As retail demand surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, food and beverage manufacturers found themselves having to quickly ramp up production to keep pace. As processors shifted their schedules to keep up with higher demands imposed by the market, they had to nonetheless comply with regulatory requirements for cleaning and sanitation, as well as their own protocols that often go above and beyond the minimums set by regulatory agencies. The challenge faced by many was how to properly clean and sanitize both equipment and production areas when shifts were added or extended, while plants were running seven days a week and employees were scrambling to keep up with the surge in demand.
Cleaning and sanitation are factored into production schedules to ensure minimal downtime but with additional shifts and changing schedules, sanitizing equipment thoroughly and efficiently in a timely manner become a challenge.
“Production has increased significantly, however this sanitation requirements of the manufacturing facility and equipment installed remain stringent,” says Paul Krechel, Director of Sales, U.S. and international divisions, Deville. “More than ever increased production needs are at the forefront, but manufacturers understand that it cannot be achieved with lessened sanitation protocols”
Working with equipment that is designed to make cleaning and sanitizing easier and less labor-intensive becomes increasingly important. While there has been an ongoing trend to make equipment easier to clean—such as eliminating cracks and crevices where food can get caught—the next step is to make equipment not only easy to clean, but easy and fast to disassemble for cleaning and reassembly; this ensures less downtime and allows processors to get back to production as fast as possible.
“This is what Deville focuses on in its design and construction processes,” says Elie Machaalany, Director of Sales, Canada, Europe, and United Kingdom, Deville.
“As suppliers, we advise on cleaning procedures with our own equipment. However, it is the decision of the manufacturer to implement and maintain proper care for sanitation,” says Machaalany. “Our goal is to make sure that the equipment is ready for cleaning. It is crucial that the manufacturer finds the equipment easy to clean and with the least amount of people needed to dismantle the machine.”
Time is of the essence when you’re under a production crunch. However, food safety can never be compromised for increased uptime. A closer look at how equipment is designed and built for ease and speed of cleaning illustrates that there can be significant advantages to cleaning- and sanitizing-focused equipment.
Keep it simple
Most food processing equipment is fairly complex because of the different capabilities required to meet production demands. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be difficult to take apart for cleaning and reassembling.
“For example, we have our flagship piece of equipment that shreds a 40-pound block of cheese in just several seconds. As customers use this machine 24/7, we have manufactured it to only have one bolt on the entire shredder itself,” says Krechel. “With this design, there is very little assembly, disassembly and is simple to use for operators.”
Keeping sanitary equipment design principles top of mind when choosing processing equipment is of vital importance. An efficient, well-designed sanitary piece of equipment, along with proper sanitation protocols, can significantly reduce the risk of foodborne illness and speed up the cleaning process; operators can quickly take apart, clean, and reassemble the equipment. Less time for disassembly and reassembly means less downtime. As well, the easier the process, the higher the probability that it will get done properly.
Once the machine is dissembled for cleaning, the moving parts must be stored for cleaning, sanitizing, and drying. Deville designs a convenient wash cart that allows operators to remove parts from the machine and place each part on the cart, eliminating the need for operators to find alternate (perhaps unsanitary) places to hang parts for cleaning and drying.
“Any removable parts on our equipment, have a dedicated wash cart,” says Machaalany. “So, whenever they dismantle the equipment, there is a specific location for each designated item.”
Another advantage of simple design is that if a machine has fewer bolts or screws, fewer tools are required for disassembly and reassembly, mitigating the risk of using the wrong tool to remove or tighten fasteners and thereby damaging the machine which in turn, leads to additional downtime.
The pandemic has created a number of challenges for food and beverage manufacturers, but also some lessons learned and new ways of operating. While demand has somewhat normalized on the retail side, it’s still higher than normal while foodservice demand lags behind. As manufacturers look ahead, they are applying what they’ve learned from the production challenges of the last year to look for new and improved ways to operate.
As Krechel says, manufacturers are looking at diversifying their operations so that they don’t have entire plants dedicated to only retail or only food service, so if a situation like this happens again they will be able to keep plants running instead of having their retail plants running full-bore while foodservice plants sit idle. He offers the example of a customer he recently visited.
“That was the number one topic, at a recent customer visit. We discussed how we bring new products to the market. How can we utilize and innovate the plant to satisfy multiple market drivers and changes in the future?” says Krechel.
As food and beverage manufacturers look to the future, there will be a lot of changes to come. But what will not change, is the need for cleaning and sanitization to ensure food safety. Design and building processing equipment with that top of mind will offer a competitive advantage for manufacturers looking to limit downtime.