Getting safe food on the shelves and into the coolers takes attention to a number of variables with one eye on the impact bad product can have on the reputation of not only a company, but potentially whole industry segments.
Both the food industry and manufacturers of cleaning equipment and chemicals clearly recognize this fact of food processing life. Over the years equipment sanitation has moved towards more automation. Clean-in-place (CIP) and clean-out-of-place (COP) systems used in a growing number of companies add a greater of level of predictability in controlling the process, minimizing mishaps and enabling the concise recordkeeping the FDA and the other regulators like to see.
For multi-product plants programmable CIP systems provide the necessary consistency, eliminating the guesswork that could be involved between batches with the change in food consistency, acidity and other qualities. A multi-tank system and accompanying eductor system, the operator can scroll through the system’s PLC and pick the proper recipe for both the equipment and the substance that just passed through it. COP systems change a totally manual (and often undesirable) parts cleaning process for more control and repeatability by regulating wash time and temperature.
Even with these features, a cleaning job well-done is not a set it-and-forget-it-matter. The human factor is still very much in play, which means training is a key part of the operation. Though the opportunities for mistakes with CIP/COP systems are luckily not many, there are enough of them to justify the time and effort for a well thought-through training program.
Training and Cleaning
There are a number of things that can go wrong.
For one, not completely breaking off the gross solids caked on processing equipment before cleaning can lead to problems. Heat generated by the cleaning process can harden accumulated matter to food contact surfaces. Once knocking off solids, failure to gather up the gunk and debris completely can foul up the cleaning process. Pushing this debris down the drain generally leads to an increase in bio-oxygen demand.
Even though the idea behind CIP is closed circuit cleaning, depending on the kind of food running through the system some disassembly of processing machinery to allow access for scrubbing on tanks or pipe surfaces is necessary. For food such as cheese, a good idea is sending super heated water down the pipes to melt the product.
On a CIP system, making the proper connections from the cleaning system return pump to the processing system tank or other parts of the machinery is a key step. Not doing so is a mistake that can either inject chemicals into the food processing operation or cause the overflow tank sitting in the middle of the room to spew solution. The operator can also fail to prime the return pump. Connections may not be tightened all the way or gaskets are not put in correctly, causing CIP solution to leak on the floor.
On a COP system, attention must be paid to note how parts from the disassembled machine are loaded into the tank; how many pieces end up in the tank; and orientation of the parts. Even after gross solids are scraped off parts, an effective process calls for a regular pre-rinse to prevent an overload of soil residues and decrease in detergent effectiveness.
No matter the system, assurance against equipment sanitation problems requires at least a quick inspection prior to every cleaning cycle. Operators should check if there is electricity and air in the system, that all the valves are open and the chemical barrels have solution in them. On a COP, the tank may not have water, or someone can be in the way when live steam is blasting. These are common sense activities that in many plants are not commonly done.