Bakery Throughput Demands Can Be Met With Easier-To-Sanitize Equipment

Time spent cleaning is time not producing, but higher hygienic standards for bakeries need not mean a drain on throughput.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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Skimping on sanitation is not an option, of course. Continuous improvement in food safety is as central to today's food processing as increased automation. Customers and the industry itself are less forgiving of carelessness in cleanliness. While all industry sectors must raise their game, the impact is particularly profound in baking, where the visibly clean standard is giving way to cleaning to a microbial level, as outlined in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

"The level of cleaning is going to change significantly under FSMA," believes Greg Flickinger, vice president-manufacturing and corporate engineering at Snyder's-Lance Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based snack foods manufacturer with a portfolio that includes cookies, crackers, pretzels and other baked goods. "The whole microbiology issue had not been on the table, but now we have more visibility to that side." Not being able to see protein or bacteria on a food contact surface no longer is a defense for not removing them, Flickinger points out.

Many FSMA regulations aren't likely to be phased in before 2015, but he has spent the past two and a half years preparing Snyder's-Lance's 10 bakeries for the preventive approach to food safety that will be required. Evaluation of existing equipment is part of the initiative, and when new machinery is ordered, sanitary design is the top criterion.

"Quite a partnership is evolving with the OEMs, who are designing equipment with angled surfaces and no unnecessary holes and harborage points," Flickinger says. Capital expenditure limits prohibit replacing "heritage equipment," so work teams are modifying the most problematic for accessible cleaning. Retrofitting comes at a cost, however: "We may have to spend more time cleaning," he allows.

Reduced cleaning time usually is relegated to the soft savings column, though there is nothing soft in getting a line running 30 minutes faster. Increased capacity drove Canada Bread Atlantic in St. John's, Newfoundland, to replace gyratory box screeners with pressurized centrifugal sifters from Kason Corp. The 43 percent boost in throughput capacity wouldn't have been meaningful if cleaning requirements were extended, and that is where soft savings really added up. The new sifters require only 10 minutes to clean compared to 90 minutes with the old screeners, according to the plant's maintenance manager.

The industry template for sanitary design was set 10 years ago when the American Meat Institute (AMI), with input from meat and poultry processors, design engineers and equipment manufacturers, unveiled its 10 principles of sanitary design. Those principles -- no liquid- or product-collection areas, no niches, validated cleaning and sanitizing protocols, cleanable to a microbiological level, etc. -- have been embraced by many industry participants, including OEMs catering to bakeries. In some cases, those vendors also serve meat and poultry processors, making sanitary design a given.

An example is Vemag, the dough divider and makeup system from Robert Reiser and Co., Canton, Mass. The machine originally was engineered to pump sausage meat into casings. The heart of the system is a positive displacement pump that precisely meters materials between double screws. The AMI principles stipulate compatible materials of construction, and that is construed in meat to mean stainless steel food-contact points. Reiser fabricates its tandem screws from stainless, regardless of whether they move sausage or dough.

The supplier took cleanability to an even higher level when it secured 3A certification for dairy applications, according to John McIsaac, Reiser's vice president-strategic business development. "Within three to four minutes, all the machine surfaces can be exposed for cleaning, and the process is mostly tool-less," he says. The same polished surfaces, configuration of O-ring grooves and other details of construction can be found in dough dividers.

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