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."