By Ashutosh Jaiswal*

New food processing facilities are being designed to bring enhanced efficiency and effectiveness to operations. To meet this criterion, design professionals are charged with keeping labour costs low, productivity high, and minimizing downtime to bring the entire project in on time and within budget. A tall order, but completely within the realm of the architecture and design community. 

However, where does sanitation rank among these other critically important criteria? According to Sebastian Bohn, Alt Protein Lead at CRB Group, sanitation ranks very high in criteria as they design food processing facilities, others have admitted that they are sometimes slow to adopt new sanitation technologies. A better understanding of the problem and mitigation options will help. 

Suffice it to say that foodborne illness has a great cost. People get sick, get hospitalized, and sadly, succumb to death. Direct and indirect costs of an outbreak or recall can significantly impair earnings, reduce brand value, market capitalization, and severely impact customer loyalty. Although the costs are high, the probability of an outbreak or recall is relatively low. Like all forms of insurable risk, it is sometimes hard to implement better design in place of higher insurance premiums. 

Let’s examine the points at which we need pathogen control solutions, and assess what design considerations are important to ensure the successful delivery of the best solutions.

1. Points of Pathogen Control

Pathogens are everywhere and move easily. The acronym FATTOM is used to describe the conditions necessary for growth – food, acidity, time, temperature, oxygen, and moisture. For food processors, pathogens enter their facilities on food. Especially, those of animal origin, those grown where manure is used as fertilizer or products washed in unclean water. In climates where wet and soiled conditions are present, pathogens may enter via the bottom of the foot or wheeled traffic. 

Once in, pathogens move from floors to clothing to hands to food contact surfaces and ultimately to food. A second point of pathogen movement of concern is at cross-over points, especially the raw to ready-to-eat intersection. 

The implications of controlling pathogen movement into and within a plant are: 

  • Control the floor by controlling the perimeter
  • Control the cross-contamination points
  • Control the last mile

2. Control Solutions

By what criteria should you choose control mechanisms? Although it may seem like we are stating the obvious, sometimes the obvious requires close observation. 

First, the solutions should work- and work to a standard you are comfortable with. If you need a 3, 4 or 5 log reduction, make sure your solution has validated that level of efficacy. We are often surprised by the lack of or poor quality of validation work. 

Working with your architects, engineers, designers, and construction professionals, you can meet your sanitation needs without sacrificing your needs for greater efficiency and productivity. 

Second, ensure that these solutions are used. For example, we have been surprised by how often we see employees passing boot washers. Third, these solutions should minimize or even eliminate the use of water and chemicals. Water creates slip-and-fall conditions for employees, breeding grounds for bacterial growth and detracts from companies achieving their net zero growth targets. Chemicals are clearly dangerous for employees and for end-use customers if they ingest them. Lastly, they should contribute, by comparison to alternatives, to productivity goals by minimizing shutdown time. 

Our experience suggests that food processors choose solutions based on familiarity without taking a hard look at new technologies that are more effective and incur a lower total cost of ownership. Clean Beam, for example, uses Pulsed Ultraviolet Light in all our solutions that are dry, safe, and chemical-free and have been proven more effective in independently-validated studies.

3. Design Implications

When thinking about design, the following considerations might be helpful: 

  • Conduct a hazard analysis to identify food and safety risks and the necessary control points.
  • Actively challenge all your assumptions, beliefs, and biases you have about control and control mechanisms. How well do you really understand the problem and the solutions available?
  • Establish criteria for your choice of solution before choosing.
  • Minimize the entry points for people, equipment, and products.
  • Ensure each point of entry has the appropriate control mechanism.
  • Design the flow of people and equipment through those control mechanisms.
  • If you expect employees to use these solutions, train them, monitor usage and act with variations.
  • Remember the last mile – despite all your best efforts, pathogens will be present – ensure that your solution set includes a treatment for the last contact surfaces that the food touches. Consider treating the food just prior to packaging. 

Designing a food processing facility with sanitation in mind minimizes the probability of an outbreak or recall. Working with your architects, engineers, designers, and construction professionals, you can meet your sanitation needs without sacrificing your needs for greater efficiency and productivity.

Designing Food Processing Plants with Sanitation in Mind 

In the realm of food production, safety and quality are non-negotiable. A critical aspect of ensuring food safety lies in the design and layout of food processing plants. Incorporating sanitation considerations into the design process is essential to prevent contamination, reduce risks, and uphold the highest standards of hygiene. 

The Intersection of Design and Sanitation: 

Designing a food processing plant goes beyond aesthetics and functionality; it directly impacts food safety and quality. Poorly designed facilities can create challenges for cleaning, maintenance, and contamination prevention. A well-designed plant, on the other hand, streamlines operations, minimizes risks and ensures compliance with food safety regulations.

Key Principles of Designing for Sanitation: 

  1. Flow and Layout:The layout should be designed to optimize the flow of materials, people, and equipment, reducing the risk of cross-contamination. Separate areas for raw materials, processing, and packaging are essential.
  2. Zoning:Designate different zones for different activities to prevent the cross-contamination of raw materials, finished products, and waste. Clear zoning minimizes the risk of allergen or pathogen transfer.
  3. Material Selection:Choose materials that are easy to clean and resistant to corrosion, chemicals, and bacterial growth. Non-porous surfaces are preferred to prevent harbouring pathogens.
  4. Drainage and Ventilation:Proper drainage systems prevent water pooling, which can lead to bacterial growth. Adequate ventilation helps maintain a clean and dry environment.
  5. Access and Traffic:Ensure easy access for cleaning and maintenance by designing spaces with sufficient clearance, unobstructed pathways, and easy-to-reach equipment.
  6. Equipment Design:Choose equipment with hygienic designs, including smooth surfaces, rounded edges, and minimal crevices where debris and bacteria can accumulate.

Benefits of Sanitation-Centric Design: 

  1. Enhanced Food Safety:A well-designed plant minimizes the risk of cross-contamination, pathogen growth, and allergen transfer, leading to safer food products.
  2. Efficient Cleaning:Design considerations such as easy-to-clean surfaces, strategically placed drains, and access points facilitate thorough and efficient cleaning.
  3. Regulatory Compliance:Sanitation-centric design aligns with food safety regulations and standards, ensuring that your facility remains compliant and avoids regulatory issues.
  4. Cost Savings:Preventing contamination and ensuring proper sanitation from the outset can help avoid costly recalls, product wastage, and equipment damage.
  5. Brand Reputation:Designing with sanitation in mind demonstrates a commitment to consumer safety, which can boost brand reputation and consumer trust.

Best Practices for Designing Sanitation-First Processing Plants: 

  1. Collaboration:Involve cross-functional teams including engineers, sanitation experts, and food safety professionals in the design process.
  2. Risk Assessment:Conduct thorough risk assessments to identify potential sources of contamination and prioritize measures to mitigate them.
  3. Learn from Experience:Incorporate lessons learned from previous facility designs, operational challenges, and industry best practices.
  4. Future-Proofing:Anticipate future growth and changes in production demands to design a flexible facility that can adapt to evolving needs.
  5. Regular Reviews:Continuously assess and refine your design based on feedback from employees, audits, and changes in regulatory requirements.

Conclusion: Creating Safe and Efficient Environments 

Designing food processing plants with sanitation at the forefront is not just a compliance requirement; it’s a strategic decision that underpins the success of your business. An investment in sanitation-centric design pays dividends in terms of food safety, operational efficiency, regulatory compliance, and brand reputation. By embracing the principles of effective design, food processors can ensure that their facilities not only produce high-quality products but also maintain the highest standards of hygiene and safety throughout the production process.

Author 

*Food Safety Professional 

Email: ashuthewall@gmail.com 

Website: https://www.foodsafetywithashutosh.com