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.
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’s (The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies) “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.