Joe Stout, Commercial Food Sanitation

LIBERTYVILLE, ILL. — When it comes to new equipment, many baked goods processors often submit — and expect compliance to — a set of custom-designed standards. Well, that incorporates and solves our sanitation issues. Not! Equipment manufacturers often express frustration when bakers ask for a unique design specification that makes each order special.

A single standard would certainly make things easy; however, I do not believe “cookie cutter” equipment design would make things better. And it’s certainly not the right solution for the industry. That’s because such a set of rigid, prescriptive guidelines would limit innovation and slow the speed of new advances in the hygienic design of equipment. In the food industry, progress in hygienic design is similar to progress in other forms of technology that have seen small but continuous advances over the long run.

Just look at how smartphone technology has advanced since Apple released its first iPhone just 10 years ago. Unfortunately, we can’t replace all our bakery equipment as often as we do our smartphone; equipment purchases are investments that are expected to last 20 years or more. As a result, our focus must be on getting the purchase correct from the start. In order to do so, we cannot be solely focused on a two-year ROI. We need to adapt a long-term strategic vision.

To achieve this, focus on two key questions. How do I make sure to get the best available new equipment? And how do I manage my older equipment and existing gaps in design?

There are some good starting points, but let me remind you what Dave Kramer, former director of engineering for Sara Lee, called the “common-sense approach” to hygienic design: “If you can’t see it, you can’t clean it or sample it.” It sounds simple, but it is the most fundamental design standard out there.

When processors or equipment manufacturers express interest in starting the journey of hygienic design, I point them to the Grocery Manufacturers Associations’ hygienic equipment design guidelines for low-moisture foods for dry-cleaning equipment. For wet-cleaned equipment, I typically recommend the American Meat Institute’s equipment design checklist. Determining the correct cleaning method (wet or dry) is a complicated topic that needs to be determined early on.

The bottom line? There is no substitute for having a sanitation expert involved in the design review. Regardless of whom the equipment manufacturer will be, do not simply request the “sanitary design” or “washdown” version and place your faith in the design process of an original equipment manufacturer. Processors must keep in mind that the additional cost of a design review is minimal compared to 20 years of additional resources to properly clean. At the same time, equipment manufacturers cannot rely on the designs that come from their customers. I recommend all parties come together in a plant to see firsthand how the equipment is actually cleaned. Witnessing the process always changes the view of those that go through it.

To manage gaps in hygienic design, it comes down to understanding the risks associated with the product, design of the equipment and an understanding of the normal or routine cleaning. Every piece of equipment will need some infrequent cleaning. At our training sessions, we refer to this as Periodic Equipment Cleaning (PEC), a science-based deep-cleaning program. All equipment in your bakery needs a deep cleaning to maintain proper hygiene. In some cases, the need is based on microbiological reasons including spoilage organisms. In other cases, it’s to support pest control.

The power comes when processors are excited about hygienic design and get cross-functional teams involved early in projects. At the same time, they review new and legacy equipment for design gaps and incorporate them into the PEC programs. The two work together to contribute to quality products and food safety operations.