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Overcoming the conduit cleaning dilemma

30 May 2017

Bacterial infection is an ever-present risk in the food industry, so manufacturers must take care to ensure cleanliness in the plant, including cable conduits. Meirion Buck explains how a new anti-microbial conduit solution can help eliminate bacteria and the risks associated with them. 

A shift towards automation within the food industry – including conveyor and feeder systems – combined with the sheer amount of mechanical process equipment required, means there are often thousands of power and data cables in a typical food manufacturing facility today and these need to be protected with conduits and fittings. However, such systems can become a home for bacteria – posing a direct threat to food manufacturing. 

Stringent health and safety, and infection and control measures are required to control this, ensuring that bacteria such as E. coli, listeria and salmonella are killed before they have an opportunity to come into contact with food products. 

The challenge is that bacteria are resilient and contamination can occur at any point of the food production process. They can adapt and survive on various surfaces and can also reproduce at an alarming rate given the right conditions. Bacteria replicates its genetic material, splitting in half to create two genetically identical cells from one. So, during each cycle the population doubles, dramatically increasing the number of bacteria. 

In response to this risk, food manufacturers employ structured and thorough cleaning regimes to ensure clean equipment and food safety. Stainless steel equipment, for example, is typically cleaned up to five times a day to minimise the chance of potential infection. This is done via the wash-down method, where high-powered jets with steam/hot water and chemical agents remove any trace of bacteria. Although this type of cleaning is thorough it must be repeated regularly because it only temporarily reduces the threat of infection. Even though bacteria are instantly killed with a wash-down, as soon as the high-pressure wash and chemicals are removed, and equipment dries, bacteria can start to grow again. 

Impacting cable integrity
Unfortunately, these vital cleaning operations can impact the integrity of cables and wiring. Temperatures typically range from 50oC up to 130oC. Combined with high pressure and chemicals, this can cause liquid ingress into conduits, damaging cables and leading to the need for regular maintenance. 

This causes a dilemma between the need for a dry environment for cables and the wet of the washdown needed to prevent bacterial growth. 

Recognising this, ABB Adaptaflex has worked in partnership with anti-microbial leader BioCote to create a new generation of liquid tight conduit which delivers anti-microbial protection with a silver glass powder embedded into the polymer of the conduit. When bacteria encounter the conduit, the silver ions are slowly released from its surface, stopping normal bacterial cell function and preventing reproduction. This ultimately leads to cell death and prevents contamination.

This biological protection is combined with a mechanical design that features a smooth food-grade thermoplastic and liquid-tight stainless steel fittings. While the antimicrobial ionic silver kills bacteria, it does not change the final appearance of the product. 

As ions are released slowly through the surface of the material on contact with bacteria, the antimicrobial properties of the conduit do not diminish in extreme temperatures such as steam treatment or in the deep freeze. In addition, in-house testing has shown that its effects cannot be rubbed or washed away as it forms an integral part of the conduit.

Tests completed by BioCote have demonstrated that the level of bacteria present on conduits containing inert ionic silver is reduced by up to 80% in the first 15 minutes and 99% in only two hours. 

This new hygiene approach could give food manufacturers greater peace of mind when it comes to infection protection and hygiene. By designing anti-microbial performance into the fabric of process equipment, food manufacturers can manage risk, reduce maintenance on wiring installations and potentially reduce the number or intensity of washdown operations. 
Meirion Buck is senior design and technical manager at ABB Adaptaflex.

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