More stringent measures in the production process have led to a greater emphasis on the hygienic design of production line equipment. The trend in the general food sector is to purchase equipment that has been smartly designed to incorporate both hygienic construction and the challenges they face in terms of product handling.
Many of the applications are in the meat and poultry industry—predominantly because in many cases other types of foods go through secondary processes prior to the product reaching the consumer. These processes, that may include cooking, reprocessing, or significant alteration of the raw material, often help to sterilize the product.
For meat and poultry, a large percentage of products are provided to the consumer in the raw state. They will go through a series of processes that will alter form, such as grinding for hamburgers, or deboning and trimming chickens, but those items that are reaching consumers are still raw and haven’t usually been secondary processed.
What is Hygienic Design?
The latest guide from the Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education, which was produced from their Equipment Design Task Force in 2014, can be found on the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) website. In terms of sanitary design principles, it is an ideal workmanship style document that outlines what sanitary design should mean both to a customer and a manufacturer. It is a good roadmap for suppliers to be able to look at the design and to quantify whether a system is going to be compliant with these design best practices.
Machines built using sanitary principles such as those provided by NAMI and the Sanitary Equipment Design Taskforce are designed so they meet a set of industry driven criteria that quantifiably defines sanitary construction. This includes such topics as the types and finishes of materials to be used and elimination of harborage areas where product can accumulate and create a microbiological risk. But the specifications are also very operations-centric providing guidance on best practices for inspection, maintenance, and cleaning protocols. The continuing challenge to manufacturers is to define what is the right amount of hygiene and sanitation for their specific operation and environment while still being profitable, protecting the consumer and the brand while complying with governmental standards and regulations.
In theory, every supplier of product inspection equipment should be able to design a device to perform a certain way at a specific point of time in a given environment. What’s difficult is to keep that performance consistent and within specification for long periods of continuous operation. Hygienically designed systems must be built to last—especially given the rigors and conditions of the meat and poultry industry and they also must perform their inspection tasks as specified throughout their useful life. Therefore, the overall robustness of the entire system is extremely important.
Where inspection is concerned, precision X-ray technology performs best when applied in a well-defined and controlled manner. When the necessary robustness required for the environment and operational longevity is added in, these two things may appear to be in conflict. Robustness and precision do not necessarily go hand-in-hand but are not mutually exclusive either, they must be balanced carefully with each specifically addressed. In an X-ray system, for example, there is a generator, which produces a beam that is shot through a window, through the product, through the conveyor, and then through to the detector, all contained within a housing to prevent X-ray emissions. When addressing sanitary design both inside and out with the need to clean machines rigorously every day, it should be done while maintaining the integrity, the technology, and its safe operation. Good design practices take these varying requirements into account with the manufacturer integrating them into a solution that effectively satisfies the needs for hygiene, longevity, and precise inspection.
In most cases, product is being inspected anywhere from 100-200 feet per minute in an environment that is wet from the product and periodic washdowns, creating a challenge to keep the conveyors moving and transporting product day in and day out. Like the design of the X-ray generator and detector assembly, the same rigor must be applied to the material handling and reject sortation system.
Other external influence factors around the machine such as floor and adjacent machine vibration and cold air handlers that can cause significant changes in temperature as they cycle on and off can impact machine performance, so it’s important to consider the surrounding area to mitigate those external influences before finalizing the machine placement to ensure a successful installation.
Benefits of Hygienic Design
It may be obvious to say, but the more hygienic the design the less the risk manufacturers have of an event occurring where the machines themselves contribute to it. When considering equipment purchase, customers should be encouraged to sit down and review the designs and to carry out their own scoring. If there is no set method of scoring within their business, the guide previously referred to from the Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education and found on the NAMI website is easily accessible and can be invaluable in the decision-making process. An educated customer—particularly when it comes to the principle of hygienic design—will see the benefits of procuring a system that has been designed specifically for its environment. Of course, many customers are aware of what’s required already, but sometimes there is a preconception that inspection technologies need a “hall pass” when it comes to hygienic design and that there must be a compromise to achieve the desired inspection results to the detriment of the hygienic element. This is not always the case, as a system designed from the ground up to the specification can meet most of, if not all of the check boxes required. Just because it’s an inspection technology doesn’t mean there should be a compromise on standards.
Machines built to strict industry standards are designed to minimize and eliminate harborage areas where product can accumulate and create a microbiological risk, but the design must also be very operationally-centric, providing methods for user operation, maintenance, and cleaning. The continuing challenge to manufacturers is to define what is the right amount of hygiene and sanitation for their specific operation and environment while still being profitable, protecting the consumer and the brand while complying with governmental standards and regulations. Needless to say, when most consumers are shopping for dinner they don’t understand what it takes to produce a pound of ground beef—not least to produce it and still only charge $3.99 a pound, make a profit, and stay in business to continue to produce enough to meet future demand.
IP69 Doesn’t Guarantee Hygienic Design
Although hygienic design is paramount in the meat and poultry sector, due to the raw element of the product and the frequent washdown requirements in the harsh environments, the food sector in general is making it much more of a priority.
Things such as ease of cleaning are very important, as is ensuring there are no areas that could trap contaminants or microorganisms, and these challenges should be addressed at the initial design stage. Part of the process for sanitary and hygienic design is making sure the machines are easy to inspect once cleaned to ensure the process has been carried out completely. The latest systems enable line of sight inspections that do not take long at all—leading to further time and therefore production savings.
Many associate hygienic design with IP69 ratings, but these are often confused. IP69 and hygienic design are not the same thing. Having a system with an IP69 rating does not mean you have a hygienic machine. It is purely an ingress protection rating. It has nothing to do with the sanitation of the machine and how well it has been designed in terms of hygiene. It simply ensures that cabinets and enclosures will not leak when washed down to that specification. For instance, Eagle has machines that are IP69 compliant that are not hygienically designed—whereas nearly all of the hygienically designed machines are IP69 compliant. It is important to understand the difference.
Correct Approach to Design
It is far better to have a machine that is designed specifically for purpose using specific guidelines, such as NAMI, NSF, and European EHEDG. This way, customers can be supplied with a robust product that is designed to most closely match their purpose. If you compare a product designed in this way to one that has been adapted, the differences are very noticeable. Of course, an adapted machine will be cheaper, but in the bigger picture a machine designed for the application will have a far more attractive total cost of ownership, and will deliver a far bigger incremental value to a customer.
How long do you want a machine to last? That is the question. If you have to decommission a machine four years into a seven-year depreciation cycle, then that’s a fairly large hit to take financially. But there are other things such as cleaning cycles that are important to consider. These machines are cleaned on a daily basis—often multiple times—so to have a machine that has been designed to be disassembled, cleaned, and ready to be sanitized by one person in a matter of a few minutes is highly desirable. Most machines require two people to tear down and it takes longer. Subsequently it takes longer to put it back together. The time saved in man hours over the course of the machine’s life alone is significant, coupled with the uptime advantages associated with those hours makes for a very attractive proposition.
Working with an expert supplier to talk through requirements and to cover all available options is the first step to take when considering the purchase of a hygienic product inspection system. It’s not all about the initial investment. There is a far bigger picture to take into consideration, and in doing so manufacturers can ensure the protection of both brand and consumer, at the same time making considerable savings.
Thomas is strategic business unit manager at Eagle Product Inspection. Reach him at email@example.com.