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.
Failure to properly prepare means the operation loses valuable time, causing the food operation to back up, money to be wasted on water and chemicals and, at times, putting the workforce at risk. If, for example, a COP tank is not properly cleaned of soils the operation may have to stop – usually as a result of an inspection. More time wasted. The operator has to spray out the tank, fill it up again, get the temperature and re-circulation going and add chemicals.
Management – sometimes through the goading of the equipment dealer – can be sure the equipment sanitation set-up is designed to avoid trouble. That’s why using proximity switches and safety interlocks is important to assure the CIP is properly connected.
Conductivity sensors, too, verify if cleaning is thorough. Spray balls within the food processor tank eliminate a good share of the pre-cleaning hand scrubbing. Not providing these components makes the system more manual than automatic.
Another source of deficiency in the system comes from poor supervision. Though management back-up of the process is important, proper training establishes the basis for minimal problems and maximum effectiveness.
Setting up SSOPs
The most effective approach is a manual customized to the equipment, product and processes at the location rather than relying on just the manufacturer’s generic instructions. Work on pulling together the manual contents should begin as soon as the cleaning system is acquired to establish the sanitation standard operating procedure (SSOP).
The SSOP manual brings all aspects of operation into one three ring binder that goes beyond the standard instruction book offered by equipment manufacturers. Well laid out manual content covers cleaning frequency; materials involved for all cycles, including the concentration, along with the recommended containers; safety equipment; pre-wash inspections and wash procedures.
Creating the cleaning manual is a team effort. The cleaning equipment supplier needs information on the nature of the product line and the anticipated processing routine. If there is a change in the product line a good idea is to determine what changes may be needed to the manual.
A visit to the facility will enable the vendor to get information first and take digital photos of the hook-ups, controls and the places where a manual scrub is required. Preferably invite one of the workers to walk through the process when the photos are being taken to create an initial expert on the procedure.
In short, the customized operations manual is a key component of the system. The photos are especially important for clear communication to a workforce made up of a growing number of multi-lingual or non-English speaking operators; which typically experiences high turnover rates. If a manual with text in another language is to be provided, be sure to work with the on-site workforce to avoid getting the instructions lost in translation and to cover peculiarities in dialect.
A properly prepared manual enables all new employees to take on the job of cleaning and perform it effectively. Furthermore, the manual enhances communication by encouraging employees to use the same terminology for the cleaning process.
Besides creating a cleaning routine, the direct involvement of the user in drafting the manual enables them to easily set up and document a new SSOP when changes are made in processing equipment or the product line. According to government regulations it is ultimately the user who bears the responsibility if problems arise. If they run into trouble, the manual proves to the regulating agency that the site has made a concerted effort in providing a documentation system for their sanitation process.
Chemicals and automated equipment alone cannot guarantee a safe operation. They are the tools. It takes properly trained workers to effectively clean and sanitize a plant.
David Wildes is director of sales and marketing for Sani-Matic, Inc. (Madison, Wis.) Reach him at 800-356-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.