Although flooring comprises only a portion of overall plant upgrades, the fact that food plants give their floors a frequent shine reflects industry priorities. Food regulatory agencies – USDA and FDA – demand food plants adhere to design and maintenance standards that will minimize bacterial growth and opportunity for contamination. Couple that with OSHA pressure to ensure floors are not so slippery as to cause worker injuries and you find ample reasons for flooring upgrades.
Food plant floors, which primarily are made of concrete, are exposed to abuse from water, temperature change, hot oils, blood, sugars, acids, fats and countless other ingredients. Many of these elements cause or accelerate corrosion – an invitation to food safety hazards.
|A good floor is important, but the substrates beneath the floor also play a key role in how long it lasts. The top layer above is urethane concrete. Photo: Rust-Oleum.
Growing attention to the potential hazards of microbes underfoot has forced plant managers everywhere to seek flooring options that will help protect against corrosion and contaminant build-up.
Processors are starting to take a broader look at life cycle costs in flooring decisions, making a higher ticket investment in dairy brick floors a more viable option. “An epoxy coating may be a three- to five-year product. Dairy brick may have a seven- to 30-year life expectancy,” says Big-D’s McNabb. “Owners are looking at the cost of maintaining the plant and life-cycle cost.”
Once a common choice in plants, tile flooring has fallen from favor. Grout in a joint – any joint itself, in fact – is a potential harbor for contaminants. Instead, processors increasingly are installing monolithic (seamless) floors.
“One trend we noticed in Europe was the use of urethane concrete because of the older manufacturing facilities for food and beverage,” notes Scott Cross, director of marketing for Rust-Oleum Industrial Brands (www.rustoleum.com/industrial), Vernon Hills, Ill. The company manufactures Thermakrete, a urethane concrete, and other flooring materials and coatings.
“Food plant floors undergo a lot of cold and hot cleaning. Urethane concrete is the best product for thermal shock. Its popularity has grown as epoxies have gone up in price. [Urethane concrete floors] also are easier to apply,” says Cross.
Thermakrete has an anti-slip texture that meets OSHA requirements for slip resistance, he adds. It also has a low odor, fast cure time and is easy to apply. The product is available in self-leveling (HP) and trowel-applied (HF) varieties.
“It is safe during installation and after the floor is installed, and there is no food contamination and no worker complaints about its odor,” adds Cheri Droessler, Rust-Oleum product manager.
Doni Riddle, vice president of industrial marketing for Sherwin-Williams Co. (www.sherwin-williams.com), Cleveland, notes numerous floor coating systems have been developed to meet the varying hygienic demands of different plant areas with differing corrosive conditions, ranging from dry storage areas and cold storage rooms to mixing, canning and slaughtering areas.
“High-solid epoxies provide outstanding protection against acids and alkalis,” he notes. He generally recommends fast-drying, odorless epoxy mastics, epoxy primer sealers and surfacers. “These coatings offer a number of key benefits including outstanding adhesion, an excellent ability to withstand abrasive cleaning procedures, cleaning chemicals and heavy traffic, and fast curing properties for minimized downtime. They are also low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs).”
He recommends 100 percent solids epoxies for coating meat processing floors because of their resistance to thermal and mechanical shock and ability to withstand frequent cleaning.
A novalac floor, with its higher aromatic structure, stands up to aggressive chemical contaminants like sulfuric acid and harsh cleaning solutions.
Polyurea coatings are excellent, too, he says, since they provide a seamless surface that can withstand temperature extremes.
For their resistance to thermal cycling, he prefers urethane cement slurries and mortar systems over epoxy and vinyl ester coatings, touting their superior resistance to thermal cycling, ease of cleaning and low odor levels.
“I like what I see in cementicious urethane,” says Shambaugh’s Opperman. He identifies the Ucrete product from Degussa Building Systems as an example. “It is a concrete material and different chemically from coatings. It is effective where you use steam or have big temperature changes within the plant, say a cold processing environment where hot water is introduced. Ucrete handles thermal shock very well.”
Another category of floor coating is methyl methacrylate (MMA). “It goes on like an epoxy, but it chemically bonds to the concrete,” explains Gunst of Power Engineers. “It has a one-hour cure time per coat. It can be installed overnight, and it is cured and ready in the morning for a forklift to drive over it.”
NOTE TO R&D
As food processors become increasingly cognizant of food safety and plant hygiene, they elevate the standards of what we as an industry regard as safe, clean and “really clean.”