Keeping food processing surfaces clean is a production manager’s main concern. Removing leftover food, grease, grime, and other residue from production equipment is critical for preventing bacteria growth and ensuring safe, high quality food products. As sanitation regulations become more stringent, labor costs increase, and the industry becomes more environmentally conscious, food companies are looking for new cleaning processes and solutions.
Explore this issueDecember/January 2009
Caked-on dust, flour, grease, and oil, along with baked-on carbon, are some residues that are prevalent—and difficult and costly to remove from baking and production equipment. To ensure product quality, these residues must be removed frequently. Unfortunately, traditional cleaning processes, such as steam, water, and manual scrubbing, are slow, inefficient, and ineffective. Plant managers at a baked goods facility in Chanhassen, Minn., for example, found that it took a three-person maintenance crew nearly nine hours to clean their 30’ x 50’ machines. During that time, the cleaning crew could only remove 80% of the residue; the machine’s small parts and hard-to-reach areas simply could not be cleaned by hand. This scenario is not uncommon.
The food industry is heavily regulated. Some regulations concern water disposal and recycling sanitation issues. Others go as far as detailing the number of hours maintenance crews must devote to cleaning equipment. Any cleaning solution used by a food company must provide optimal cleaning results, while being safe enough to clean surfaces that come into contact with food products. The cleaning method used could impact the taste, cooking, processing, and overall quality of the food product.
One alternative to conventional cleaning processes used by food companies is dry ice blast cleaning, a process similar in concept to sand or bead blasting. Unlike sand or bead blasting, however, dry ice blast cleaning is not only safe for food processing environments, but also costs less, cleans more efficiently, and is more environmentally responsible.
Dry ice blast cleaning uses recycled carbon dioxide (CO2), a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas that is found naturally in the atmosphere. Dry ice blast cleaning is a process that accelerates dry ice particles through high-velocity nozzles to impact the surface being cleaned. The combination of kinetic and thermal shock effects breaks the bond between the residue and the surface being cleaned. The residue falls away from the surface and is easily wiped away. Because dry ice particles sublimate upon impact, dry ice blast cleaning eliminates the added cost and inconvenience of secondary waste treatment and disposal, as well as the worry of downstream contamination.
The solution is capable of removing—without chemicals or water—fat-based, protein-based, carbohydrate-based, and mineral salt-based soils, along with microbiological films like bacteria, yeasts, and molds, and lubricating greases and other insoluble soils. The grade of dry ice typically used in this cleaning process is equal to or greater than that of the dry ice used in the food and beverage industry, and the process has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and United States Department of Agriculture.
In many cases, in order to properly clean the mixers, cooling tunnels, conveyors, motors, panels, slicers, weighers, and dividers along the food processing and packaging lines, plants must stop production, shutting down and disassembling the machines. Stopped production means lost money, an issue compounded by additional costs, including labor, cleaning materials, toxic waste disposal, water usage, and reclamation systems.
At the recommendation of a sister plant, the baked goods company mentioned above turned to dry ice blast cleaning. During its initial cost analysis, the company determined that a dry ice blast cleaning system would save the plant more than $15,000 per year in cleaning labor and expenses alone, which proved to be an understatement. Dry ice blast cleaning provides a faster, safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly cleaning solution than other cleaning methods. It cleans equipment in less time, with fewer resources and manpower, as it increases productivity.