The transmission of allergens happens unintentionally. The food product can ride on a worker’s shoes and clothing, carried into the adjacent area. Strategically placed curtains can direct traffic patterns so employees are steered clear of other production areas. The curtains can also block the flow of solid allergens – including powdered milk – as they can travel through the air over surprising distances, riding on air pressure currents.
It is in the cleaning process where these curtains provide the main line of defense.
Cleaning itself can have an adverse affect on productivity if the area is not enclosed using separation curtains. Overspray can contaminate other lines – whether the procedure uses solution or high-pressure air jets. Plants that do not use separation curtains in close quarters shut down production for the adjacent areas. Curtain separation on the other hand enables neighboring operations to run on their own schedule. Plants are efficient, getting the most out of their production lines and eliminating scheduling headaches dictated by the cleaning routine.
Separation curtains have been recently developed to meet the special needs of the food processing industry. The primary features of the curtains are a slick surface that sheds solutions and soils, welded seams that prevent the trapping of contaminants, with panels hung using stainless steel attachments and track. In short, food grade construction that stops the blasts of air or solution allowing them to go to drain.
The immediate benefit from using these curtains is that now plants can operate their processing equipment more often, in some cases tripling production while avoiding the cross-contamination problems associated with allergens. This arrangement of being able to divide off a large production area means that product lines that have different run times can be cleaned at different times.
Cleaning time, though necessary, is down time and drains revenue. Cleaning each line on separate schedule makes the most use of sanitation time and limits loss of production runtime. For a plant with flexible scheduling, increasing production line runtimes by several hours may eliminate one sanitation cycle per week and convert sanitation hours into production hours.
Basically, the type of plant that can benefit from hanging separator food curtains in their processing room has multiple lines running over multiple shifts, with many product changeovers and a need for flexible cleaning schedules. Co-packers tend to gain the most from using separator curtains.
The size of the cleaning area can be determined by the length of the curtain track hanging from the ceiling. The track can run in many directions around the various processing areas, and if the configuration is set up with a level of forethought, one curtain can be used throughout an area housing multiple processing systems. As a result, areas that have to run any of the eight allergens can do it under one roof.
When the curtain is not being used it can be folded up close to the wall, enabling unimpeded material handling from the receiving dock, through the processing/packaging area and then out to shipping. When a line has to be shut down for cleaning, the curtain can be run out along the track that encircles the area.
For an investment of less than $15,000, an area of thousands of square feet can be enclosed in different places at different times by a single separator curtain.
Continually morphing product lines and on-going lean production programs require flexible equipment floor plans to make both happen. This kind of thinking cannot be confined by walls. Taking down and reinstalling the curtain track can enable the track pattern to accommodate the workflow and new equipment placement.