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."