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Equipment Designed With Sanitation in Mind Can Ease Processors' FSMA Requirements

Posted by Paul Dybro on 2/1/17 10:30 AM

Sentry HRX automated sampler for food & beverage market

This article contains excerpts from an article that originally appeared on FoodProcessing.com. It has been republished below for our readers like yourself!

Thorough cleaning and sanitizing of food-handling machines and equipment is a requirement, but the task becomes easier and faster when upfront consideration is given to sanitary design.

With implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) under way, sanitary design migrated from a nice-to-have to a must-have for the processing and handling equipment inside food & beverage manufacturing facilities.

Focusing on Cleanability

Cleanability has moved from afterthought to a central consideration in total cost of ownership of equipment, particularly when there is direct contact with food. FSMA extends that consideration to include incoming materials, both food and nonfood, environmental conditions and the physical structure. Cross contact with allergens receives special attention in Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food, the FDA guidance document issued in August.

Building and equipping a plant from the ground up is one way of addressing sanitary design, but the vast majority of companies must work with the facility they already operate. Fortunately, even legacy sites can clear the higher sanitary bar, as evinced by General Mills’ $25 million commitment  to its 110-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., cereal plant.

Guidelines for equipment design have existed since the 1920s, when the 3A certification program for dairy processors was created. A broader hygienic view began coming into focus 12 years ago, when a working group of meat processors and architectural engineers established 11 facility design principles. Working on behalf of the AMI Foundation, they advocated distinct and separate hygienic zones, control of airflow and humidity, cleanable walls and ceilings and a tight building envelope that keeps pests out.

Design principles for both the facility and the equipment take aim at standing water and advocate surfaces that are “cleanable to a microbiological level.” That expectation has shaped the design of much of the processing and handling equipment placed in service in the past decade. Sloped surfaces, radial corners and hermetically sealed hollow tubing are routinely incorporated into the machines, conveyors and other food-contact equipment built by many OEMs.

Guidance for low-moisture foods from Grocery Manufacturers Assn and PMMI’s OpX Leadership Network allow for both approaches while emphasizing the need to thoroughly dry the equipment and evacuate standing water.

Standardized Approaches and Materials

The GMA and OpX initiatives are helping establish standardized approaches to sanitary design, allows Jim Ruff, general manager-integrated solutions group at Key Technology, Walla Walla, Wash. However, Key’s vibratory conveyors and sortation machines are as likely to be found in a plant producing cheese or poultry as one making low-moisture foods.

“They’re getting there, but there’s a ways to go,” Ruff says of the OpX guidance. “We have that information already from our customer base,” and the sanitary level of a machine is more a function of what regulations a food company must comply with and how much it is prepared to spend.

Materials of construction are a sanitary factor, and 304 and 316 stainless steel have evolved into industry standards. Cleanability and durability have made stainless the material of choice for most food-contact surfaces, and some suppliers are taking stainless to a higher level with electroplating. Among them is Donaldson Co. Inc., a Bloomington, Minn., maker of membrane filtration systems.

Donaldson applied 3A criteria to the internal welds and crevices on the inside of its filter housings to lower the probability of bacteria remaining after backflushing. Engineers also applied an electroplated surface finish that reduces pores to less than 32 micro-inches (1 micro-inch equals one-millionth of an inch), according to Colter Marcks, lead development engineer. Even less porosity is possible, “but smoother isn’t always better,” he cautions. “When a surface gets too smooth, microscopic electro-adhesion forces can come into play,” Marcks explains.

Hands-free Handling

Regardless of how clean a piece of equipment is at the beginning of a shift, a degree of contamination during production is almost inevitable. Swab tests can provide limited assurance that pathogens are not present, but product sampling generates a more representative picture.

Sixty discreet samples per hour result in a 95.6 percent detection level, according to IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group. Pulling that many samples would be a full-time job, though, and the opportunity for sample contamination would likely result in some false positives. Automated sampling resolves the problem, says AJ Naber, food and beverage industry manager at Sentry Equipment Corp, Oconomowoc, Wis.

Sentry Equipment recently introduced the Sentry HRP and Sentry HRX model samplers, hygienic versions of previous powder and solid samplers. While improved design is the key to a higher level of sanitation, UHMW or PTFE seals and 316 stainless in all food-contact areas help minimize the potential for bacterial build-up, and a bottle brush may be sufficient for cleaning if there isn’t any build up of oily meal or other nutrients.

“Food processors are worried about FSMA,” Naber observes. “They were looking for an automated sampling solution that would remove the human element. Our probes could do the sampling, but not into risk zones, downstream from the kill step.”

Sentry Equipment considered standards from 3A and EHEDG, 3A’s European counterpart, but the OpX Leadership Network’s “One Voice for Hygienic Equipment Design for Low-Moisture Foods” document provided the greatest guidance. “It allowed us to look at a harmonized standard,” he says, “and it was developed with the voice of CPGs, which is the voice of our target customers.”

Lowering lifecycle costs is a residual benefit of sanitary design, which typically results in easier maintenance and quicker cleaning and return to production.

FSMA growing pains have produced a sometimes-agonizing reappraisal of many aspects of food and beverage production. Sanitary design is part of that critical evaluation, but the long-term affect can include reduced operating costs, as well as enhanced food safety.

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