KANSAS CITY — Before putting that next major project in motion, consider how food safety can bring it to a grinding halt. That’s not only the case when giving a bakery an extreme makeover or expanding the facility to ratchet up capacity. Even when installing a new line or replacing a much-needed piece of aging equipment, a small interruption could lead to an unnecessary disruption, especially if it’s being done in a plant where there is ongoing production.
To prevent the proverbial wrecking ball from wreaking havoc, the best-laid plans must involve production, sanitation and maintenance personnel throughout the planning process. Ensuring food safety involves more than setting up a curtain between operating lines and areas under renovation. Often it dictates almost every facet of a project.
“The engineering effort needs to create a safe and sanitary barrier that isolates construction from the existing facility,” said Jim Kline, president of The EnSol Group. “Special consideration needs to be given to isolating the ventilation system of the existing plant. A good practice is to keep the construction area — once enclosed — under negative pressure compared to the existing plant to minimize the opportunity for dust and odors to migrate into the bakery.”
Food safety has become one of the primary forces behind facility upgrades and reorganization of production in the wake of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). All food manufacturers, including bakers and snack producers, are separating their raw material handling and finished goods departments with walls or other barriers.
“FSMA and GMPs now require that isolation,” Mr. Kline said. “That’s a failure if you don’t isolate raw materials from finished product.”
However, getting to such a degree of separation has gotten more complex with sanitation, maintenance and food safety now collaborating on many capital spending projects.
“Food safety cannot be assumed but rather must be considered during the planning and budgeting stage,” said Rowdy Brixey, president of Brixey Engineering Strategies & Training. “Think floor to ceiling because this might be the best time to bring the area around the asset up to a higher standard. Demo all the old hardware associated with the prior asset and don’t overlook paint and lighting. When in doubt refer to the ANSI Z50.1 and Z50.2 standards for the best of the best practices.”
In some instances, procuring line isolation for raw, finished or allergen production is often easier said than done, especially in older structures or buildings not originally designed for food manufacturing. Moreover, creating this sustainable, food-safe environment has even emerged as a determining factor when weighing in on whether to expand in a brownfield or greenfield facility.
“Physical space is the main concern for existing facilities or brownfields because you are restricted by the existing area they have,” said Adam Stroh, senior process project manager for Stellar. “Conversely, for the construction of a new greenfield operation, you would be able to design the process from the beginning with the advantage of looking ahead to possible hurdles and engineer out as many variables as you are aware of. The main challenge between the two would be the cost of modifying existing operations versus building a new one.”
Ensuring food safety and maintaining the highest product quality are vital for production. That’s because most Americans — some 81% — assume food products already follow such strict standards, according to NSF International’s 2019 “Consumer Product Concerns Survey.” That may account for why 53% of those surveyed said they do not check to see if food products are verified as adhering to strict quality and safety standards.
However, it just takes one recall to raise doubt in consumers’ minds.
Securing a successful undertaking while avoiding unexpected costs and delays begins during the planning phase.
“The projects that become most difficult to complete are those where they have failed to plan," Mr. Kline said. "They didn’t ask the right questions to make adequate preparations for every detail from the beginning. When a problem occurs, they have to stop everything to fix it and then fall behind schedule. As a result, catching up becomes very difficult.”
Before hauling in equipment or putting the jack hammer to the floor, Mr. Brixey offered some frank advice.
“Include everyone and overcommunicate,” he said. “I like a visual schedule that indicates a timeline for all activities and includes all departments. It’s one of the best ways to uncover something you’ve missed in your plan. This also sets expectations of performance for all.”
Mr. Kline recommended Microsoft Project or a similar program to create a detailed checklist in an easy-to-manage format. Visually, he suggested using old-fashioned “D-size” paper — the blueprint-sized sheets that architects use — for itemizing each piece of equipment and everything it needs for installation and operation.
For larger projects, don’t forget to list the sourcing of ingredients, where they are stored and what utilities to use, verifying the boiler size, checking the fire suppression system and even if bowl scrapers are needed for mixers — just to name a few.
No detail is too small.
“A project that’s about $15 to $20 million will have in the neighborhood of between 9,000 and 14,000 different tasks to be addressed,” Mr. Kline added. “The goal is to minimize the number of things that need to be corrected or changed during the execution of the project because you didn’t prepare for them in the first place.”
Sanitary design remains a key criterion when evaluating new equipment, said Sunil Sehrawat, food safety professional for Asia-Pacific food safety services at AIB International.
“The ability to break down the equipment easily so the operators and sanitation crews can properly inspect and clean it is crucial,” he said. “When nuts, bolts, wrenches and screwdrivers are needed for sanitation purposes, disassembly and cleaning cannot be done easily or practically. As a best practice, you want to prevent the establishment of soils like bacteria biofilms and allergenic proteins that can lead to contamination of products that will impact product quality and safety.”
It sounds obvious, but don’t forget how the equipment gets into the facility.
“If you are buying a 160-ft tunnel oven, what size door do you need to have to bring it in? Sometimes you may need to open up a wall temporarily and add a roll-up door to get the equipment in from a parking lot,” Mr. Kline said. “With one plant, we had to literally lift out a section of the roof to crane in new silos. It was the only way to do it.”