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Is your cleaning equipment clean?

03 April 2017

The ability to clean your cleaning equipment is critical to ensuring food safety and quality. Choosing hygienically designed cleaning equipment is, therefore, an important consideration, says Debra Smith

Thanks to organisations like the European Hygienic Engineering Design Group (EHEDG), many food manufacturers already appreciate the benefits of using hygienically-designed production equipment. When it comes to the equipment used to clean the food production environment and production equipment, however very few cleaning tools are developed with good hygienic design in mind.

Due to the way in which cleaning equipment is often used - over large surface areas - it can collect and spread contamination. Unpublished data from Campden BRI, used to establish guidance on ‘Effective microbiological sampling of food processing areas,’ showed that 47% of the cleaning equipment sampled was positive for Listeria monocytogenes which demonstrates that cleaning equipment can be a major collection point for pathogens.

Investigations conducted by Vikan further indicate that much of the cleaning equipment used in the food industry is of poor hygienic design, increasing the risk of contamination. 

Traditionally, food industry cleaning equipment used in wet environments has been decontaminated at the end of the production day, or more frequently if required, through immersion in warm soapy water or washed down with a hose, and/or manual cleaning, followed by application of a chemical disinfectant, or by loading it into an on-site cleaning system such as a tray washer before finally being hung up or placed in an oven to dry. During the day, cleaning equipment can also be placed in a ‘sanitiser bath’. The sanitisers used in these baths tend to be a combine detergent disinfectant chemical that help both remove soiling and disinfect the equipment.

However, organic soiling on the cleaning equipment can quickly reduce the efficacy of the disinfectant component of the sanitiser, and can act as a protective barrier to the microorganisms present. If the sanitiser solution is not changed at an appropriate frequency, it can became a ‘soup’ of food debris and microbes that can actually increase the risk of cross-contamination from the cleaning equipment.

Some food manufacturers also use an autoclave which subjects the equipment to a thermal disinfection step following cleaning. More recently, industrial dishwashers are being used to effect both cleaning and a thermal disinfection step into the decontamination process.

Some of these cleaning practices are associated with the poor hygienic design of the equipment, particularly with regard to the presence of crevices, which can harbour food debris, water, and microbes. Indeed, this may be the driver for the introduction new BRCv7 audit requirement, but, how does the food industry ensure compliance with this new requirement?

EHEDG Guideline Document 8 ‘Hygienic Equipment Design Criteria’, and Document 32 ‘Materials of construction for equipment in contact with food’ provide some hygienic equipment design criteria that could be applied to the manufacture of food industry cleaning equipment. 

The European Brushware Federation (FEIBP) provides further criteria specific to brush ware and other manual cleaning equipment. In 1995 it established a Professional Hygiene Brush Working Group to formulate a FEIBP Charter defining criteria’s for Professional Hygiene Brushware (PHB).

Hygienic design of brushware
The hygienic design of brushware poses a particular challenge. The most commonly used construction method for brushes and brooms involves the drilling of holes into a solid plastic block and then stapling tightly packed filaments into the holes.

This creates possible dirt traps both within the holes and between the filaments. Other brushware manufacturing techniques do exist, i.e. fused filament and resin set - but investigation conducted by Vikan has shown that all have hygienic design issues.

Alternative methods of fixing the filaments, using staples and resin, have been employed but even these can harbour contamination following cleaning in an industrial dishwasher.

To overcome the issues associated with contamination, Vikan has developed a new food industry brushware range. The Ultra Safe Technology (UST) brushes have been developed to minimise the risk of contamination from trapped food, microbes, and moisture. Their fully moulded construction eliminates the need for drilled holes, staples and resin, thus minimising the presence of crevices.

They have a smooth surface finish with no acute internal angles, to aid cleanability, and utilise a new way of securing the bristles, which minimises the risk of foreign body contamination. They also feature bristle patterns designed to improve the functionality and cleanability of each brush type.

Debra Smith is global hygiene specialist at Vikan.

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