Manufacturers are taking an active role in the highly competitive business of food production and packaging by improving sanitary design through access, management, operation, cleaning and inspection.

“Each link of our food chain, including food harvesting, processing, final packaging and ultimately the safety of the food system is greatly enhanced by the use of modern, hygienically designed equipment,” says Steve Weiland, corporate microbiologist for Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. (PSSI) in Kieler, Wisconsin.

When it comes to keeping things clean, “accessibility is vital for proper cleaning and maintenance,” according to Richard Breeswine, CEO for Koenig Bakery Systems. The Ashland, Virginia-based company, a provider of small-to-industrial-sized bakery equipment, offers the hygienic design series “H” for wash-down machines. The equipment features easy accessibility, short down-times, high staff safety and minimal need for additional tools.

Within the “H” hygienic design series, Koenig, which is a part of the European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group (EHEDG), redesigned some models from scratch. One redesign is a twin twist mixer for mixing bread, bun or pastry doughs for wash-down cleaning. The Artisan SFM dough sheeting line in “Easy Clean Design” provides optimized access and a completely open design. The line also features easy-to-open safety clasps and levers for access to parts without tools. Sealed bearings allow cleaning the line entirely with low-pressure water.

Depending on the environment, water may be friend or foe for maintaining sanitary conditions. Water that pools or seeps, forms condensation or stagnates can encourage microbe growth. Cavanna Packaging Group in Duluth, Georgia, builds sanitary design equipment for the baking industry using dry clean, wet clean and caustic wash-down options. Caustic cleaning often necessitates a warm-water rinse (104F), meaning staff need a way to accommodate and remove water.

“The process flow of any food-production operation must include a real-world evaluation of food flow and resultant spillage,” Weiland says. “Modifications of equipment, the surrounding facility or even location of the equipment must be done when splash zones from raw product spill into high-hygiene areas or even when condensation and dripping water is recognized during food production.”

When it comes to sanitary design, it’s important to identify places bacteria can harbor. “If you can’t reach it, you can’t clean it,” says Bill Kehrli, vice president, sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging Group. “You want to eliminate nooks and crannies, flat surfaces, closed channels and have no frame-against-frame.”

Niche points, joints and connection points where food and moisture can accumulate in the manufacturing process are pathogen and micro-organism collection points. While manufacturers design new models with hygienic principles in mind, legacy equipment remains a hurdle for many. Having the means to replace legacy machines does not fit into the planning of many companies. Even if OEMs continue to market it, eventually a company will need a new model with sanitary design, Kehrli explained.

“Everyone wants new equipment, but manufacturers must also deal with legacy plant designs,” Kehrli says. “The process of sanitary design is always better when you’re able to start with plant engineering for plant layout and/or equipment selection.”

Learning how to improve sanitation within existing parameters is something Commercial Food Sanitation (CFS), an Intralox company, knows well. The New Orleans-based provider offers cross-industry Hygienic Design Training classes integrating infrastructure, hygienic design and design-it-yourself using guidelines from GMA, AMI and EHEDG.

Participants in CFS Hygienic Design Training spend most of their time outside the classroom engaging in hands-on workshops designed not only to make learning more fun but more importantly to ensure that they leave the training with real-world applications and the ability to share their learnings when they return to their facility.

Education’s role

Ongoing education helps dispel the myths of sanitary design. In most cases, it’s not just the use of materials like stainless steel but the way the spouts, nozzles, hoses, clamps, frames and enclosures are designed, says Lance Aasness, executive vice president of Hinds-Bock in Bothell, Washington. Hygienic design should include round smooth edges, full-washdown capability, properly enclosed areas with high exposure to food, modern crimped high-temperature hoses and the fewest number of parts to clean and maintain.

“We want to teach them to see the big picture,” says Anthony Saitta, food safety specialist, Commercial Food Sanitation. “When we look specifically at equipment, it is important to remember that each piece of machinery will be in food production for many years to come. The decisions we make on its design today will leave a long-term legacy for the plant. However, it’s not just about the equipment, the infrastructure and layout of the facility matter as well. We not only need to make sure that the equipment performs well but that the infrastructure is constructed with sound hygienic principles. This will allow for the ability to clean and maintain them effectively and efficiently over their lifetime.”

This includes splash zones. Product lodged into areas can cause serious contamination issues, making it necessary to minimize flat surfaces and concave material connection points. Hinds-Bock, a manufacturer of food and bakery equipment, focuses on creating models with fewer parts to clean and hinged front-cover plates for rapid sanitation swab testing. The company’s Servo Pump Fillers offer CIP with hinged front cover plates, minimal flat surfaces using slope-top covers, wire looms that separate all wiring, and airlines for quick and easy sanitation. Tubular frames allow wash-through to reach all parts of the filler, and a tilt hopper to quickly access the product ports.

A CIP system should be fully regulated and validated to prove that a complete and consistent cleaning process is occurring internally, Weiland says. Staff must be able to validate and monitor in real time the flow rates, contact times, temperatures and chemical concentrations. Regular and routine microbial testing of any system, including CIPs, demonstrates a hygienic condition exists at all times/phases of food production.

Successful sanitary design also means involving the right people all along the process, including the OEM, developer and technician, food safety, sanitation and maintenance at the design stage. This collaboration is a chance to brainstorm early and change things on the front end, thus minimizing modification costs later in the project.

“The only way hygienic principles can apply is through people,” Saitta says. “Engagement and collaboration are the biggest factors and that requires morale and support; where leadership provides this support, building hygienic design into the motto of the company and passing the message to others within the plant hierarchy. Staff deserve support in making the job of sanitation easier.”