When it comes to selecting a site for a food and beverage processing plants, there are many factors to contemplate—location, utilities, environmental issues, zoning, traffic, etc. Also relevant are the plant employees and visitors, who should be considered during the site selection process. 

This has always been important but even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led many facilities to rework their spaces. Let’s take a look at safety, accessibility and security for employees and visitors during the site selection process—both pre-pandemic and currently.

 

Safety

During the early stages of site analysis, a wide net is cast to find locations that meet the key requirements, including the desired acreage, available utilities, and proximity to labor and/or raw materials, among other factors, of the food processor, according to David Hird, PE, director, Engineering Services, at design/build firm Gray. “As these areas narrow and transition into the latter stages of site analysis, food processors take a closer look at how the facility fits and sits on the site,” he says. 

In some cases, property features influence the design. “When customers have more stringent requirements for safety, accessibility and security, Gray must be diligent to safeguard against candidate sites that negatively impact the design. Often, Gray can retool the footprint while protecting the integrity of the people and product flow to prove that a preferred site will work within the processors’ requirements. Close coordination between all design disciplines is key in making this part of the process successful,” he says.

 

Dennis Group

Dennis Group assisted Retail Business Services, a company of Ahold Delhaize USA, with site selection for their 200,000-sq.-ft. processing facility in Rhode Island. 

 

Jacqueline Bruntjen, LEED AP, director of site search and sustainability at design/build firm Dennis Group, agrees. “Proper facility and equipment layout has always played a major role in employee safety, and the pandemic has only heightened awareness of how design elements are inextricably linked to the well-being of workers,” she says. Equipment should allow proper access for safe operations and maintenance. “Machine guarding, safety interlocks and ergonomically friendly layouts are also important features.” 

The risks that can be associated with most food and beverage facilities have already set a precedent for a very judicious design around spaces in which employees interact, adds Amanda Arnold, assistant design manager, Gray. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken these measures to a new level. “At Gray, we implement facility design strategies to not only mitigate the presumed risks of an operation, but now add another layer of stringent design principles to mitigate the pandemic and potential future pandemics. The design of these areas has changed to better meet sanitation and safety goals.”

Jacqueline Bruntjen

“Proper facility and equipment layout has always played a major role in employee safety, and the pandemic has only heightened awareness of how design elements are inextricably linked to the well-being of workers.”

—Jacqueline Bruntjen, LEED AP, director of site search and sustainability at design/build firm Dennis Group

“COVID-19 caused many processors to reconfigure their workspaces and personnel flows to limit touchpoints, enhance sanitation measures and create workstations that are adequately spaced,” says Bruntjen.

The first barrier of defense is a deliberate site plan, which can help mitigate outside risk, followed by design elements within the facility that help prevent any risks from entering the building. Arnold says the careful consideration of the circulation of employees can also help support maintenance and sanitation protocols. 

 

Desing/build

Sabra Dipping Co. utilized site selection services from Dennis Group. Companies need to identify parcels or buildings that are large enough because automation and proper spacing around equipment for cleaning and maintenance might require more floor space that anticipated. 

 

“Material selection also plays an important role in maintenance and sanitation and can include anything from the material selection of the building’s structure and skin, all the way to the interior finishes or even furniture finishes,” Arnold says. She also notes the importance of creating separation between people within the facility, whether through physical space or the addition of barriers between workstations. “More touchless design elements are being integrated to increase the use of new health and hygienic technologies,” she says.

Bruntjen adds that during site selection, companies need to identify parcels or buildings that are large enough, because automation and proper spacing around equipment for cleaning and maintenance might require more floor space than anticipated. 

Proper air balancing and ventilation is a prominent feature of hygienic facilities, but COVID is putting a renewed focus on HVAC systems, Bruntjen says. “Maintaining correct air pressure between low- and high-care areas to prevent cross contamination as well as ensuring the right level of outside air percentages and air changes per hour (ACPH) is critical for both food and worker safety.”

Arnold agrees and says that one of the design principles with growing importance in light of the COVID-19 pandemic is the air filtration and ventilation design.

David Hird

“COVID-19 required everyone in the industry to become even more agile and flexible to accommodate the new normal.”

—David Hird, PE, director, engineering services, Gray

“Through a carefully crafted combination of these design principles, we can help create a safe, yet accessible, environment for facility employees,” Arnold says.

 

Sabra Dipping Co.

Sabra Dipping Co. utilized site selection services from Dennis Group. Companies need to identify parcels or buildings that are large enough because automation and proper spacing around equipment for cleaning and maintenance might require more floor space that anticipated. 

 

Accessibility

The safety of employees traveling into plants has always been a concern for the successful design of a new facility, says Jim Hale, PE, senior civil engineer at design/build firm Stellar. “Separation of automobile traffic from semi-truck traffic is certainly one of the most important factors in allowing safe egress for employees and visitors.” 

Gray’s Hird agrees. “When thinking about site analysis and visitors, sites with geometries that allow the separation of passenger vehicles and semi-truck traffic are preferred by processors. It is important to ensure that both are routed efficiently to the desired location with minimal interaction,” he says. It also is good practice to have some means of access control for anyone entering the site. “These elements protect the integrity of the product (both raw and finished goods) as well as the welfare of individuals on the property,” says Hird. 

 Amanda Arnold

“More touchless design elements are being integrated to increase the use of new health and hygienic technologies.”

—Amanda Arnold,assistant design manager, Gray

For a greenfield facility, it is often easier to keep cars and trucks apart to avoid any chance of dangerous interactions. When separate driveways or parking areas are not an option, the use of fences, sidewalks, walls and other features can help define separate areas and reduce the possibility of a collision, Hale says. Many plants also have a separate area for office parking, visitors and prospective employees. 

“Another desirable feature is delivery access to employee welfare areas, cafeteria and offices to prevent these items from being received at the plants dock doors. When attempting to find a site, it is important to understand how the traffic will flow into and out of the plant, how this will affect existing roads and intersections, and if new traffic control, acceleration/deceleration lanes, left turn lanes or traffic signals will be required for safe and expeditious travel to and from the plant,” Hale says.

Often where plants receive live animals, it is preferable to keep inbound trucks on a separate path from outbound trucks to avoid the chance of contamination. “Separation can end at the point where the vehicles are forced to share the public road,” he says. “Normally, truck parking areas will be fenced in, with controlled entry. Standard parking is outside of the fence and usually doesn’t require cars to pass a guard house for access, since employee access is controlled at the plant entrance.” 

A processing operation may have multiple types of visitors in a typical day, whether it be a customer, uniform service provider or family member visiting a loved one. “Appropriate safety measures must be considered for each, particularly where they enter and what areas they can access. The flow and separation of people is an important line of food defense,” Hird notes. 

Tyler Cundiff,

“Technology has provided a variety of options to keep food, people and facilities safe via a combination of video and physical validation.”

—Tyler Cundiff, president, Gray Inc., Food & Beverage Market

Another point that Stellar’s Hale makes is that some plants have hygienic considerations where separation of employees by job type is necessary to prevent cross contamination within the plant. These facilities must also keep employees separate in areas outside the plants, like parking lots.

When designing a site, Dennis Group’s Bruntjen says it is important to create control points for metering the flow of traffic and employees into a facility. “In some cases, the low- and high-care areas are physically separated with separate entrances, exits and employee amenity areas. Once inside the facility, segregating pathways for pedestrian and forklift or vehicle traffic reduces the risk of an accident,” she says. Having distinct car and truck traffic flows helps streamline access to the facility and creates a safe site flow. “You should confirm that a site can accommodate segregation of traffic flows, and how much infrastructure and site work is necessary.”

“COVID-19 required everyone in the industry to become even more agile and flexible to accommodate the new normal,” Hird says. “For many processors, this means security for temperature-taking and questionnaires before entering a plant, as well as contact tracing and additional safety measures to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.”

Hale adds that since the pandemic, it has become important for employees to have access to outdoor areas for breaks and lunch to avoid staying in groups inside. “Exterior shelter has always been important for smoker’s break areas, but now it’s needed even more for eating and break times. Plant entry areas now must be able to screen employees and visitors quickly for COVID-19 symptoms before allowing admittance—larger vestibule or portico areas are needed for these purposes,” he says. 

Jim Hale

“Access to the plant and surrounding areas must be controlled to ensure safe operations of the plant and a secure place to work for employees.”

—Jim Hale, PE, senior civil engineer, Stellar

Security

Plants must provide a safe and secure environment for employees and guests. “Access to the plant and surrounding areas must be controlled to ensure safe operations of the plant and a secure place to work for employees,” Hale says. Security is typically provided by having a guard house located in the truck access driveway for admittance and control of departing trucks. “The truck area is fenced so no one can approach the building from a direction other than where they are expected to enter.”

Bruntjen adds, “When selecting a site from a visitor safety standpoint, you want the ability to limit access via checkpoints, badges and physical barriers. You also want to restrict visitors from congregating in close proximity to high traffic areas such as outside dock areas,” she says. 

This might require creating unique flows for different functions. “It could include a separate contractor entrance for vendors who supply materials such as uniforms or chemicals to the site, or trucker lounges to check-in raw material deliveries, without giving access to the production operations,” Bruntjen says. Designing office space with public facing conference rooms close to an entrance point can also ensure visitors don’t need to cross through any production spaces. 

“In accordance with the FDA’s Food Defense and Adulteration Plan, we utilize site and building design principles that are designed to mitigate risks to food facilities and the employees that work in them,” she says. The site should be able to be fully fenced with limited access points and a robust security system infrastructure. 

Bruntjen adds that separate viewing corridors or platforms can allow visitors to observe operations without causing disruptions or potential contamination to the production lines. “Site selection can determine if adequate height and spacing is available to permit these types of corridors or mezzanines in a facility,” she says.

Tyler Cundiff, president, Gray Inc., Food & Beverage Market, says, “From a security perspective, technology has provided a variety of options to keep food, people and facilities safe via a combination of video and physical validation. Utilization of cameras in conjunction with well-planned security access and control measures can provide an opportunity for dual confirmation.”

For the facility itself, video cameras in conjunction with proximity-activated sensors provide the best validation protection for a facility. “These are not preventive measures, but rather those that activate after a violation of standard operating practices,” Cundiff says. 

Hale notes that the standard parking area is generally open to others, as many employees will need to be dropped off at the plant by public transportation, private vehicles, rideshares or their own personal vehicles. “Employee access to the building is restricted by ID card scanners at the entrance doors. Visitors must be routed to the appropriate entrance for their check-in to be certain they won’t get into areas where they are not permitted.”

Signs and locked doors ensure that visitors are in the correct locations and are able to leave the plant in an emergency. “It’s always good to have a safety orientation for any visitors to large or complex facilities to ensure certain rules will be followed,” Hale says.

For more information:
Dennis Group, www.dennisgroup.com
Gray, gray.com
Stellar, www.stellar.net

Photos courtesy of Dennis Group