin St.
East Hartford, CT 06108
Fortified Systems Inc.
126 Eisenhower Ln. N.
Lombard, IL 60148
Garon Products Inc.
P.O. Box 1924, Wall, NJ 07719
High Performance Systems
22 Hillcrest Blvd.
Warren, NJ 07059
Kagetec Industrial Flooring Systems
309 Elm Ave. SW
Montgomery, MN 56069
Kalman Floor Company
1202 Bergen Parkway
Suite 110
Evergreen, CO 80439
Protective Industrial Polymers
140 Sheldon Road
Berea, OH 44017
24535 Hallwood Court
Farmington Hills, MI 48335 
Sherwin-Williams Protective 
& Marine Coatings
101 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115
Sika Industrial Flooring
Division of Sika Corp.
201 Polito Ave.
Lyndhurst, NJ 07071
609-B Fertilla Street
Carrollton, GA 30117
SlipNOT Metal Safety Flooring
2545 Beaufait St.
Detroit, MI 48207
Stonhard Inc.
One Park Ave.
Maple Shade, NJ 08052
Surface Solutions Inc.
5689 W. 73rd St.
Indianapolis, IN 46278
866-858-4080; 317-388-8000
Tennant Company
701 N. Lilac
Minneapolis, MN 55440
Tnemec Co. Inc.
P.O. Box 165770
Kansas City, MO 64116
800-Tnemec-1, 816-326-4254