Starting with a clean slate is usually easier than renovating an older facility to catch up withfood safetyspecifications as shown in the Food Engineering November 2014 article, “Renovate for the right reasons.” However, several considerations must be designed into a new plant to make it a food-safe facility. Your primary source for information should be an architectural and engineering company that understands the food and beverage industry and has successfully located and built new plants that meet today’s evolving food safety standards.

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If you’re lucky and have room to expand on a site you already own, your property may easily support the design-build of a new facility. However, if you don’t have the room to expand, you’ll have to select a new site location. While this is not an article specifically on that topic, the importance of the right location can’t be minimized.

“When looking at a new location for a food and beverage facility, it helps first to understand the requirements of current GMPs so you don’t have a problem meeting and/or adhering to HACCP and FSMA inspections later on,” says Jedson Engineering’s Chris Brink, senior food and beverage packaging engineer. “It’s important to understand where you need to be before you begin.” In addition, Brink says the site design will need to take into consideration environmental design, utility requirements and elevation above sea level, especially in a flood-prone area.

“Having enough land is critical for future expansions as well as the physical separation of critical functional operations,” says Bill Sander, Hixson senior vice president and project manager. “The area or location needs to be above the flood plain and, ideally, not near wooded areas [that can attract animals to the site] or bodies of water such as lakes and rivers [where mosquitoes and insects can breed].” Coastal areas should be avoided altogether because of the potential for tidal flooding, government restrictions and the advantages of being more centrally located to both ingredients and consumers.

In general, facilities should be located in areas where governments support industrial development and view the facility as an asset and contributor to the community, a potential good citizen and employer, adds Sander. Ideal locations are generally those that are near technical/trade schools, have good highway and/or rail access and are near population centers, which include a potential employee and customer base.

Having good, reliable utilities with adequate capacity within close proximity to the site is a must. “We steer our clients to sites with good air quality and low concentrations of airborne particulates, bugs, pests, etc.,” says Shane Bolding, O’Neal Construction vice president, industrial manufacturing/food and beverage. “There are other factors to consider such as a product’s waste stream. Therefore, it is important to do due diligence to determine which municipalities have facilities to process different waste streams, or you could be faced with ongoing waste processing costs. Bolding also suggests avoiding locations where contamination could be introduced from adjacent sites. Examples include sewage treatment plants, landfills/dumps and chemical and power plants.

Both sides of the water equation also are important. “Food processors that have the option to select a new site should consider the costs and impact of the location’s domestic water supply and municipal wastewater capacity,” says Joe Bove, Stellar vice president, design.

“Water consumption costs are heavily influenced by wastewater pretreatment costs or additional wastewater surcharges,” continues Bove. “Compare the costs of an onsite pretreatment system versus the added penalties the public treatment authority might charge.” To determine potential costs, plants must factor in growth, flows, pollution loads and limits, and then determine equipment sizing. Differential annual operating costs, including remaining surcharges, flow rates, labor, electrical and maintenance, also should be considered.

Reducing the discharge costs of wastewater treatment has forced many food processing plants to consider treating their wastewater onsite, says Bove. In addition to treatment costs based on volume, municipalities typically impose a surcharge if the characteristics of the wastewater stream exceed the municipality’s typical domestic strength. Bove suggests the starting point for a plant considering treatment onsite is to gather as much data as possible with a clear understanding of the flow stream characteristics and volumes relative to the municipal ordinance/acceptable standards as well as sewer use fees. This data will determine what treatment options are required. Realistic cost projections (capital and operating) are crucial to an effective evaluation of various levels of treatment.

Bove also stresses planning for the future. “To incur fewer expenses in the future, it’s important to plan for flexibility and adaptability, and master plan for them during the initial design phase. If you’re considering expanding the plant or changing your product mix in the future, the wastewater treatment system should be designed to fit those anticipated needs.”

Recognize the effects of climate change

While there may some discussion regarding the cause of climate change, there is no doubt that some areas have been affected by the phenomenon, e.g., the drying of California’s Central Valley, the flooding caused by Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, the tornadoes across much of the US and the deep freeze in the Midwest and Northeast last winter—and the extended power failures and damage caused by these events. It’s the extremes that get our attention and will ultimately determine how we build both food-safe and weather-safe plants.

“Extreme levels of anything can cause the designer of a facility to consider increasing maximum and minimum values used in sizing environmental protection, utility requirements and sea level elevation to safely protect a plant from unwanted consequences,” explains Jedson’s Brink.

“The response to climate change is generally regulated by the building codes of the local jurisdiction,” adds Hixson’s Sander. “In general, the facility needs to accommodate local conditions. For example, strive not to build a plant that requires a heavy water supply in a dry area or locate a frozen foods facility in a hot climate.” Nevertheless, Sander says the overarching consideration for choosing a location is good access to raw materials and transportation for ease of distribution.

Since location is often chosen based on the proximity of raw materials and finished product end-users, rather than on a preferred climate basis, the design needs to adapt to the particular climatic conditions to be successful, says Peter H. Skirbst, Haskell vice president and A/E project principal. Designing the plant for climatic conditions must take food safety into consideration. For example:

  • Extreme rainfall requires protected areas for the receiving and shipping of materials, covered bulk unloading stations and additional attention to roof system design, roof drainage and site drainage, plus the design of building envelope openings.
  • Extreme snowfall requires preplanning for snow removal and storage (on or off site) so operations are not impeded. The design must allow for ease of access for shipping and receiving, grated exterior stair treads to mitigate snow buildup and the elevation of rooftop equipment.
  • Designing for extreme winds requires careful planning, orientation and the possible screening of building entry points to account for the prevailing wind direction. In dry areas, the winds may carry sand and dust particles, which will create the need for additional filtration of air intakes.
  • Extreme temperature requires special attention to the design and construction of building envelopes and HVAC/refrigeration systems to ensure proper temperature and humidity requirements can be maintained to protect product from spoilage and contamination.

Food-safe construction practices/materials

While applications vary from slaughterhouses to bakeries to beverage plants, there is one common denominator: The exterior walls of a facility protect the processes and the food inside. For a processor that must locate a slaughter operation as part of or near cooked operations, the holding pens and slaughter operation should always be on the opposite side of the plant from the wind direction, says Stuart Jernigan, A M King director of preconstruction. “This ensures that the prevailing wind will not be pushing air through the slaughter area into the processing area, and also aids with odor control.”

 Most plants don’t have a slaughter operation, but that doesn’t negate careful consideration of the site and applications. “Each site is unique and presents challenges and opportunities,” says O’Neal’s Bolding. “Once we work with a client to define its needs, we have a basis from which we can evaluate sites, site layouts, considerations, etc. Sanitary design principles not only promote food safety, they can also lead to operational efficiencies for the life of the manufacturing asset.”

The exterior design is an important aspect in securing the food safety of the process inside, according to Epstein’s Darrin McCormies, senior vice president. McCormies lists several important considerations in the exterior design of all food processing facilities:

  • Secure the site with proper fencing, clear access points and provide clearly indicated routes for vehicular flow.
  • Provide the proper lighting to minimize insects within the facility.
  • Provide landscape design that doesn’t harbor pests.
  • Eliminate overhangs to discourage birds from nesting.
  • Use materials that are maintainable and cleanable.
  • Keep windows and skylights out of processing areas.
  • Position the HVAC intake so it is not downwind from exhausts.
  • Do not build a detention pond onsite.
  • Provide for ease of cleaning, particularly in areas where bulk materials may be spilled upon receipt.

Stellar’s Bove provides a few additional recommendations for exterior/interior relationships: The finished floor elevation of a facility must be higher than the surrounding land, parking and roadways to ensure standing water (ponding) does not occur as this may become a source for insect and microbial growth. The location of garbage and inedible waste facilities such as dumpsters and waste treatment/pretreatment facilities must also be strategically positioned on the site for the same reasons. Also, a guardhouse and security fencing are required, and fencing should encompass all of the critical food safety and bio-security aspects of the facility.

Interiors for food-safe operation

In most cases, advanced design tools can make it much easier to develop a food-safe interior design. “Plans to address complex configurations are best handled with a formal CAD or 3-D application,” says Bill Sokolowsky, Burns & McDonnell business development manager, food & consumer products. “These programs, if used properly, can identify proximities and interferences, and accurately display clearances for effective man/machine interfaces and access. Taking it to the next level, simulations can be run based on equipment and line data that show typical personnel and material workflows including projected man/machine interactions. Utilizing these programs early in the design phase has proven effective in eliminating potential safety hazards as well as providing opportunities for resource optimization and saving money.”

“When designing a new facility, it’s important to understand the proper flow of product and people as well as the means, methods and path of the sanitation crew. Then, create the floor plan layout that facilitates those flows,” says Haskell’s Skirbst. A clear understanding of the various flows and circulation patterns is essential to ensure critical spaces are separated from each other, and that people can travel from building entry points to their work areas without the risk of cross-contamination, particularly between raw and RTE production areas, adds Skirbst.

“In a recent project, provisions were made to completely segregate employees working in raw and cooked operations,” says Epstein’s McCormies. “These included separate parking areas for employees in raw and cooked operations, as well as separate entryways, circulation areas, employee locker rooms and break areas within the building. Our clients have also utilized keyed access control and uniform colors to identify those who can access specific areas.”

“When raw processing, cooking and the packaging of cooked foods take place in the same plant, zones of control are imperative,” says Stellar’s Bove. The design and construction of the facility should include a complete separation of production areas that house uncooked (raw) from cooked, ready-to-eat (RTE) products. Construction should also segregate welfare areas (including locker rooms, cafeterias and support areas) for employees who handle raw products from those who handle RTE products.

“Clean-in-place [CIP] technology helps promote sanitation within your facility,” continues Bove. “Because CIP can clean tanks, piping or product lines without disassembly, cross-contamination is avoided. If you’re looking to add gluten-free products to your product mix, CIP is a great solution for equipment that processes both allergens and non-allergens. The CIP system will sanitize and flush the lines during changeover.”

“In processing facilities with frequent washdown such as meat and produce, it is imperative to utilize stainless steel drains with removable strainers to prevent product from entering the drainage system, which creates an ideal incubator for bacteria,” says A M King’s Jernigan. Urethane and epoxy antimicrobial flooring systems are also ideal in many situations since they are easily cleanable and promote plant worker safety with non-slip applications, he adds.

Food contact surfaces

Of course, sanitation of food contact surfaces is a requirement in most food processing areas. Consequently, these surfaces should be washable and made of materials that can withstand contact with a variety of washing/sanitizing products and chemicals, in addition to high-temperature rinsing at boosted pressures, says Jedson’s Brink.

“We focus on reducing or eliminating surfaces that can collect dust and contaminants, hold water, etc.,” says O’Neal’s Bolding. “When designing the facility, we follow industry standards and use good sanitary and GMP methods.” A goal of sanitary design is to ensure the entire plant can be cleaned every day. Procedures in the design process include: establishing zones of control; maintaining and managing temperature, condensation and moisture; understanding and deciding how the facility should be cleaned; setting up methods to prevent cross-contamination; and developing the proper approach and infrastructure to support the cleaning plan.

Airflow/HVAC systems

“You can eliminate the potential for contamination in your facility by achieving optimal air balance within its different sectors,” says Bove. Maintaining this balance  also helps control condensation, temperature and airborne contaminants, and can eliminate the potential for air to flow between areas of hygiene and highly regulated temperatures, ensuring product safety and maintaining standards.

Controlling airflow and balance also eliminates the potential for airborne dust particles and contaminants to reach production areas, continues Bove. Food plants such as meat processing facilities have the potential for dangerous airborne contaminants, so in these facilities, the airflow direction and frequency are especially important. “Keep in mind, the air from kill floors and rendering areas should never flow to areas such as packaging, where airborne bacteria could contaminate the final product.”

But sometimes, airflow and people can work against each other. Examples include:  using large fans to move air out of rooms or leaving dock doors open, letting in outside air. “Proper—and clearly understood—standard operating procedures should be established in all food and beverage facilities,” says Skirbst. In addition, high-speed, roll-up doors for fork truck traffic and automatic closing doors for people traffic can be used to minimize the amount of time rooms and spaces are open to each other. In some situations, airlock vestibules and/or air curtains may be used to achieve the necessary air separation for  the facility to function properly, according to Skirbst.

Airflow, HVAC systems and people in the plant can exist in harmony, keeping bacteria out of sensitive areas. However, some basic design elements must be considered to get  these three working together. “When designing the facility, we focus on good air turnover/air changes, good filtration and well-thought-out pressurization schemes,” says Bolding. “We are always looking at the process flows, including material [raw and ingredients] flow, people flow and waste flow.”

“The facility and HVAC systems need to be designed to provide the correct flow from the most clean to the less clean areas,” says Epstein’s McCormies. For this to happen, rooftop units must be sized and located properly and the right filtration must be used. VFD sensors and controls can help assure the maintenance of the appropriate air pressures within each space. Vestibules and airlocks can be used for access into these areas.

On the subject of rooftop units and utilities, utility piping and ductwork should be located outside of production areas, with only vertical utility drops to equipment as necessary, says Skirbst. Where utility piping or ductwork is required to be in the space, it should be designed to be easily cleaned (i.e., smooth, round SS duct, SS pipe or PVC-jacketed pipe where the pipe needs to be insulated).

After you’ve acquired equipment with right sanitary construction, it’s important that you install it within those same sanitary standards, says Bove. To ensure your plant isn’t at risk of a food safety issue, carefully screen potential installation subcontractors, assessing their credentials, level of experience and knowledge in sanitary controls.

The key to a successful food-safe design lays in communications, says Skirbst. Never assume the A&E firm, the processor or the rest of the team fully understands every aspect of the facility that is to be designed. While there are common practices that need to be followed, every project entails a custom design that fits the particular site and particular parameters of the project. “[You] can never ask too many questions,” advises Skirbst.


Key factors in site selection

Numerous attributes need to be considered when selecting a suitable site from a cost and food safety perspective, including:

  • Topography—A site that is too flat may be difficult to drain properly and lead to standing water conditions (either on the ground or in underground drainage pipes), which can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and attract water fowl and other animals. A site that has too much grade transition can be expensive to develop, particularly for large buildings that require an extensive building pad with adjacent loading docks, service yards and access drives. A moderately sloping site generally provides a good balance.
  • Soil Conditions—An adequate geotechnical investigation of the potential site is critical to the decision-making process. Granular, well-draining soils generally provide good bearing capacity for the foundations and accommodate storm water management areas as well.
  • Environmental Conditions—Investigation into the former land uses and potential hazardous materials is important to ensure there are no food safety or health risks associated with the site.
  • Utilities Availability—A utility assessment must be completed prior to final site selection to determine availability, proximity and capacity of the required systems (water, gas, power, sewer, communications, etc.), which can have a significant impact on development costs.
  • Access/Transportation—Auto, truck and rail access requirements need to be identified and investigated to ensure the site can be well served. A traffic study may be required to ensure the traffic impact from the proposed facility will not adversely affect the surrounding area or determine if off-site upgrades to the transportation systems may be required.
  • Emergency Services—An investigation into the availability of fire, police and rescue/first aid services should be made to ensure the site can be adequately served from a life safety perspective.
  • Permitting Issues—The cost and schedule of a new facility can be significantly impacted by the jurisdictional permit requirements. A permitting investigation should be conducted in conjunction with the site due diligence effort to determine the permit process required for approval from the local, state and/or federal authorities. Elements to be considered may include land use zoning or rezoning, easements, flood plains, wetlands, endangered/threatened plant or animal species, significant trees and archeological artifacts, among others.

Source: Peter H. Skirbst, Haskell.


AMI’s 10 Principles of Sanitary Design

  1. Cleanable to a microbiological level
  2. Made of compatible materials
  3. Accessible for inspection, maintenance, cleaning and sanitation
  4. No product or liquid collection
  5. Hermetically sealed hollow areas
  6. No niches
  7. Sanitary operational performance
  8. Hygienic design of maintenance enclosures
  9. Hygienic compatibility with other plant systems
  10. Validated cleaning and sanitizing protocols.

For more information:
Bill Sander,
Hixson Architecture and Engineering, 513-241-1230,
Chris Brink, Jedson Engineering, 513-579-3133,
Shane Bolding, O’Neal Construction, 864-298-2000,
Joe Bove, Stellar, 904-260-2900,
Peter H. Skirbst, Haskell, 904-791-4500,
Darrin McCormies, Epstein, 312-454-9100,
Bill Sokolowsky, Burns & McDonnell, 816-333-9400,