Cleaning a food plant is like feeding the troops: It’s expensive, mundane and won’t bring you glory by itself, but not doing it right can sure make you lose.
"Cleaning" and "sanitation" are sometimes used interchangeably, but strictly speaking, cleaning means removing dirt, debris, residue and everything else that isn’t supposed to be on a surface; sanitation involves ridding the cleaned surface of microorganisms, usually with biocides like bleach.
Like many food plant operations, cleaning and sanitation require a balance between thoroughness and effectiveness on the one hand, and aspects like efficiency and economy on the other. Finding the right balance is a matter of choosing the right equipment, supplies and overall system.
One choice that sometimes arises is whether to clean machine components where they are or to detach and clean them separately. The former is more efficient; the latter takes more time, but is more thorough and often saves water and chemicals.
Kevin Quinn, sales manager of Douglas Machines Corp. (www.dougmac.com), recalls the case of a peanut butter processor that was using lots of high-pressure water to clean out 72-in.-long pipes that fed the product from a mixer to an injector.
“Normally, the only way they cleaned those pipes was by using a hose to force the product out of a pipe—but of course, all that water and product is going down the drain,” Quinn says. Douglas furnished a clean-out-of-place wash tank long enough to accommodate the pipes, with water pumped from one end to the other to flush them out. “In this way we’re able to conserve that wash water and detergent and use it for cleaning any number of pipes, one after another.”
Whatever the cleaning method, another requirement is supplying water at the proper volume, temperature and pressure. The basic alternatives are: using hot water from the plant’s regular supply; heating the water with dedicated heat exchangers; or heating the water as close to the sanitation point as possible, through heating elements or steam injection.
Pick Heaters (www.pickheaters.com) is a supplier of steam injection sanitation systems. Pick claims that steam injection can save up to 28 percent in energy costs over heat exchangers, “because 100 percent of the available energy from the steam is instantly absorbed by the liquid,” according to a company spokesperson. Because the water is heated near the point of discharge, the supply of hot water is virtually unlimited. Other advantages the company touts include a wide operating range and low noise level.
Consistency in pressure is as important as it is in temperature. This can be a problem when demands for water vary at different points in a pipeline. One way to maintain pressure is to boost it with dedicated pumps at points where high pressure is periodically needed.
Grundfos (www.grundfos.com) recently came out with a line of centrifugal pumps for this purpose. Its BoosterPAQ multistage pumps cam be arranged to add just enough power to the water supply to keep pressure where it needs to be.
The method of delivery isn’t the only variable in a cleaning/sanitation system. A good system will take into account the variations and requirements of each individual application, starting with the water itself.
“You have to look at the city water that’s coming into the plant,” says Mark Swanson, CEO of Birko Corp. (www.birkocorp.com), a supplier of cleaning products and services. “Water in Oklahoma is not the same as water in Wisconsin.” Birko custom-blends chemicals after analyzing each customer’s water for hardness and other factors.