MRO Q&A: Is Sanitary Equipment Design Really That Important?

MRO Q&A is a Food Processing series addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

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Q: I have heard a lot of buzz about sanitary design of equipment over the past couple of years, but I’m not buying it. Our sanitation people have been cleaning our equipment for years, and they do a more than adequate job in getting legacy machines clean and ready for production. Why do people think sanitary design of equipment is so important?

A: I appreciate your question and concern, but I don't share your skepticism about the importance of sanitary design.

Industry focus on food safety has made equipment cleanability and sanitary design critical components of good manufacturing practices. Microbial swab tests that used to be limited to fresh, perishable foods are now being done in facilities producing shelf-stable products where allergen proteins on food contact surfaces are a concern. It is not simply a matter of applying more elbow grease during sanitation. Proper cleaning takes time, and the more difficult it is to thoroughly sanitize a piece of equipment, the higher the labor cost and the longer that unit will be out of production.

Your sanitation folks may be doing a great job with the tools they have been given, but the requirements from regulators (FDA, USDA and others) and customers have gotten a lot more stringent. Many companies have cut costs by reducing the use of utilities and chemicals. Improving the sanitation staff’s ability to clean equipment more quickly and efficiently has value to every company.

In the longer term, advances in robotics, coupled with reduced manpower availability due to baby boomer retirements, will make robotic cleaning more practical. This is already occurring in some industries, and the technology will migrate to food as it evolves. Increasing the importance of sanitary design is perfectly aligned with the longer range trend of the industry.

Sorry for the disagreement, but that’s the way I see it.

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.

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