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Online feature: Legislation, the building blocks of food

08 April 2013

An understanding of operating in a live production environment, as well as legislation and industry standards, is vital for construction projects to succeed in the food industry. Mark Reeve, managing director of specialist food industry construction company, Chalcroft, talks to Chris Shaw.

Legislation. There is certainly plenty of it in the food industry. But what about when it comes to upgrading, extending or even building a facility from scratch? What needs to be taken into consideration when undertaking construction work?

The usual building regulations apply as they would for any other building project. Many of the challenges specific to the food industry are about making sure the finished facility is capable of meeting requirements for processing. There are of course legal requirements, but others need to be taken into consideration: British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standards, customers’ own standards and even changing the future use of the facility are all important factors.

It is also worth bearing insurance in mind too: often insurers have their own guidance that they want to see followed. For example, many insurers will ask for the Fire Protection Association’s design principles for food processing factories to be followed and, while it’s not legislation, these do reduce risk and insurance costs. It is far easier to get these things right during construction than to try and change things later on.

Experience
The key to getting things right is experience. Understanding how a small change could affect future possible uses – and value – of a facility can make a huge difference. For example, making sure that drainage for different parts of a site can be segregated might not be an immediate need for your new project, but as you cannot run low care drainage through a high care area, it can make the facility more flexible in the future if needs change. That’s important because for Chalcroft 90% of our projects are not new build – be it greenfield or brownfield. We tend to work within an existing facility around a live production environment.

Almost all of the projects we work on fall under the Construction Design and Management (CDM) regulations which were last revised in 2007. These aim to reduce any risk of harm for anyone involved in using, maintaining or building a structure. Any breach of the legislation could result in prosecution or, more likely, work at site being halted by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). CDM comes into play for any commercial project which involves more than 30 days of construction work, but covers more than just construction: it includes all planning, design and management or other work until the very end a project, when all processing kit is commissioned.

If a project falls under CDM notification, a CDM co-ordinator needs to be appointed along with other duties, like notifying the HSE, creating a health and safety file for the project and producing a construction phase plan.

The reason that this is so important for the food industry is that, for the purposes of legislation, the definition of construction is wider than some realise. For example, some processing equipment can be deemed structures in its own right, meaning that their construction, commissioning and demolition does fall under CDM regulations.

BRC standards
For food manufacturers supplying the retail sector, of equal importance to regulations are the demands of customers and of guidance such as the BRC’s standards, which cover 17,000 suppliers. The BRC Global Standards attempt to standardise quality, safety and operational criteria, as well as food manufacturers’ legal obligations with a focus on food safety, packaging and storage and distribution. 

Issue six of the BRC Global Standard Food came into effect in 2012 and increased focus on improving manufacturing practices. In addition, the requirements for issues like foreign body control, allergens, hygiene and housekeeping have been expanded. It is important that these newer guidelines are taken into account before embarking on any new construction projects, as they impact on the day-to-day running of a site once complete. For example, ensuring that people can easily move around the site without risking product contamination or safety can make a big difference to a plant’s efficiency and is something that is hard to change after a project has been completed. 

There is a balance to be struck when it comes to building for the food industry. Much of the skill required to strike that balance comes from experience in making sure products can be produced as safely and efficiently as possible, while taking into consideration the needs of the people working at the site and keeping control of investment. There is nothing that enhances the standard building legislation for working on live sites but the vast majority of food manufacturers are very aware of the potential issues. They and know it is important to work with a partner who understands, and is used to working in, such an environment.


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