The plant manager calls a meeting during which he presses the sanitation and quality control managers about a $2,000 request to buy a foamer and a dilutor system.
“Why do we need this stuff?” he asks. “What’s wrong with what you’ve been using? We’ve done a good job for our customers and auditors, so what’s the big deal? Can’t you just use what you’ve got?”
Sound familiar? The reality is that no one has a problem spending half-a-million dollars on a new packaging machine, but any attempt to purchase sanitation equipment is often met with resistance.
This hypothetical plant manager does not realize that the highest cost of a sanitation program is labor. It is easier to relate to the need to purchase new tools for the production people because they are keeping things running. The right tool fixes the problem that much faster.
The same principles apply to the sanitation crew, but why is there always a problem buying the right tools for the sanitation crew? The problem is in the perception. Sanitation is not viewed as a professional or skilled position, so why would it require specialized equipment or training?
The sanitation crew keeps the plant out of recall trouble. If the sanitation crew fails to do an excellent job, entire productions can be recalled, forcing the plant to shut down, wasting millions in product and labor.
Food safety management must show plant management that they are fiscally responsible with budgets, costs and labor. The food-safety department can show a return on investment (ROI) by training personnel, creating more skilled labor and reducing turnover. And, using the proper equipment will allow a food-safety team to be more effective and efficient.
In the past, sanitation equipment consisted of a bucket and a brush. That attitude has changed as chemical costs have risen, and it has become imperative not to waste resources. Dilution equipment has been proved to save money on chemistry, and foamers, central foam systems, and clean-in-place (CIP) systems yield labor cost reductions. While chemical costs account for about 10 percent of the cost equation, labor accounts for 70 percent. The remaining 20 percent is spent on wastewater management.
The need for a total sanitation system is clear. A skilled and efficient labor force armed with the knowledge of correct chemistry and is sensitive to wastewater management issues will create an ROI to be proud of.
The following are examples of some equipment to consider when building a total sanitation system:
- Foam tanks: These 15- or 30-gallon tanks can be filled at a dilutor and are charged with 60 pounds of air pressure. The units are pressure vessels certified by the American Society for Testing and Measurement (ASTM; West Conshohocken, Pa.) and are used for the application of a single chemical – either a cleaning chemical or a sanitizer. Use of a foam cart for the application of a quaternary sanitizer, which is high in surfactants, allows the high-density foam to maintain longer application times on radius and overhead surfaces, providing better sanitizing.
- Foam carts: This stainless steel cart holds two 5-gallon pails – one for a sanitizer and another for a cleaning compound. All chemistry is automatically diluted, and a rinse function is provided.
- Clean-in-place (CIP) systems: Most often found in a dairy or beverage plants and other processing facilities, CIP systems must allow for cleaning and sanitizing without having to disassemble the equipment. CIP systems have the capability to inject chemical product at the prescribed dilution rate without any hand mixing. However, care must be taken to titrate the chemistry on a biweekly basis to ensure that dilution rates are maintained at acceptable levels. They must also be inspected on a regular basis to ensure that the cleaning efficiency is at its optimum. Doing micro-counts is also necessary. Only non-foaming cleaners and sanitizers are used in CIP, as a foaming product can damage pump impellers and reduce the cleaning efficiency.
- Cleaning-out-of-place (COP) systems: Equipment is disassembled and placed in a tank, where it soaks in a cleaning solution. A pump can be installed or air can be employed to agitate water and parts. Time is of the essence in COP systems, as contact time and agitation are very important. Like CIP, COP requires proper dilution of the chemistry, and both use non-foaming products.
- Central foam/sanitize systems: Without a doubt this is one of the best methods for cleaning and sanitizing food-processing facilities. All the chemistry is placed in a locked room, where water-driven pumps dispense the chemicals automatically. The chemistry is pumped to foam/sanitize drop stations located at strategic positions throughout the plant using American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI; Washington. D.C.) Schedule 80 PVC piping. Installation costs are low, chemical safety and efficiency are achieved and labor costs are reduced. Maintenance, if any, is low, because there are no moving parts. A central foam system is easily installed in a new plant and can be readily retrofitted.
- High-pressure systems: I would only recommend using these for cleaning outside areas, forklifts, pallets, loading and receiving docks and –in some cases – plastic and stainless- steel interlock belts. The problem with using a high-pressure system in food processing facilities is it tends to create a false sense of cleaning efficiency. Safety is an issue, as the high-pressure spray can injure personnel if accidental contact occurs. Moreover, it spreads contamination to other areas of the plant, transporting bacteria to previously cleaned areas. Accurate dilution of the chemistry is only achieved at 1 to 6 inches from the nozzle. Beyond that distance, the pressure is substantially reduced. It also creates an air current and atomized vapor, which becomes a carrier that facilitates migration of bacteria.
Henry Carsberg is a sanitarian with more than 30 years’ experience in food plant sanitation. Reach him at [email protected].