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Hygiene comes first

29 October 2015

What key hygiene information should food manufacturers take into consideration when installing new technology? Producing high quality and safe food products requires food manufacturers to rely on suitable hygienic design, maintenance and use of food production equipment. The design of equipment for the food industry should be based on a balance of operational requirements, from personnel to process safety, and hygienic requirements, including food safety. 

Amongst the key hygienic questions to take into consideration when installing new equipment are what are the risks or hazards, where is the equipment located and how is it designed, maintained and cleaned?

“The risks to the consumer may be biological, physical, chemical or allergenic,” says Emma Maguire, Hygiene Specialist at Campden BRI. “The severities of these risks depend on the hazard, the product, the shelf-life, consumer and many other aspects. The equipment must not bring about an unacceptable change in the food composition, deteriorate organoleptic characteristics or bring about danger to human health.”

In addition, equipment should be installed in a way that allows adequate cleaning and maintenance of the equipment and surrounding area. The European Hygienic Engineering Design Group (EHEDG) recommends that a distance away from the floor, wall, ceiling and other structures, is dependent on the equipment width. For example, items that are smaller than 90 centimetres wide should have a clearance of at least 20 centimetres, while items above 210 centimetres should have a clearance above 60 centimetres (EHEDG Guideline 44).

“The Machinery Directive (Directive 2006/42/EC) states that Machinery intended for use with foodstuffs or with cosmetics or pharmaceutical products must be designed and constructed in such a way as to avoid any risk of infection, sickness or contagion (Annex 1; Section 2.1),” explains Maguire. “The materials used to construct the equipment must be suitable for the application to which they are intended and must be cleanable before each use. Smooth surface finishes and limited angles, corners or crevices help prevent microbial or insect niches and areas for organic matter to gather, while also making the task of cleaning easier. Sufficient drainability is important, as stagnant liquid within a piece of equipment present a risk to the product. It is also important that no ancillary substances, such as lubricants, can come into contact with food.”

There are plenty of places to look to for advice on hygiene and machine installation. EHEDG provides guidelines and practical advice for implementing legislation into design practices and manufacturing processes, and has also just created a regional branch for the UK and Ireland to promote the principles of hygienic engineering in the UK food industry. And standards including EN 1672-2:2009 and EN ISO 14159:2008 provide information on hygienic design of machinery and support the directives of the Machinery Directive. 

“When a food manufacturer purchases a piece of equipment, they might not anticipate the damaging effect the harsh environments within its industry may have, through humidity, fluctuating temperatures and cleaning chemicals, for example,” says Maguire. “Planned preventative maintenance is important to establish when installing a new piece of equipment in order for that machine to last and continually produce safe food. It is vital before commissioning a piece of equipment to consider the time it will take to clean and the suitability of the cleaning method. The more nooks, crannies and difficult-to-reach areas, the longer the cleaning times and thus longer downtime. Validation of cleaning methods is an important step when designing cleaning schedules.”

The details
For John Holah, Technical Director at Holchem Laboratories, there are plenty of questions to ask before installing equipment. “The first question to ask when faced with a new process is to discover the nature of its inputs and outputs,” he says. “Is the input raw materials? If so, is the output also raw materials or does the new process confer a microbiological reduction such that the output is a ready-to-eat (RTE) product? Is the input and output already an RTE product? If the input and output is raw, then the process will be sited in a high hygiene (high care/risk) area. If, however, the process has a raw material input and RTE output, it needs to form the barrier between the medium and high hygiene areas. Barrier process can be designed to flow vertically between floors or horizontally through walls, but in both cases, the barrier should be sufficient to prevent the movement of microorganisms through the medium/high hygiene divide.”

Any equipment to be sited wholly in medium or high hygiene areas should take into account the degree of equipment dismantling possible, and the floor mounting of the equipment. Then the manner of cleaning should be discussed. Can the equipment be cleaned in situ, by open or Clean in Place (CIP) methods or can either parts or the complete structure be removed and taken to a cleaning facility? This is of particular concern if the process equipment is sited in a dry processing area, in which no or minimal quantities of water can be used for cleaning. Because of the nature of the barrier, equipment with raw inputs and RTE outputs may have to be cleaned in situ but some thought may be required as to what components are cleaned from medium and high hygiene areas. 

“Once installed, the provision of services for equipment inputs such as steam, water, electricity, filtered air, compressed air and gasses, and outputs such as rework, waste and exhausts, should be considered, as well as how these can be managed hygienically, with the minimisation of structures within food manufacturing areas and degree of dismantling,” explains Holah. “This will also include platform access for operatives and cleaners. What will be the effect of the machine during operation in terms of emissions of water, humidity and noise, and what impact will this have on potential environmental microbial growth and requirements for operative health and safety?”

All equipment should be hygienically designed, but there may be implications to its hygienic performance during food manufacture that need to be established, such as product hold-up, particularly on transfer elements. In addition, novel processing equipment may have different materials of construction whose cleanability, following production with its associated soils and process parameters, may be unknown.

“The nature of the process output also determines the level of cleanliness required, dependent on the hazards that need to be controlled,” says Holah. “An RTE output will require a cleaning and disinfection programme to control pathogens while an RTE or raw material output may require allergen or brand protection, for example species DNA, control. Cleaning and disinfection programmes will have to be considered to provide visual cleanliness, hazard management and schedules developed to control cleaning and disinfection during production between product SKUs, after production and periodically to allow additional dismantling or higher levels of cleaning input.”

EHEDG and food factories
Drainage manufacturer BLÜCHER UK is a longstanding member of EHEDG and have worked with the Group to help develop the new set of guidelines on hygienic design principles for food factories. 

“Food safety is at the top of the agenda for food production companies around the world,” says Peter Hardiman, Managing Director for BLÜCHER UK. “Examples of listeria and other bacteria spread through condensate, HVAC and drainage systems have made hygiene in buildings an essential issue in food safety. It is therefore important that manufacturers of stainless steel drainage systems continually develop and improve the design of drains and drainage channels to match the increasing demands of hygiene. The importance of the drain has often been neglected in relation to hygiene. We can be sure of two things though; that gravity ensures that most dirt and water ends up on the floor at some point, and bacteria grows in humid conditions, like drains. Therefore, a poorly designed drain can harbour bacteria and be a source of contamination if it is not properly cleaned.”

An increase in hygienic control has meant that more food production companies work with both technical and hygienic guidelines for their building and equipment specifications. 

“In addition to membership to the EHEDG, drainage system manufacturers should also hold a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certification,” Hardiman advises. “HACCP is a method of analysing and identifying food security risks. The certification means that the drainage products support the integrity and safety of food as demanded by industry expectations, legislation and Global Food Safety Initiative (GSFI) endorsed standards, and that the products are compatible with HACCP based food safety programmes and contribute to food safety.”

Hygiene tips
The fundamentals of hygiene may stay the same, regardless of whether you’re producing dairy, meat, fruit, bakery or anything else. But as food processing plants introduce more and more technology to facilitate a more automated, 24/7 operation, maintaining hygiene standards becomes more difficult. New technologies bring new challenges, as they can be more intricate in style and design than their predecessors, and manufacturers face even tougher rules and regulations when it comes to equipment hygiene and maintenance. 

“Many food production managers are battling to introduce ever-more sophisticated cleaning regimes,” says Dan Hennessey, Kärcher Professional’s expert on ice-blasters. “As the industry welcomes changes in production techniques, so too must food processing professionals give equal attention to hygiene. Whether that’s trialling new cleaning equipment on the market or reviewing their cleaning protocols, hygiene cannot and should not be ignored, especially when it comes to food production.”

Kärcher Professional has developed three cleaning and hygiene tips for food manufacturers to take into consideration when installing new technology. The first is to check whether the new machinery being installed can be cleaned by conventional methods, or if it needs more sophisticated cleaning solutions. Some machines require a significant amount of downtime to allow for cleaning and maintenance, which can result in huge economic loss, as well as manpower. If a plant runs on a 24/7 schedule, this may not even be an option so solutions such as dry ice blasting for example, which can be done directly in mounted conditions, can dramatically cut or eliminate machine downtime.

“It would also be prudent to check just how easy it is to dismantle any new technology to allow for more thorough cleaning or sanitation, particularly in factories where burnt-on deposits, sugars and high volumes of fat can be problematic,” explains Hennessey. “If poorly cleaned, over time manufacturers should expect higher maintenance or replacement costs for machinery which would hit the bottom line.”

And the third tip is to ensure that food contact surfaces on any new technology are non-toxic, non-absorbent and non-reactive. It would also be wise to ensure there are no suspicious crevices or cracks since this is an ideal breeding ground for microbial growth if inadequate cleaning practices are employed. 

“Purchasing new technologies isn’t without its pitfalls, but food manufacturers can address key hygiene issues by exploring innovative cleaning methods,” says Hennessey. “This will ensure equipment lasts longer, staff time is optimised, production remains uninterrupted and hygiene standards are upheld at all times. With no chemicals or toxic solvents used, it really is a game changer.”

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