Designing Food Safety Into Your Plant

Don't make food safety an afterthought. Carefully planning the design and materials used in your plant can help insure the safety of your food production.

By Mike Pehanich, Plant Operations Editor

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9. Building components and construction facilitate sanitary conditions. Design building components to prevent harborage points, ensuring sealed joints and absence of voids. Facilitate sanitation by using durable materials and isolating utilities with interstitial spaces and standoffs.

Give new meaning to the term "germ warfare" — defend against these invaders by insuring that surfaces are cleanable to a microbiological level and incorporate sanitation systems into your design.
Construction of floors, ceilings and walls should leave no gaps or cavities for matter. Select materials that are resistant to wear and cracking. Seal seams and cracks, and apply epoxy or other coatings that improve wear and eliminate pockets for build-up.

“Floors are the most abused surfaces in a food plant,” notes Graham. “They should be resistant to everything they are likely to encounter —  food scraps, chemical damage, sanitizers, equipment movement, microbial attack, etc.”

The food plant floor should be tough enough to avoid cracking from a variety of sources and be highly cleanable. Don’t scrimp on this area of your capital project. “When it comes to floor surface, you get what you pay for,” says Graham. “I like brick, a good, solid acid brick paver. There are some monolithics that work well, too, depending on the severity of the abuse the floor is going to take. The resinous-type monolithics are best. They are hard and bond with the concrete. They must have the same coefficient of expansion and contraction as the concrete, however.”

Graham prefers walk-on ceilings, with smooth and cleanable surfaces “that have enough interstitial space that someone can move around up there without disturbing production.”

Avoid drop ceilings and steel beams where possible. “Plants built in the 1930s and ’40s often had I-beam or steel-beam ceilings,” explains Henry. “These are places where rust and dust can settle and build. These need to be cleaned, sand-blasted and painted or epoxy coated.”

10. Utility systems designed to prevent contamination. Design and install utility systems to prevent the introduction of food safety hazards providing surfaces that are cleanable to a microbiological level, using appropriate construction materials, providing access for cleaning, inspection and maintenance, preventing water collection points and preventing niches and harborage points.

“This principle addresses the elimination of niches and harborages through proper specification of materials, finishes and sanitary design details of the utility system,” notes Kramer. Clean, uncomplicated lighting, piping and electrical configurations employing sanitary materials can vastly simplify cleaning and eliminate unnecessary potential for contamination.

11. Sanitation integrated into facility design. Provide proper sanitation systems to eliminate the chemical, physical and microbiological hazards existing in a food plant environment.

Integrate all necessary sanitation systems including wash areas, steam systems, CIP systems, etc., into your plant design.

“If you are likely to have a problem with pests, ask yourself how well your plant is designed for fumigation and have a plan to incorporate it,” says Henry. "You have to be prepared. You can’t just plan to fumigate on the weekend if a USDA inspector orders you to fumigate immediately or shut down the plant."

Consider your traffic patterns, too, especially while different parts of the plant are being cleaned.

Consider contamination possibilities at point of packaging. Packaging materials should not be stacked in a manner that puts non-food surfaces in direct touch with food contact surfaces.

“You either need a lot of room on the floor of the conveying system so that you don’t have to stack your packages or have a system that prevents contamination of food contact surfaces. Sometimes you have to line the package with a food-safe plastic,” says Henry. “If anything from the superstructure — the ceiling or protruding structures — is in danger of dropping contaminants onto the food line, you should install a covered conveying system.”

Henry echoes the refrain of all food safety gurus in summing the need for a comprehensive, coordinated effort.

“Last but not least, remember that this is a team effort,” he says. “The more brains and involvement you have in the appropriate areas, the more fingerprints you have on the line and the more responsibility all the members of the team take. That’s the way to get the most acceptable product and the best and safest result.”

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