Key hygiene considerations for a sustainable food future

10 January 2015

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Key hygiene considerations for a sustainable food future

  • Industry Type: Industrial Manufacturing, Logistics, Food Processing
  • Author: Andrew Newby
  • Service Area: Advice
  • Date: 21 Jul 2011

HYGIENE—BEST PRACTICE IS THE ONLY OPTION

The procedures used in processing food today are different to procedures of the past.   Food hygiene and safety standards have improved, but in many cases the processing facilities have not. What was considered safe 20 years ago, when many of these facilities were first build, has changed significantly over the years and in some cases is no longer applicable.Furthermore, the idea of safe when applied to food and drink products is an ever-changing, highly fluid concept and you will be caught dangerously flat footed if you react only after the definition has changed.

It would be nice and neat if updating your building was as easy as updating some equipment, replacing some internal structure or giving the whole thing a new lick of paint.  When making the leap of faith to transplant operations into a much larger facility, companies often eliminate the option of building a new factory due to land and building costs. 

This results in one of two options—find a short term fix in a larger, possibly equally outdated facility or choose to make do and continue modifying your existing premises.The question is can these older facilities continue to meet the new challenges?  How can you best achieve a cost effective upgrade that also complies with today's stringent food safety standards?

The following information will help highlight crucial areas where your facility may be falling down in terms of hygiene and also guide you in finding the best way to accomplish your upgrades—to make good the old or design and build the new.

7 KEYS TO A SAFE FOOD FUTURE

Key areas to access:

  • Process flows
  • People flows
  • Waste flows
  • Utensil flows
  • Staff entries
  • Construction materials and standards
  • Services

Process flows.
Improving your food safety may require a review of process flows.  Food processes require various rooms with specific internal environments and are generally not interchangeable. 

Older facilities often had many small rooms limiting flexibility.  Achieving the right process flow is always the priority to ensure efficiencies and maintenance of food safety standards. 

Any analysis to see if new process flows can be achieved in an old facility should be approached as a case by case exercise.  To determine a good process flow for your facility, you should start with a Process Flow Diagram (PFD).  The PFD lists tasks and actions clearly, without being clouded by physical layout or room sizes. 

Older facilities usually fail the test due to:

  • Original factory use/processes not being compatible with current use/processes
  • Storage rooms (chillers/freezers) too small and therefore raw materials share storage with finished goods
  • Insufficient dry storage causing packaging materials to be stored separately to the factory in a non-vermin and dust proof environment
  • Work in progress chillers situated in a poor location

A process flow that moves in one direction is always preferred, although with some processes, this in not always possible.  Today’s trends in facility design focus on flexibility for future change.

People flows.
The positioning of corridors, doors and rooms determines not only how people move around within a facility, but also affects the production of safe food.  Human traffic is the second most important consideration.  The PFD should be expanded to include human movements, identifying crossovers and contamination risks.

You may find with your facility that it does not meet good manufacturing practice or food safety standards due to:

  • Hygienic production areas having direct access to outdoor areas
  • Inadequate or non-existent staff entry areas
  • No designated safe walk zones
  • Direct staff access between different hygiene zones.

Review design trends of today and see if they are achievable in your situation:

  • Visitor viewing areas rather than visitors gowning up and walking the process floor
  • Keeping staff within enclosed spaces during production hours (no access to outdoors) 
  • Direct access corridors for staff to move from amenities to their work spaces, without passing through other workspaces.

Before making changes to your existing facility, ensure that fire escapes and travel distances are maintained.

Waste flows.
Review wastes your operations produce and mark ‘what and where’ on your PFD.  It is important to have a safe waste management system in place to handle, store and dispose of food scraps, fat and bone, rejected product and packaging wastes. 

Facilities often do not have appropriate vermin proof or temperature controlled storage.  A direct route to appropriate waste storage or the building exit is an ideal solution.

Utensil flows.
Many processes involve utensils which are either used for transfer of product (crates, trolleys, trays) or used in the process (mixing bowls, cutters).  It is likely these have changed over the life of the facility and therefore the appropriate rooms or equipment required to meet modern safety and hygiene standards do not exist.

Areas where older facilities do not comply with current standards are:

  • Cramped, manual wash bays located in inappropriate locations
  • Inadequate space for operation of automatic washing equipment and drying
  • Poor ventilation to wash areas, causing condensation problems
  • Inadequate drainage to wash areas
  • Inappropriate construction materials used for walls

Staff Entries.
There has been significant development in hygiene techniques and technology used at staff entry areas.  Older facilities had hand wash basins and maybe a boot wash recess in the floor. 

Determine the level of hygiene appropriate to your operation and investigate what is available.  Entries can be relatively easy and inexpensive to improve.  Keep in mind as you take customers through your facility that these areas will reflect how serious you and your staff take safety and hygiene. 

There are sophisticated walk through boot washers with soaping, washing and disinfection units available if you require high levels of hygiene.  Access to production areas is controlled or not granted until all hygiene functions are completed.  Air showers are available to blow off loose contaminants. The staff entry stations are stand alone units that can be installed into an existing facility.

Construction materials and standards.
Construction materials and methods have changed over the years to match the demand for higher levels of hygiene in food facilities.  Common failures in older facilities include:

  • Cracked floors
  • Failed epoxy toppings
  • Gaps in walls caused by building movement
  • Damaged insulated panels and doors
  • Inadequate floor drains
  • Exposed roof structure (no ceilings)
  • Ceiling heights that are too low for safe production
  • Inadequate chemical storage

Improvements in materials include joint free surfaces, higher levels of durability, resistance to cleaning chemicals, anti-bacterial finishes and improved water resistance to finishes and fittings.

Review the critical areas of your facility.  Older facilities can be upgraded but the biggest challenge is doing this cost effectively, with minimal interruption to production.

Sub-standard and inexperienced workmanship or budget alterations using low quality materials often cause:

  • Water ponding on floors, due to insufficient fall to drains
  • Incorrect choice of building materials (walls and ceilings) for wet areas
  • Inappropriate drainage size and design
  • Poorly constructed junctions of wall to floor
  • Inappropriate and poorly installed floor finishes

Services
Simple processes of the past required only simple services.  Process and building services have become more complex to meet the requirements of these new technologies. 

Older facilities commonly are inadequate in the following areas:

  • Power supply
  • Waste water treatment technology to meet new regulations
  • Services exposed in rooms now regarded as hygienic areas
  • Lighting – old technology and hygiene design; insufficient lighting for safe operations; insufficient task lighting for product quality inspections
  • Floor drains to maintain hygiene
  • No separation of drainage between hygiene zones
  • Fire safety systems
  • Absence of hygiene cleaning systems
  • Refrigeration to maintain safe product temperatures in summer
  • Positive pressure for ventilation to eliminate contaminates.

New facility design often includes a roof void above the ceiling for service runs with droppers down into hygienic production spaces.  This enables maintenance work to be performed outside hygienic areas.

In older facilities, roof spaces were low and cramped and therefore did not provide these benefits.  The upgrade and hygienic positioning of services is a complex task which carries high cost risks, due to the difficulty of installation and specialization.

CONCLUSION—DON’T LET TOO LITTLE BECOME TOO LATE

When it comes to food facilities there can be no illusion—old will never be as good as new and deciding to think short term or not to act at all can lead to long term loss and potential complete disaster.

Modern design and construction techniques and technology designed for use in new food facilities places a higher importance on hygiene than 20 years ago.  The Australian food and beverage industry continues to make the most of older facilities with upgrades aimed at incorporating new processes and improving the hygiene standards. 

There comes a time when a facility becomes too old to upgrade.  If your situation reaches a point where authorities threaten closure, customers take their business elsewhere due to failed audits, or external factors such as residential encroachment or insufficient room for expansion become a reality; it can be virtually impossible to consider upgrading as a viable option.  You want your company to be in the media for the right reasons — you don’t want contaminated food recalls, large scale sickness or death to be the reason.

Hygiene cannot be underestimated, it is never completely fixed and there is never an all-in-one easy solution.  Food safety is the single greatest ongoing challenge for all food and beverage manufacturers and a new understanding must be reached before this industry, as a community, can evolve and meet the ever increasing demands of the future.
If you find yourself in the position of deciding whether to update all or part of your facility, it doesn’t hurt to seek out external advice and/or solutions.  Getting it right can be complex, risky and a distraction to your core business. 

Click here (LINK TO TOOL) for a checklist to help you determine your requirements.
 
About the author
Andrew Newby is the Business Development Director at Wiley and can be contacted on 1300 385 988 or email connect@wiley.com.au.

Further Information
Primary Production and Processing Standards (Australia only)
http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/foodstandards/primaryproductionprocessingstandardsaustraliaonly/

Wiki page on Food Safety
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_safety

Article—Hygienic Design of Food Processing Facilities
http://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/article.asp?id=3816&sub=sub1

Cleantec website – the largest overall supplier of cleaning and hygiene chemicals to the Australian Food and Beverage Industries
http://www.cleantec.com.au/fhs/food_hygiene.htm

This article was published in Food & Drink Business Magazine.

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