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EXCLUSIVE FSA responds to FP's 'bagging' scandal story

10 May 2012

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has reacted to the Food Processing report about several food factories, including one household name brand, that were said to be risking all by indulging in a technique known as 'bagging' in order to clean the motors in their plants.

''Current legislation requires food premises and their equipment to be designed so that they permit adequate cleaning and/or disinfection and surfaces (including surfaces of equipment) in areas where foods are handled, and in particular those in contact with food, are to be maintained in a sound condition and be easy to clean and, where necessary, to disinfect,'' the FSA said via a spokesperson.

''While, understandably, food business operators (FBOs) do not want water or other chemicals to enter and damage electrical motors, this does not eliminate the need for the equipment to be cleaned and, where necessary, disinfected.

''FBOs therefore need to ensure that their cleaning schedules include the procedures they put in place to ensure that equipment protected with polythene during general cleaning are also cleaned. The existence of these schedules and the verification of their correct implementation should be part of the audit process.

''We will alert operational colleagues about this issue so that they check whether establishments do ensure that equipment is cleaned, and when required disinfected, including procedures for cleaning motors.''

The practice came to light when Food Express was approached by Brian Bannister of Lafert Electric Motors who said he was horrified when he entered a major food manufacturing plant – which is well known in the UK – to discover the staff was indulging in ‘bagging’. He has since come upon it in several other places, and thinks the practice is widespread. ‘’People don’t broadcast it and will not make it general knowledge for obvious reasons,’’ Brian said in an exclusive interview with FP.

What exactly is 'bagging'? It is the process of covering the complete electric motor drive system in the factory with disposable polythene or waterproof bags. Following this process the washdown operators will then completely clean the plant, with the exception of the unit covered by the aforementioned bag.

The top of the bag will also be washed, but this doesn’t remove bugs, grime etc that’s on the motor drive system itself. Once this washdown operation is complete the disposable bags are then removed again before the plant is restarted. Food and beverage manufacturers are using this process.

‘’Motors are one of the worst things in the food plant for cultivating germs and bugs because they have lots of cooling fins, which are prone to holding waste product,’’ says Brian. ‘’Second, motors run at temperatures between 50 and 100 degrees on the outer casing which of course accelerates the decaying of the aforementioned waste product.’’

Poultry processing plants are some of the worst offenders; the very nature of the process means that there are often bits of chicken lying around. ``Some engineering managers don’t see this as a problem,’’ says Brian. ``They reason that if they don’t place a bag over the electric motor, it will fail, and they’ll be responsible for downtime or even a plant shutdown.’’

Brian notes that there are motors with protective coatings but all coatings are nonetheless vulnerable to degradation and physical damage that results in flaking and peeling. This, in turn, leads to corrosion and risks food contamination, in addition to motor malfunction and process inconsistencies.

``Such problems can be accelerated where manufacturing processes involve corrosive elements,’’ says Brian. ``Typical examples are the manufacture of cheese that employs high levels of salt and preserving/pickling operations involving vinegar. Until recently, coated motors have helped to address these problems but, as mentioned above, that also has its pitfalls.’’

According to Brian, short-term protection of the motor isn’t acceptable when even the most basic hygiene standards of hygiene are being overlooked. ``It’s extraordinary that some otherwise reputable organisations allow or even encourage ‘bagging’ to the extent that they employ full-time staff who cover the motors prior to cleaning.’’

What leads factory managers to believe they can get away with these actions? One reason may be the absence of an appropriate standard regarding motors in the food and beverage industry, such as HACCP in Australia and Asia, and the availability of an reasonably priced, standard IEC metric motor to meet these standards.

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