Depending on what a facility processes, a host of different regulations must be followed to ensure a sanitary operation.

The operator is responsible to the public for safe food manufacturing whether a plant must fulfill rules from a governmental body like the FDA or USDA, or it follows the requirements of a private organization like ANSI or a subset of standards such as those for the baking industry—BISS (Baking Industry Sanitation Standards).

Joseph Bove, vice president of business development at Stellar, an integrated design, engineering, construction and mechanical services firm, says, “If an operator’s facility isn’t up to these standards, they are putting their business and consumers at risk. As professionals, we have an oath and a responsibility to make sure that the facility does comply.”

Sanitary design has become a big part of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) audit schemes, according to NSF International’s Michael Govro, technical scheme manager of supply chain food safety certifications.

“It has been included within each scheme, and auditors are now looking for written programs, specifications outlining adequacy for food contact, cleanability and compatibility of materials used in food facilities, i.e., product, environment and chemicals used for cleaning,” he says. Sanitary design standards are developed and incorporated into food safety systems to help minimize the risk of contamination from microbial, chemical and physical contamination, he adds.

“The repercussions of not following standards is you’ll have an illness, an outbreak of some sort, that would be detrimental to the brand itself, as well as to the food category,” Bove warns.

The meat of a sanitation solution

When it comes to designing hygienic equipment for the food industry, the American Meat Institute implemented the Principles of Sanitary Design in 2011, and the Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education published the Checklist and Glossary of Sanitary Equipment & Design Principles in 2014. In it, users find the 10 Principles of Sanitary Design, which were developed by the equipment design task force, made up of representatives from numerous meat and poultry processing companies.

The task force designed the sanitary design principles and criteria in consultation with equipment manufacturers, certifying organizations and government officials. According to the foundation, the group identified the critical nature of equipment design in reducing the risk of contamination of food products by pathogens. Optimizing the design and performance criteria for equipment and related systems, as well as establishing industrywide specifications, benefits the entire industry by promoting standard design that will help reduce contamination and associated recalls. (See the box, "Sanitary design principles," below.)

“To design and build in features that protect the food product from contamination should be the ultimate goal of planners and designers.’”

– Steven Lipman

Even though these best practices were initially developed for the meat and poultry industry, they are applicable for all food uses. Take Sara Lee Frozen Bakery, for instance. With its new innovation R&D center in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., it was important for the bakery to implement sanitary design principles when selecting equipment, flooring and other design elements when getting the new facility ready for production.

“The safety of our products and our team members are so very important to us at Sara Lee Frozen Bakery, so sanitary design was a critical element as we designed the kitchens and chose equipment and finishes,” says Judy Lindsey, research and development director.

She says that because the facility is a test kitchen, the criteria used in designing it and selecting processing equipment needed to meet industry food safety standards for a bakery and still be flexible enough to allow easy transitions from one product type to another.

“We chose a dry cleaning philosophy, as microbes need a wet environment to grow. For equipment cleaning, this means we are using vacuums and air as our primary cleaning mediums and that equipment is spaced such that we can easily get around to all sides and surfaces to brush or blow down any dry residue.”

She notes that floor surfaces are smooth, which assists in a dry cleaning regimen, as there is not grit that can hang up material. Floor drains were almost completely omitted from the kitchen design except in a few designated wet areas.

“There is some equipment—bowls, utensils, kettles—where wet cleaning is required,” says Lindsey. “This equipment is designed to be removed from the floor area and taken to designated wet cleaning areas where it can be appropriately cleaned and dried before returning to the dry environment.”

Sanitary design principles

The foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education published the Checklist and Glossary of Sanitary Equipment & Design Principles in 2014. The 10 principles of sanitary design are:

  1. Cleanable to a microbiological level: Food equipment must be constructed to ensure effective and efficient cleaning over the life of the equipment. It should be designed to prevent bacterial ingress, survival, growth and reproduction on both product and nonproduct contact surfaces of the equipment.
  2. Made of compatible materials: Equipment construction materials must be completely compatible with the product, environment, cleaning and sanitizing chemicals and the methods of cleaning and sanitation.
  3. Accessible for inspection, maintenance, cleaning and sanitation: All parts of the equipment shall be readily accessible for inspection, maintenance, cleaning and sanitation without the use of tools.
  4. No product or liquid collection: Equipment should be self-draining to assure that liquid, which can harbor bacteria or promote growth, does not accumulate, pool or condense on the equipment. 
  5. Hollow areas should be hermetically sealed: Hollow areas of equipment, such as frames and rollers, must be eliminated wherever possible or permanently sealed. Bolts, studs, mounting plates, brackets, junction boxes, nameplates, end caps, sleeves and other items must be continuously welded to the surfaces, not attached via drilled and taped holes.
  6. No niches: Equipment parts should be free of niches such as pits, cracks, corrosion, recesses, open seams, gaps, lap seams, protruding ledges, inside threads, bolt rivets and dead ends.
  7. Sanitary operational performance: During normal operations, the equipment must perform so it does not contribute to unsanitary conditions or the harborage and growth of bacteria.
  8. Hygienic design of maintenance enclosures: Maintenance enclosures and human machine interfaces, such as push buttons, valve handles, switches and touchscreens, must be designed to ensure that product residue or water does not penetrate or accumulate in and on the enclosure or interface. Physical design of the enclosures should be sloped or pitched to avoid use as a storage area or residue accumulation point.
  9. Hygienic compatibility with other plant systems: Equipment that requires additional sub systems, such as exhaust, drainage or automated cleaning systems, does not create sanitary design risk because of the soil load, operational conditions or standard sanitation operating procedures. Consideration is given to exhaust duct design, the ability for drain lines to remove effluent effectively (especially when dealing with vessels), and the effectiveness of CIP systems for the process. This means the team completing the checklist is evaluating how the equipment and its supporting systems function together versus individually. Principles one through eight are the basis for completing the principle #9 elements.
  10. Validated cleaning and sanitizing protocols: Procedures for cleaning and sanitation must be clearly written, designed and proven effective and efficient. Chemicals recommended for cleaning and sanitation must be compatible with the equipment and the manufacturing environment.

From the floor up

So much has to be considered when ensuring a hygienic food plant. The flooring itself is a critical component. The objectives of designing and constructing a sanitary food handling facility are to minimize harborages and eliminate the entrance of pests and other sources of contamination, says Steven Lipman, president at ProREZ Coatings. 

“To design and build in features that protect the food product from contamination should be the ultimate goal of planners and designers,” he says. “The sanitary design features of a food and beverage manufacturing facility should be thoroughly evaluated on a periodic basis. The choice of floor type is more than ever a critical element in maintaining a sanitary, hygienic and safe environment.”

Of course, food preparation floors should be impervious, nonabsorbent, corrosion resistant, cleanable and in good repair. 

“For safety considerations, floors should not be so smooth that they cause employees to slip and fall. In addition to being constructed and sealed adequately, the floor should be installed to provide adequate slope for drainage and prevention of pooled water,” he adds.

When it comes to the floor drains, Bove says there is always concern about proper location and piping. 

“In conjunction with the proper flooring materials, there is the critical placement of floor drains. You don’t want any concern with not being able to get to the drain for cleaning the drain itself either,” he adds. 

Because education is so important, Lipman says that ProREZ offers education modules for its installers on distinctions such as FDA and USDA requirements; high-risk and low-risk areas and what they need within the facility; flooring types and best choice for the many different types of areas within the facility (e.g., hot processing, coolers, freezers, chemical resistance requirements, areas with high point loadings and traffic, etc.); requirements, expectations and communication by all parties prior to installation; and caring for the floor post-installation. 

“We also offer CIA accredited lunch-and-learn presentations to architects on the specifics of choosing the correct flooring solution for each type of food and beverage processing facility together with the specific requirements of each particular process within each industry,” Lipman adds.

When asked what he finds to be the biggest challenges for food and beverage processing customers when it comes to sanitary design principles, Lipman says the choice of what type of floor will be installed and how it integrates with the type of drain and walls is sometimes overlooked. Seams between the drain and the floor and the wall and the floor can easily be a breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, molds, mildew and pests that pose a threat to indoor environmental air quality. 

“There are reported cases of Listeria and Salmonella contamination in prepared food that was traced back to bad drainage floors and walls. There are many types of flooring that claim an antimicrobial additive—be aware that bold claims of these killing bacteria on contact are largely unproven. Antimicrobial additives are not pesticides; they are designed to help preserve the surface film by preventing harmful microorganisms and pathogens from breaking down the organic matter inherent to the coating material and contributing to its degradation. In the end, practicing good floor care, with optional antimicrobial, can provide additional reassurance that your floor will continue to be hygienic, safe and long lasting,” he explains.

Floors, drains and walls should regularly be inspected for damage, cracking or anything that may cause contamination to be trapped and potentially migrate and breed beneath the floor or behind walls, he adds. “The installer should be notified immediately to organize a repair of the area.”

Proactivity prevails

When it comes to the health of consumers, their loyalty to a brand, a brand’s reputation, passing inspections and more, an overall hygienic design is everything. From equipment to flooring to drainage to pest management, food and beverage processors must do their due diligence and be proactive to be compliant with a sanitary and hygienic design best practices.

Bove says Stellar refers to the various standards and best practices on a regular basis. “We use those for teaching going forward here in our office.” In conjunction the varied standards, he notes that many customers have documented their own requirements that are incorporated into project design.

“We also follow HACCP plans—the operating requirements of a facility—and design in conjunction with those to assure the client the ability to track and monitor and make improvement. To be compliant, we have regular drawing reviews, we have owner meetings with the corporate engineering group, as well as the sanitation department and with food scientists. The stakeholder group is wide and varying so that we have all the right inputs and again can assure the customers that hygiene, cleanability from a sanitary standpoint has been met, achieved. We ask ourselves how we can be good stewards of the client’s money, allocating it in the right place to bring the most protection and best food-safe solution to the situation.”

Sarah Krol, global managing director of food safety product certification at NSF International, concludes: “Certainly there is a greater focus on proactive management of risks, including pathogen monitoring and control. As food facilities face increasing pressures to improve production efficiency and offer more diverse and innovative products, risk must be carefully managed considering the new production processes, packaging types and inputs/ingredients the industry is now using.”

Sidebar: No pests allowed

Sanitary design means looking at the entire structure, inside and outside. This includes everything from equipment to floors, to HVAC systems and more, says Chelle Hartzer, BCE, manager, technical services at Rollins Support Center (Orkin). “From a pest management standpoint, the more food debris that can’t be cleaned or is hidden in inaccessible areas, the more pests can take advantage of that. A good pest management company can point out sanitation issues and design issues that may be making sanitation difficult. Sanitation is key for pest management.”

Patricia Hottel, technical director at McCloud Services, adds that sanitary design is critical in achieving the food safety element of pest prevention. “Well designed and maintained food facility structures and food processing equipment can help prevent the establishment of pests in a facility. It will help in excluding pests and reducing conditions beneficial to their survival,” she says.

Shane McCoy, director of quality and technical training, Wil-Kil says the prevention of pest problems is the heart of any state-of-art integrated pest management program. “This means the facility not only has to be ‘bug clean’ but also ‘microbial clean.’ Equipment must be constructed to ensure effective and efficient cleaning, so we can prevent pest problems before they ever get a chance to start.”

The challenges for pest management companies helping their customers when it comes to sanitary design principles are varied.

For instance, Hottel says that it can vary depending on the type of processing being performed. However, some of the biggest challenges can occur when a building is converted to a food production facility when it was not designed initially for food production. “It tends to lead to more issues for this reason,” she explains. “Retrofitting a building can be difficult with issues like general wall construction and the use of hollow block walls providing areas for pest harborage. Similarly, corrugated metal walls can be particularly difficult to pest-proof and may become difficult to clean due to pest proofing efforts of these walls. We look for the difficult-to-clean areas in inspecting for pests.” She says the wrong construction materials can contribute to the challenges in cleaning.

Water management is another common area of concern and can contribute to pests like the small flies. “How well do floor surfaces drain? Is standing water accumulating underneath a tank or piece of equipment which is then supporting fly development? Is the water contributing to floor deterioration which compounds the issue? Are channel drains in place and how well does the drain empty? What does the floor integrity look like around the drain?” she asks. This takes us back to flooring being so critical in a hygienic design.

For Hartzer, the biggest problem when it comes to sanitary design is that the structure, equipment and the flaws are already in place. “They can be challenging to fix and often quite expensive.” She adds that while a pest management company can point out the design and sanitary issues, they can’t fix them; the facility has to do that. “Having open lines of communication and a good partnership with your pest management provider makes this, while not easier to deal with, easier to keep pest problems from getting out of control as a result.”

McCoy notes that he sees challenges with exterior lighting, receiving areas, ceilings and the locker room area. “But the two biggest challenges are interior walls and drains,” he says. “Interior walls meet sanitary design goals when they are hard, flat, and smooth. They are free of pits, cracks, crevices, and impervious and non-absorbent. They will also resist cleaning and sanitizing chemicals, corrosion resistant, and properly installed and sealed.”

In regard to how pest management companies can help food and beverage facilities achieve the best practices of the 10 Principles of Sanitary Design, McCoy says, “A lot of people don’t realize this, but our pest management professionals are routinely going through the entire facility on a weekly basis. We see more of the facility and on a more frequent basis than anyone else at the food plant. This type of access and inspection allows us to identify cleaning, sanitation, and maintenance throughout the entire plant. We inspect down to small niches for corrosion, missing grout, and improper sanitation that we then can communicate, both verbally and written, to our contact.”

Hottel says that the same principles of focusing heavily on cleaning and the ability to effectively clean equipment with an original purpose of controlling microbes also relate to the removal of food and harborage areas which can contribute to insect pest development. She says that denying access to food, water and shelter are all part of an insect management program.

And Hartzer says the biggest thing a pest management company can do to help with the 10 Principles is to point out and document when they see issues. “New equipment and buildings are often planned with sanitary design in mind. However, it will change over time. A strong provider and partner can notice when things change from a pest management standpoint and alert the facility early on,” she says.

As far as achieving a hygienic design overall, Hartzer says, “No consumer tolerates bugs in their food. The reputation of the producer is on the line and a pest management company takes that reputation personally. When the pest management professional is doing their part (monitoring, inspecting, trapping and treating), an integrated, preventive plan can be put in place to avoid widespread, damaging issues and respond quickly if issues do arise.”

Hottel adds that it starts with a risk analysis of the site before they become a client and it continues through observations and client communication during each service. “We use our tracking and trending data to further refine programs and monitor our program’s effectiveness,” she says. Annual assessments are performed by a member of their management team to further inspect and note conditions conducive to pests and modify the program accordingly. She adds, “It is another opportunity to discuss and educate our customers regarding conditions and their risk to pest development. We have a technical team comprised of entomologists and food safety experts available for consultation and assistance as contracted and needed.”

McCoy says, “Food and beverage processors take our service reports and use them to create work orders to the sanitation and maintenance department. They use internal tracking systems to ensure that each work order is completed that will reduce any conducive conditions that could support a pest problem. This preventative analysis stops the chance that a pest problem will occur.”

For more information:

NSF International,
American Meat Institute,
Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education,
Sara Lee Frozen Bakery,
ProREZ Coatings,
Rollins Support Center (Orkin),