Some of us can remember from our childhood history classes the shocking story of contaminated food and its impact, particularly on immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century. In books such as “The Jungle,” so-called “muckrakers” exposed the causes and extent of the problem. Their writings led to the creation of the FDA and made food safety an urgent priority.
Sickness caused by eating or handling food has been dramatically reduced in this country—but not eliminated. It is reliably estimated that 48 million people still become sick, 128,000 of them require hospitalization, and more than 3,000 actually die (every year) from the effects of foodborne diseases.
Bi-partisan leadership has taken forceful action to mitigate this unnecessary health problem by passing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping reform of food safety laws ever. And its most significant shift, one that cuts directly to the heart of the problem and which has required the urgent attention of food companies and their business partners, is that it changes the mandate from responding to contamination to preventing it.
OEMs and the Food Industry
Many OEMs with long-established relationships in the food industry take pride in their ability to address food sanitation matters even before the government issues food grade requirements. Ryan Edgington, president and CEO of All-Fill, Inc., says, “Cleanliness, sanitation, and ease of access to critical and hard-to-reach areas of the machine are always at the forefront of our standard designs.”
At Dorner Manufacturing Co., which designs conveyors for food companies, John Kuhnz, vice president, Engineered Solutions Group, says, “Dorner has platforms designed for application in packaging to direct food contact, products from bakery to proteins, environments from ambient to frozen, and sanitation practices from wipedown to 1500 PSI washdown with caustic cleaning chemicals. As a result, Dorner has been able to meet and exceed the hygienic requirements.”
But not all OEMs are prepared. Some are holding back on making the proper adjustments to their machines pending new guidance from the FDA, and smaller OEMs in particular do not always understand the regulations and what they must do to comply. When we at Bimba approach OEM machine builders with new technologies that will monitor machine performance, we are often told by their engineers and maintenance personnel, “Well, that’s nice to know about but I won’t add it unless the customer asks.”
Recent interviews show customers may indeed want help from OEMs. There is a window of opportunity now open to them, according to the PMMI (The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies) in its “2016 Food Safety Modernization Act Update Report.” The report states, “Even though FSMA has created many challenges, most companies have not tried to seek outside help. This is changing quickly as deadlines approach and more companies use OEMs as a consulting resource.”
Several service categories for OEMs have been mentioned, such as risk assessment, equipment communications capabilities, machine testing, and validation. One particular area in which OEMs may be able to have a positive impact is through consulting opportunities with smaller food companies. By learning what works and what does not through experience they can then leverage that knowledge as a valuable resource to food companies.
Machines and Sources of Food Contamination
Changes to cleaning processes can often make up for machines with less than ideal food safety designs. It’s important to understand the potential of equipment—even equipment specifically manufactured to be as effective as possible against contamination—to have a negative impact on the sanitation of that same equipment if the correct materials are not applied.
For example, when changes to cleaning involve more aggressive chemicals or more frequent cleaning, the surfaces being cleaned may break down more quickly. Localized pitting of those surfaces can create a porous surface that is ideal for the growth of bacteria. Every piece of equipment from screw heads, bends and joints to the feet of the machinery, can hide contaminants.
What are the optimal materials and design components for food processing equipment and what cleaning and disinfection options and procedures are best for equipment surfaces?
One key point to stress here is one that may seem counter-intuitive but is nevertheless true: Aggressive cleaning and disinfection solutions pose a significant challenge for machine designers in the food equipment industry. Consider this: Water comprises approximately 95 percent to 99 percent of cleaning and sanitizing solutions, carrying detergent sanitizers to the surface and moving soils or contamination away from the surface. But water that contains impurities can reduce the effectiveness of a detergent or sanitizer. Oxygen and carbon dioxide cause corrosion; bicarbonates such as sodium, calcium, and magnesium cause scaling; chlorides or sulfates are implicated in scale and corrosion.
Everybody understands the need to prevent food soil from touching food contact surfaces. But soils can be visible or invisible. The primary source of soil is the food product being handled. However, minerals from water or cleaning compound residues also contribute to films left on surfaces. And, since soils vary widely in composition, no one detergent can remove all types.
Therefore, food processing equipment OEMs need to keep in mind that their machines are liable to be exposed to a variety of cleaning chemicals. For instance, acidic cleaners dissolve alkaline soils (minerals) and alkaline cleaners dissolve acidic soils and food wastes. Improper use of detergents can actually “set” soils making them harder to remove.
Once the type of soil that needs to be addressed has been identified, OEMs need to be aware of the effects that different types of cleaners may have on their equipment. For example, strong alkalis, such as caustic soda, destroy microbes and dissolve protein, but they cause corrosion. Other less powerful alkalis, like sodium carbonate, remove fats but are slightly corrosive. Then there are phosphoric and hydrofluoric acids, excellent for dissolving surface mineral deposits but corrosive to concrete, metals, and fabric.
In short, aggressive cleaning and disinfection solutions pose the greatest challenge for machine designers in the food equipment industry. Their effects can be significantly mitigated by specifying stainless steel for the surfaces of food equipment. Stainless steel provides resistance to corrosive elements, has no negative impact on individuals who handle the material throughout the production process, and is highly reusable and recyclable.
Keeping these considerations in mind, OEMs can add value for their food industry customers by designing equipment that is not only easily cleaned and sanitized, but designed with materials capable of providing extended years of service.
We have been considering the steps needed, the information necessary, and the kinds of changes the food industry, with the help of OEMs, must continue to address if they are to maintain a healthy food supply—and be in compliance with government regulations. Most players have not been willing to make large investments in new equipment or upgrades. Instead, they find it more economical and equally effective to update cleaning and maintenance procedure on their machines moving forward. Food companies are looking to OEMs for reliable consulting services, particularly in the realms of risk reduction, equipment monitoring, and machine compliance testing.
This reliance on OEM support is strongly reinforced by the results of an independent study for ABB Turbocharging, a global provider in the manufacture and maintenance of turbochargers for 500 kW to 80+ MW diesel and gas engines. The overwhelming majority (87 percent) of organizations in this study say they work only or mostly with OEMs for maintenance support and spare parts procurement. The reasons should be obvious to all of us who work for or with OEMs. OEMs reliably deliver responsive service, expertise, and knowledge of the market, all of which are essential elements of efficiency. The food industry (or any served by large OEMs) faces economic forces that must be confronted with reduced costs, the reduction of unplanned downtime, and minimal maintenance expenses. Smaller suppliers are not as trusted because their quality is seen as not as dependable and their parts availability may be a concern. This study says, “Minimizing…operational risks is a priority for 66 percent who are focused on eliminating both the potential for damage to their installations and breaching of safety regulations caused by parts failure.”
When specifically applying this lesson to food quality and safety, the PMMI concludes, “OEMs should note that the capability to track machine performance issues and downtime and analyze this data with effective tools (has) an immediate and dramatic impact on a company’s bottom line. One respondent explained how downtime costs the company more than $10 million per year, and they are more than eager to pay $30,000 per machine for at least 100 machines for user-friendly solutions.”
There is a strong link between sanitation and machine maintenance. The fissures in the surfaces of food processing machines will increase the amount of time it will take to properly clean the surfaces, or render them actually “un-cleanable.” It may not directly cause downtime in the traditional sense that the machine must be repaired but additional cleaning time means less time for production.
There are solutions—technology platforms that enable users to be proactive about maintenance and system optimization by delivering real-time performance data, thereby enhancing productivity without sacrificing quality or efficiency.
The FDA has taken note. It is requesting access to data from remote monitoring tools reducing the need for workers to access the equipment to check on the condition of wearable components saving time and money. By offering Internet of Things-enabled condition monitoring, spare parts, and equipment repair services, equipment OEMs can remotely monitor asset health in their customers’ plants, anticipate failures, order the parts, and often execute repairs before the failure occurs. This provides an ongoing, services-based revenue stream for OEMs, while enhancing customer uptime and overall satisfaction.
An increasing number of Bimba’s OEM customers are looking to remotely monitor the machines they sell to ensure they are being operated within the design specifications and help reduce warranty claims. In addition, remote monitoring lets them improve future products because they no longer have to rely on companies using their machines to report how those machines are being used. They can see it for themselves.
With access to a real-time treasure trove of data, food manufacturers can achieve efficiencies on the plant floor and throughout their entire operations. An industrial refrigeration company can, for example, stay on top of equipment health by using sensors to detect unusual vibrations that might indicate a potential failure. This allows them to practice predictive maintenance and eliminates any risk of downtime. A manufacturer of baked goods can use predictive maintenance technology to automatically adjust oven temperature to match the characteristics of specific grains from different suppliers to ensure that quality remains consistent.
In summary, a number of avenues are available for OEMs to both contribute to food safety and contribute to their bottom line. Acknowledged thought leaders in the food processing industry exist at larger food companies. By seeking out and listening to what those customers want (longer equipment service life, predictive maintenance and reduced downtime, and serialized process data tracking), savvy OEMs can add revenue streams by sharing their knowledge on a consultative basis as well as improving existing revenues through machine design that meets and exceeds the growing demands of FSMA.
King is the product marketing manager for sensing technologies at Bimba. Reach him at email@example.com. Scherzinger is the product marketing manager for Pneumatics at Bimba. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.