Effective plant sanitation is perhaps the most important building block of a facility's food safety net. While sanitation objectives haven't changed, our understanding of risk and hazard points has grown significantly over the years. New technologies have emerged to clean and sanitize faster and more effectively while minimizing cost, complication, downtime and risk to food, plant personnel and the environment.
Here's a look at some of the breakthroughs.
PBS and the ozone era
Ozone is not new, but the technology is becoming more attractive by the day as these systems eliminate the need for hot water and chemicals, lowering combined energy, water and wastewater treatment costs. There are also benefits to worker safety. The technology eliminates the eye irritation and skin burns from chemical and hot water usage.
Also spreading the gospel is the advent of Performance Based Sanitation (PBS) programs and longer periods of time between clean-ups in plants. "Tyson Foods plants are running PBS, saying in effect that they don't need to spend five or six hours at night for sanitation to get the plant to 'pre-operational' process conditions as they had in the past," says Jon Brandt, chief operating officer for Ozone International (www.o3international.com), Bainbridge Island, Wash.
Instead, those plants incorporating his company's ozone-based Whitewater Cleaning System have been able to run three full shifts with half-hour sanitation cycles between 7.5-hour process runs. The five- and six-hour daily sanitation times of the past have been reduced to little more than 1.5 hours.
"The Tyson plant in Van Buren, Ark., has increased production from 130 million to 180 million pounds of product annually as a result," adds Brandt. Some poultry processors claim conversion cost reduction of as much as 30 percent.
Use of ozone is spreading rapidly across the animal protein segments of the industry. Simmons Foods, the Siloam Springs, Ark.-based poultry processor, had similar success with its production improvement. Holten Meats has installed a system in its prime ground beef and pork process plant in East St. Louis, Ill. Validation of the first beef slaughtering operation incorporating the ozone sanitation system is expected this spring.
UniSea, a seafood processor headquartered in Redmond, Wash., installed two ozone systems - a portable unit and a 100-gal.-per-min. spray system to sanitize its conveyor belts - in its primary processing plant in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The conveyor belt system replaces a quaternary ammonium sanitizer.
"It has improved the cleanliness of belts and reduced the microbe count on products run on our conveyors," says Pete Maloney, production director. "It has reduced the frequency of having to halt production to clean conveyors. We had to do a lot more manual cleaning before."
A Pilgrim's Pride plant in Florida is testing the first tote-washing ozone application, according to Brandt. The system is expected to eliminate typical water heating and chemical costs associated with tote cleaning.
Another radical development on the ozone front is the direct application of ozone to seafood to lower microbial plate counts and extend shelf life. So far, an ozone spray treatment has been used commercially on shrimp, whitefish and crab, according to Brandt.
In and out of place
"Clean out of place" systems are machine-part Jacuzzis - easy-to-use baths for machinery components during disassembly and cleaning.
Douglas Machines Corp. (www.dougmac.com), Clearwater, Fla., has introduced new models of automated sanitizing and cleaning systems, including roll-in rack washers, continuous tunnel washers, and its Cyclone belt washer. Its roll-in rack washers clean in 4-8 mins. and sanitize in 30 sec. They have been particularly effective in cleaning weigh-scale parts.
"The snack industry, for example, has detachable buckets and parts on its weigh systems that need to be washed between production runs so that they are free of contaminants and allergens," says Kevin Lemen, executive vice president of Douglas. "Not long ago, containers weren't even washed between use because they demanded too much downtime. It is very labor-intensive to wash them by hand. Automated systems clean in minutes instead of hours. Washing the buckets and parts was an afterthought in the past. Now they can be part of a dedicated HACCP plan. They also enable plants to meet product integrity and liability requirements."
Sani-Matic's COP (clean out of place) Immersion Parts Washers are designed to clean parts such as hoses, piping and loose machine parts consistently and effectively and they free time for other maintenance efforts. Jets circulate heated detergents into solution to provide total parts cleaning.
"The COP comes with baskets to maintain matched metal integrity," notes Dave Wildes, director of sales and marketing for Sani-Matic Inc. (www.sanimatic.com), Madison, Wis. "Often parts get mixed up between lines when machinery is being disassembled and cleaned. The system makes it easy to maintain each set of parts."
Clean-in-place sanitation systems have long been common in the dairy and beverage industries along with other fluid processing operations. Today, however, CIP principles are spreading to other processing applications and other segments of the food industry.
Modern improvements in CIP systems involve upgraded controls and instrumentation for faster and more effective cleaning and more rapid turnaround. "Processors should see these (CIP systems) as opportunities rather than as cost burdens," says Wildes. "These upgrades will enable operations to recover more solution, decrease cleaning time, and lower costs."
And, in a mixture of two technologies, Sani-Matic is beginning to use ozone as a sanitizer in CIP. "This technology isn't here yet, but it is on the horizon. Some of the technological hurdles of the past are being cleared."
Another way to up the level of sanitation while reducing cleaning and down time is to employ a pre-treatment.
Exelerate HS from Ecolab (www.ecolab.com), St. Paul, Minn., can be used in many processing arenas. Adding the pretreatment product (patent pending) to a soil area for 10 minutes prior to sanitation and following with a caustic cleaner liberates oxygen, allowing the soil to release from the surface wall. "This two-part reaction results in reduced downtime and cleaning time," says Kristen Prentice, market manager of food processing for Ecolab.
Exelerate HS, which is used in the 0.5 to 1.0 percent dilution range, is particularly effective in the dairy industry and on vats and kettles with a variety of tough-to-handle soils such as milk products, egg, sauces, mixes, shakes, starter cultures, butter products and macaroni and cheese. It also reduces manual cleaning and the worker challenges and dangers of large vats and kettles that require maintenance to enter the vessels.
"A normal kettle-cleaning operation requires boiling temperatures, but our product can perform the same cleaning function at 180° F for significant energy savings," says Prentice.
Because it works quickly on a soil, the product may reduce the rinse step, thus saving on water usage and effluent treatment as well.
"Sometimes plants need to add acids to the cleaning solution to neutralize the cleaning solution before it leaves the plant. But the Exelerate pretreatment is acidic and usually reduces the amount of neutralization necessary," says Prentice. The company claims its pretreatment program replaces up to 50 percent of the caustic to reduce effluent surcharge and neutralization costs.
Product claims note the effectiveness of acidic pH and chelating agents in removing mineral scale. Kristen Gray, Ecolab's senior marketing manager-dairy, notes that the products have had "very good success" in eliminating titanium dioxide residue, a challenge in many food and dairy operations.
Scheduled for release later this year is Exelerate Evap-S, tailored to tackle tenacious soil in dairy evaporators.
The 8000 series of static spray balls from Alfa-Laval (www.alfalaval.com), Pleasant Prairie, Wis., feature contoured surfaces for uniform spray patterns that will improve performance in tank cleaning operations. Precision-drilled holes in the spray balls have chamfered inlet and outlet surfaces that improve spray coverage and lower operating costs. They can be used at high or low solution flows and pressures.
All offerings in the 8000 series are made of stainless steel and are 3A compliant. The SB18-3 is designed to clean process tanks and kettles. They can also be used in vapor lines, evaporators or similar vessels. The SD-7 will clean vat covers and bridges. Other products in the line are designed for vertical silo tanks, sloping duct work, large diameter tubing, and tankers.
High- and low-pressure systems
"Pressure" can be a misunderstood element within the cleaning process. Without sufficient water pressure, a soil may not get sufficiently loosened or removed. But the notion that higher pressure is always better is not accurate. Pressure at impact diminishes in proportion to the distance of water or cleaning solution from the spray gun tip. Too much pressure at a given point can result in damage to surface or part and diminish the surface area being cleaned, thus lengthening cleaning time.
Sani-Matic's RFS (rinse/foam/sanitize) system offers improvements in time, cost and cleaning effectiveness for walls, floors, belt conveyors and other parts of the food processing facility. Its Tornado Nozzle Technology is a boosted pressure system that permits faster and more effective cleaning at lower pressure.
"You can clean at a lower pressure - 300 dpi versus 700-800 dpi - and can use effective flow and pressure to clean accurately and thoroughly and avoid the negatives of high pressure, such as damage to control panels," says Wildes, noting that the nozzle allows operators to clean a wider area to cut cleaning time. The system reduces water and energy usage. It also reduces operator risks common to use of high pressure and hot water systems as well as the inadvertent spread of bacteria from high-pressure ricochet. "You don't want spray from a dirty area to return to a clean area," says Wildes.
The RFS system also creates foam that clumps longer, allowing the detergent to hold and concentrate on an intended cleaning area for more effective cleaning. "It's an integrated system. One tool to do all three - rinse, foam, sanitize," says Wildes, noting that the system had become a dominant method of cleaning in Europe before its U.S. introduction.
Concern over food safety and the environmental impact of wastewater discharge has found more food processors looking at non-chemical sanitation alternatives. Various steam and high-pressure water systems have delivered high quality and relatively safe alternatives to chemicals.
The Mark I-IV steam/pressure systems from Sanitech (www.sanitechcorp.com), Lorton, Va., are being used to sanitize entire facilities, from walls and ceilings to equipment, floors and drains. Output temperatures up to 300°F effectively kill listeria and other microbial villains in a simple single-step sanitation process with minimal labor cost.
The use of steam as a cleaning agent goes back half a century, but it was used primarily in tough industrial environments. Steam breaks down the viscosity of greases and oils. But the high water requirements of food plant sanitation rendered steam systems impractical. Furthermore, old systems could not meet USDA standards for plants and seemed unwieldy as well for plant application.
The compact wet-steam system of Sanitech uses regular cold or warm water heated under 300-2,000 psi pressure with heat exchanger coils made of stainless steel tubing. The gas-heated coils transfer heat to the water, which may achieve temperatures up to 330°F.
"You don't get a vaporous cloud out of the steam gun," says Bill Hannigan, Sanitech vice president. "You have superheated water under pressure mixed with vapor. It allows you to clean large areas quickly."
Hannigan emphasizes that temperature is the principal factor in breaking down fat, grease and oil. Steam heat kills bacteria on contact. The higher the temperature, the greater the effectiveness, he notes, adding that the steam kills mold spores as well and prevents them from regenerating. The system diminishes chemical, pressure and water requirements.
"The bakery manager at Fiesta Mart [a Texas grocery chain] told us that even new employees can clean three to five times more racks per hour with our system," adds Hannigan. "The system also gives the processor steam temperatures within two minutes. You don't need to run a boiler all day to have not water when you need it. That means substantial energy savings."
Sanitation practices currently are under many organizations' microscopes as inefficient and possibly sometimes unnecessary practices that are robbing plants of valuable production time. "The biggest opportunity to gain in plant efficiency today is in sanitation," notes Jon Brandt, COO of Ozone International. "Companies adopting Performance Based Sanitation systems are demonstrating impressive gains."
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service last year issued a notice discussing the circumstances under which meat and poultry establishments are able to employ less than daily clean-ups in their operation. "Yes, there is no specific requirement in [the Code of Federal Regulations] that an establishment must conduct a clean-up at least daily," the document says. "To decrease downtime, increase production efficiency, and minimize expense, establishments can extend the period between clean-ups. However, establishments must ... develop, implement and maintain written standard operating procedures for sanitation."