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Hygienic drainage for food safety

14 November 2012

Establishing effective hygiene in food processing operations means combining good building design with the effective specification and installation of drains from the outset, says Peter Jennings, Technical Director for ACOBuilding Drainage.

The single most important factor in every food and beverage processing operation is hygiene but all too often, however, the focus is on the latest process plant and equipment, and on technical developments that can improve safety, security and efficiency.

Although essential, this focus can cause some of the more basic hygiene requirements to be overlooked, in particular the importance of good building design combined with the effective construction and maintenance of drains. Drainage may not be the most exciting topic but their design and management are crucial if hygiene standards are to be maintained.

Drains are a breeding ground for pathogenic and non-pathogenic micro-organisms. These typically occur either as free form, where microbes float in the drain water, or embedded as biofilm. In each case they create the potential for transferring pathogens, including Listeria monocytogenes from the drain to food products.

However, by careful design of the drainage system, the correct choice of materials and the right installation techniques, these micro-organisms can be controlled. And by establishing both an efficient maintenance routine and a good sanitisation regime, plant and maintenance engineers can minimise and control the risk of contamination.

Making the right decisions regarding drainage during the building design stage can make a major contribution to hygiene. Providing floor drains of adequate number and capacity in appropriate locations can significantly minimise health risks, while considering the future requirement for cleaning and maintenance will enable, for example, hose stations to be provided in appropriate locations.

Having planned the number, type and location of the drains, one then needs to consider the specific drainage products from a hygiene point of view and ensure that you select components that are easily cleanable.

Gullies with minimal bacteria traps are now available, specifically designed to satisfy high-end hygienic performance applications. These designs have been made possible by following European design standards for hygiene and utilising advanced manufacturing techniques.

Crucially, designs have also been informed by knowledge of how microbial communities develop within aqueous environments. The ACO Gully range, for example, is constructed from highly corrosion-resistant austenitic stainless steel, ideal for hygiene-critical applications such as food manufacture as its non-porous state enables easy cleaning and disinfecting.

Drainage systems are naturally difficult to access but effective cleaning is essential and a closer examination of how pathogens develop in drains can enable a more effective approach. Pathogenic and non-pathogenic micro-organisms can be broken down into two types: those that are ‘free form’, which can be destroyed with traditional cleaning products, and those that are embedded in a bio film, which are far harder to kill.

These embedded micro-organisms attach themselves to the drainage system surfaces with a protective film that resists chemical attack; it is these bio films that are sometimes visible on the drain surfacesas a dark or light slime.

It is imperative that micro-organisms are prevented from entering hygiene-critical areas. Clogged drains can force the air from the drains to flow into these areas or, worse still, allow contaminated waste water to back up into the food preparation area. These conditions can become a major source of microbial contamination such as Listeria, Salmonella, and Escherichia coli and so it is vitally importantthat any developing blockage is addressed immediately.

Another way of minimising hygiene risk is to regularly clean accessible areas of the drain. This task should be performed with a side-to-side motion; an up-and-down motion can result in splashbackand cause contaminated water to spill onto the floors of food preparation areas, thus causing the kind of hygiene risk that the cleaning routine was intended to prevent. Underground drainpipes, however, cannot be reached with brushes and must be tackled with strong chemical products that penetrate and break down the bio films.

Microorganisms pose a constant threat to food processing facilities but by considering the potential of drainage to minimise hygiene risk at the outset of a building design and continuing to do so throughout the installation and maintenance, it is possible to meet and exceed the ever increasing demand for hygiene safety.

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