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Not all stainless steel is the same

05 December 2016

Sue Springett shares some insight into the features to look for when selecting furniture and equipment for use in food factories. 

Just as hygienic food manufacturing standards need to apply throughout a food factory, the same principles apply to hygienic furniture and equipment – from sourcing the material right through to delivery. Food processing and manufacturing can be tough environments for furniture and equipment, so it is worth selecting a product that uses thicker material to minimise the risk of damage, dents and subsequent dirt traps. Quite simply, the thicker the stainless steel used, the stronger the product.

In food applications stainless steel is the material of choice when it comes to hygiene. There are many types of stainless steel, labelled by grade numbers, and their resistance to corrosion varies from one to the next, with some being less corrosion resistant than others. 304 grade stainless steel is a versatile stainless steel which can be formed and welded with successful results. The cleanability of 304 grade stainless steel is often compared to that of glass or china – it has no pores or cracks that can harbour dirt, grime or bacteria. A key benefit is the role it plays in reducing cross contamination when used in food handling and, when cleaning between uses, taste and odour are not transferred from one batch of food to the next. 

304 grade steel has the hygienic qualities and resilience to withstand harsh cleaning processes that hygiene auditors appreciate. For example, if dairy food is processed at over 60°C, it reacts in a way that can cause ‘mineral fouling’. This requires rigorous sterilisation that combines mechanical (high bar pressure), thermal (high temperature) and chemical (detergent) cleaning. For such rigorous cleaning routines, 304 grade furniture and equipment is robust enough to withstand that level of cleaning without corroding. Structural integrity is maintained, even at 870°C and with chloride contents of up to 200 mg/l. 

In applications where very harsh chemicals or salts are used, 316 grade stainless steel should be considered, as this contains a higher percentage of nickel, resulting in even greater corrosion resistance.

Design is also an important consideration when choosing equipment and furniture. Poor design can make cleaning more difficult and time-consuming. When an item is new, it is difficult to consider what it might look like after six months use in a food environment so always check for any ledges or folds where dirt and mould might collect.

Features can vary by product, from sealed ingresses, to sloping surfaces or smooth welds. Another aspect to consider is the ergonomics of the product to ensure user comfort and easy of of use. Simple design nuances can have significant implications on ease of operation, as well as occupational health so do always take a closer look at what you are purchasing. 

Teknomek can offer a variety of stainless steel and hygienic material products, including tables, workbenches, sinks, shelving, cupboards, and waste bag holders, for example, which are designed for use in high and low-risk food production areas as well as changing rooms wash rooms, packing rooms storage areas and engineering. 

Sue Springett is commercial manager at Teknomek.

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