Technology is one thing; training is another. But, the two fit together like a hand in a glove when it comes to keeping food and beverage plants running at peak efficiency in the cleanest, safest way possible.
Technologies—from CIP, COP, automated hand and boot washing systems to polyurethane floors, insulated metal panel walls, overpressure ventilation from clean to grey areas in a plant and the right detergents and temperatures—are relatively easy to keep up with. Training, on the other hand, is sometimes more challenging.
Jacqueline Southee, US liaison at FSSC 22000, notes good standard operating procedures for personnel and a safety culture that starts at the top of an organization are keys to maintaining a hygienic environment for the production of food. But for even greater benefits, she suggests processors “invest in developing the right mindset.”
Paul Medeiros, managing director of consulting & technical services at NSF/GFST in Guelph, ON, agrees and cites the importance of training. “Given the significant food safety risks associated with production, every reputable producer should provide accredited food safety training for its employees and perform a risk assessment to identify its hazard points and ways to control them.”
The necessary documentation
Jill Bender, senior vice president, marketing with SafetyChain Software, is a proponent of leveraging innovative technology to ensure food safety programs are adhered to and properly documented. “As it’s commonly said in the world of auditors, ‘If it’s not documented, it’s likely not done.’ Automation software and mobile apps can help ensure that when an auditor comes knocking on your door, you’re prepared.
“Mobile device technology and electronic forms are [changing the way the industry views] sanitation inspections, reporting and trending,” Bender continues. “With mobile device technology, you can enter inspection observations comments and mobile photos into the same record, and they are forever available as evidence a plant has met its sanitation program requirements.”
The key to leveraging mobile technology is having an interactive app that ensures program adherence, along with transparency/visibility. Some examples include:
- Interactive electronic forms delivered on mobile apps that provide real-time feedback to the sanitation inspector and alert management when a noncompliant event has been detected
- Real-time dashboards that provide an enterprise view of multiple plants and can drill down on the detail of any one plant or event
- Lab integrations that allow the environmental monitoring of swab results to be integrated into sanitation reporting, with auto alerts issued when out-of-compliance values are detected.
The sanitation plan
Elis Owens, senior chemist/microbiologist at Birko, says an effective cleaning and sanitation plan includes the following:
- Corporate ownership and management of food safety and effective sanitation, from the “C” suite down
- A facility and equipment designed to allow effective cleaning, including smooth, washable surfaces, good floor drainage, effective doors, insulated wall and ceiling panels, and other features
- A fundamental operational plan that details what needs to be cleaned, how often it needs to be cleaned, how it is cleaned and who is responsible for cleaning it
- An adequate supply of potable water; suitable, functioning sanitation equipment; and effective cleaning and sanitation products
- Ongoing employee training in sanitation and safety.
“Food safety is the foundation of product quality,” observes Owens. “Nowadays, many retailers require their suppliers to submit to third-party audits and implement test and hold programs, and these demands will continue to grow.”
Currently, the status of cleaning and sanitation varies widely between different sectors of the food industry. For instance, due to USDA requirements, most members of the protein harvest and further processing sectors have relatively robust sanitation programs.
Yet, in the produce sector, the sanitary design of processing equipment and facilities has not been fully embraced by equipment manufacturers, according to Owens. Therefore, the cost and availability of sanitary equipment remain obstacles for this sector.
In other sectors, cleaning and sanitation efforts have been concentrated on areas such as process efficiencies, reducing water usage, decreasing the manpower needed to clean, chemical control, the management of salt and sodium levels in facility wastewater and other elements.
Birko has helped facilities implement automated conveyor cleaning by retrofitting equipment with spray bars and other automated cleaning mechanisms. Plus, to streamline chemical use, it has developed the Birko BOSS system, which blends concentrated chemical precursors onsite to produce finished functional products shortly before they are needed, reducing waste and cost.
DeLaval Cleaning Solutions now manufactures two detergents for food processing plants. One-Step Alkali (OSAlk) detergent improves the efficiency of high-temperature CIP circuits with a combination of surfactants and sequestrants, while One-Step Acid (OSA) detergent removes both inorganic and organic soils from cold process surfaces, eliminating the need for caustic or chlorinated washes.
Minimizing the risks associated with manual cleaning is an important step toward ensuring proper sanitation, according to Chad Dykstra, Sani-Matic vice president, business development. “By implementing automated cleaning solutions to wash a diverse range of process equipment, processors can achieve repeatable, documentable results that aren’t possible with manual cleaning.”
Most food processors are familiar with automated CIP systems for cleaning process lines, vessels and tanks. “However, many other areas of the process such as fillers, weigh scales and elevator bucket systems that require cleaning are often left to inconsistent manual efforts,” Dykstra notes.
Sani-Matic automated SaniCab cabinet washers with accompanying rack-on-cart systems accommodate a wide variety of process items with flexible wash recipes, a dual straining system for light-to-heavy soil loads, 15- to 20-minute cycle times and custom-designed racks.
“By implementing automated cleaning solutions to wash a diverse range of process equipment, processors can achieve repeatable, documentable results that aren’t possible with manual cleaning.”
“We recently spoke with the manager of a large vegetable processing plant that purchased a SaniCab washer to clean its weigh scale buckets. He said the washer is saving 15 hours a week in labor, but most importantly, it improves operator safety and ensures each weigh scale bucket is clean, every time,” says Dykstra.
Kevin Lemen, vice president of marketing at Douglas Machines Corp., says for many years, bakeries and food plants have been motivated to upgrade from manual to automated pan, rack and utensil washing equipment to reduce water, labor, energy and chemical costs. “The ideal washer depends on the type and quantity of items to be washed, the type of soils to be removed, the desired wash time, heating options, flexibility for future needs, space limitations and budget considerations,” explains Lemen.
Generally, retail/wholesale bakeries benefit from the flexibility of compact, cabinet-style batch washers, while food processing operations typically require the increased throughput capacity associated with continuous cleaning tunnel washers. “Batch washers come in a variety of styles and capacities,” Lemen says. “Lift-door models are the most economical in terms of space since their doors lift upward. However, with them, ceiling clearance must be considered.”
Drop-down or hinged-door models allow the wash rack to be pulled out onto the door for convenient loading/unloading. The area in front of the machine tends to stay dry since the water from the pans drains onto the door and then back into the machine. The lift-door design generally requires an operator to keep the wash rack inside the machine and operate within the cabinet’s “drip zone” for the loading/unloading functions.
Typically, batch washers feature a recirculating wash tank and a separate fresh water rinse tank for sanitizing. Wash cycles are selected from a short, medium or long sequence (four, six or eight minutes), depending on soil conditions. Batch washers also utilize larger water pumps (five to 15hp), higher operating pressures (40 to 50 psi) and specially designed rotating spray nozzles. Each wash cycle is followed by a 30-second, 180°F to 190°F rinse to provide sanitizing without expensive chemicals. The sanitizing rinse water is recycled by routing it back to the recirculating wash tank.
Cleaning and sanitation are critical to food safety and protecting human health. Risks will always exist, but the good news is more companies are stepping up to the plate by combining technology and employee training to ensure their processes not only comply with, but exceed, increasingly stringent regulatory standards.
Coping with allergens
Marilyn Allen, a consultant in Toronto, ON who helped found Anaphylaxis Canada (now Food Allergy Canada), says the most valuable asset in any food company is a well-trained workforce. “You can have all the allergen-avoidance procedures in the world clearly mapped out on paper, but they are only as good as the ability of people to understand and follow them.”
Protein assay testing (ELISA) is used to determine the presence or absence of specific allergens. Typically, the testing is done on a random basis or during a recall process. “[However,] these kits also should be used to test the efficiency of cleaning and changeover protocols,” says Allen.
According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP), the first step in developing an allergen control plan is the identification of key leaders in the organization who understand how ingredients flow through the facility—and the vital importance of managing and controlling these ingredients at every stage.
FARRP outlines the following elements of a comprehensive, effective allergen control plan:
- Segregation of allergenic foods or ingredients during receiving, storage, handling and processing
- Supplier control programs for ingredients and labels • Prevention of cross-contact during processing
- Product label review and label/packaging usage and control
- Validated allergen cleaning program
- Staff training and education
- Allergen precautionary labeling.
For more information:
Marilyn Allen, Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Consulting, 416-431-3115,