The Age of COVID has driven home the importance of properly cleaning and sanitizing equipment used in the production of foods sold in grocery perimeter departments. At the same time, however, labor shortages have made it harder to find qualified workers to perform those tasks.

Equipment makers have risen to the challenge, working closely with their retail customers on best practices and by making machines that are as easy to clean and sanitize as possible.

Delta, BC-based Unifiller provides its retail customers with several resources to ensure that their equipment is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, said Sonia Bal, the company’s director of global marketing.

“Customers want their equipment to always run optimally, so most understand the importance of regular and standardized upkeep,” Bal said. “They’re provided with a detailed instructional manual that provides cleaning instructions as well as a cleaning video which shows how to disassemble the machine for cleaning.”

For some customers, Unifiller even offers detailed onsite training, which includes safety and cleaning training, in addition to installation.

Coming up with the right plan for cleaning and sanitizing equipment depends on several variables, Bal said, including:

  • The type of equipment you’re using (a depositor will have different cleaning needs from a mixer);
  • The products being run through the machine (a highly sticky product may require more effort than a simple batter); and
  • How often the machine is running (is it running at maximum capacity?)

Unifiller provides detailed written and video instruction on how to clean and maintain all of its equipment. And with any equipment, the company always recommends using the manufacturer's instructions about repair, cleaning, and upkeep, including the cleaning solution/method to use and how often. 

Troy, Ohio-based Hobart provides training support through hands-on activities via its retail distributors, service team and selling associates to ensure that grocery customers know how to properly use, clean and sanitize our equipment, said Grace Strotman, Hobart marketing specialist.

Hobart also has an extensive library of videos available on its YouTube channel showing how to properly clean and sanitize equipment. The company promotes the videos to its retail grocery customers through email and social media. Finally, Hobart’s company blog shares best practices on how to properly clean and sanitize equipment.

Proper equipment cleaning and sanitization has always been important, and COVID has only intensified the attention paid to proper cleaning practices, Strotman said.

“With consumers placing more focus and importance on cleanliness, it’s imperative that retail grocers meet those expectations by being able to easily clean and sanitize their food equipment.”

Labor-saving help

Unfortunately, in the current labor crunch, that’s often easier said than done. Many grocers, Strotman said, have fewer operators in their bakeries, meat rooms and delis.

And with fewer operators, it can become difficult to take the time to properly clean and sanitize equipment.

“Unfortunately, cleaning equipment is not an option,” Strotman said. “With fewer operators, some retailers have reduced the number of slicers being used in the deli to reduce the number requiring breakdown and cleaning. We’ve also seen bakeries purchase additional bowls and agitators so food prep can continue in some vessels while others are being cleaned.”

Fortunately, Bal said, the current labor crunch in retail grocery and most other segments of the food (and general) economy hasn’t led retailers and commissaries to cut corners when it comes to cleaning and sanitizing the equipment they use in food production.

“We have not seen significant changes from our customers in how often or how well they clean their equipment. Most food producers understand that food safety is compromised if equipment isn't regularly cleaned.”

With increasing turnover, however, training individuals on equipment can be cumbersome, she added, so it’s important to have proper manuals and training materials and to ensure that the equipment being used is easy to use and clean. 

If labor is a problem, retailers and commissaries may be running their machines more often, or utilizing equipment more in their facility, which means they may be running their machines to maximum capacity. That makes it more important than ever to be vigilant about upkeep.

For such situations, Unifiller introduced innovative technology at the IBIE (International Baking Industry Exposition) trade show in September. The technology connects to a smart phone and provides real time data for machines metrics and reminders about equipment upkeep.

The design difference

One way to mitigate the impact of labor shortages is to use equipment that’s easy to clean and sanitize. Hobart equipment is designed for just that, Strotman said.

Hobart HS Series Slicers, for instance, are designed with a sanitary one-piece base with fewer crevices where bacteria can grow, an exclusive tilting and removable carriage that makes it easier to clean the slicer, a removable meat grip assembly and a patented removable ring guard cover that prevents debris buildup around the slicer knife.

HS slicers also feature a patented removable knife that removes with one hand and cleans in a sink or dishwasher, with zero knife exposure to the operator. Their top-mounted Borazon sharpening system can be removed and cleaned in a dishwasher, and their lift assist kickstand holds the slicer up and makes it easy to clean underneath it.

Hobart Legacy+ mixers, meanwhile, feature a stainless-steel removable bowl guard that can be removed without tools and cleaned in a dishwasher. Legacy+ mixers also have Soft Start agitation technology that gradually delivers power to the machine agitator, minimizing the risk of ingredient splash-out and keeping the area around the mixer cleaner.

Hobart’s meat room products also feature cleaning and sanitation benefits, including open-frame stainless steel construction on meat saws for fast cleaning and hosing down, easy-to-clean stainless steel finish on mixer-grinders and meat choppers, and a lift-out cutting unit that makes it easy to clean the open frame on its meat tenderizer.

Unifiller’s equipment is also designed to be easy to clean and sanitize. One of the company’s design principles, for instance, is to have its machines made with the fewest parts possible. That helps ensure not only that customers have the fewest part to maintain and replace, but also that they have an easier user experience that lends itself to an entry level user.

“Most of our machines are full washdown, and we provide expertise in best practices that can lead to easier product changeover and cleanup,” Bal said. “From a maintenance point of view, our equipment is robust and reliable, requiring simple cleaning and maintenance.”

Unifiller also has strict design standards that prioritize rapid cleaning. Sloped surfaces prevent pooling of water and accumulation of product, for instance. In addition, equipment is designed with standoffs that minimize “sandwich” points between individual components for proper and thorough cleaning.

Disassembly of components, where required, is tool-free, and the simple Unifiller designs ensure that only the least number of components are removed for cleaning, providing for quick product changeover during production and efficient cleaning and sanitation at the end of production runs.

Don’t wait to reorder

Supply chain shortages are having more of an impact on equipment usage and upkeep, Bal said.

“Customers must ensure they order parts sooner rather than waiting until their equipment breaks down, because by then it may be too late to receive a part quickly.”