One of the more tedious and time-consuming tasks at the Emmpak meat packing plant in Nebraska City, Neb. , or in any meat packing plant , is the washing of the meat racks.
Part of Cargill, Inc., the plant produces a variety of ready-to-eat beef, pork and chicken products for food service and supermarket deli take-away. Though many of the products are cooked in bags, some rest directly on the racks, leaving smoke and protein residue that is difficult to remove.
In the past, the company separated rack cleaning from the rest of the operation, with two or three employees wielding high-pressure sprayers that dispensed water at 150 degrees F in a small space outside of the processing area.
"We could manually scrub down the racks so they were clean," recalls Warren Sage, Emmpak systems engineer, "but from a process standpoint it slowed things down. Sometimes our processing area had to wait for clean racks, and we probably weren't getting as many batches as possible through our smokehouses."
To return racks to the processing area in minimal time -- and in a consistently clean state -- the company elected to install a Sani-Matic Automated Rack Washing System.
Sage, who joined Emmpak several years ago, was familiar with both Sani-Matic and its sister company, Alkar, from his previous job at Oakland Foods, which produces foodservice products in Oakland, Iowa.
Nebraska temperatures range from freezing winters to simmering summers, adding to the discomfort of working with high-pressure spray and cleaning chemicals, particularly since rack cleaning operations did not occur in a climate-controlled area. Further, "this was not an ergonomically-friendly process by any means;" says Sage, "plus the crew had to be very careful working with chemicals out in the open."
The crew would scrub down racks by hand, with shelves removed for separate cleaning. Though workers could only spend about 15 minutes per rack before returning it to production, they had to make sure no corners were cut in the cleaning process.
The new rack washing system provides more control while merging cleaning operations with overall production. Racks enter the stainless steel wash chamber on the same overhead rails traveling throughout the plant. Once the door is closed, a latching system holds units in place during washing in order to maximize the cleaning power of the spray jets.
The rack washer has the flexibility to handle four larger racks. Once the cleaning cycle concludes, the racks travel into a storage cooler.
The Emmpak operation coordinates rack use during processing so the units are washed in sets matched according their sizes, an important maintenance consideration. Sage says a complete wash and rinse cycle runs from five to twenty minutes per batch of multiple racks, depending upon the level build-up.
Inside the cabinet, oscillating spray bars reach all areas of the racks with high pressure and volume. Four groups of spray manifolds apply an alternating pattern of solution to minimize opposing or interfering sprays. Combined with the oscillating spray bar, this action ensures more effective solution contact.
The solution is recycled throughout the day, result in water savings and chemical cost reduction. By comparison, all cleaning fluids simply went down the drain when the manual process was implemented. The cleaning process is now contained within a compact cabinet. A heat exchanger efficiently maintains solution temperature, and condensate is returned, promoting low operating costs.
The rack washer system also prevents drains from clogging. A special design directs both detergent and rinse solutions to reservoirs through a removable strainer tray. Supporting the strainer are secondary in-line strainers in the pump discharge line to capture smaller particulates and keep nozzles operating reliably. The spray nozzles are provided with quick release removable tips so they can be cleaned without use of tools.
Sage points out that the system doesn't require a drainage pit for water recovery as many other CIP systems do.
"In a processing plant, drainage pits are a nuisance because bits of meat can clog up the drains," he says. "We would frequently have to send crews into the pits to remove the water."
With the Sani-Matic system, one person rather than three can do a job that no one prreviously wanted to do. The process is more ergonomically friendly, eliminates worker exposure to the solution and helps ensure regulatory compliance. The manual method provided no control over temperature, chemical concentration or cycle times, and Emmpak ran the risk of having racks tagged.
Programmable controls, with pre-programmed wash and rinse cycles supervise the process enabling the operator to set and track the cleaning parameters.
"Rather than relying on judgment for rack cleaning, we now can be sure we wash them consistently," Sage says. "Operators simply punch in the operating information. It requires very little training , just follow some basic rules , so we can pull anyone from our workforce onto this job."
By expediting the cleaning process, the Sani-Matic system allows Emmpak to perform the same tasks with fewer racks. Since fewer racks require less space, valuable storage space is maximized in thestaging cooler during busy seasons.