KANSAS CITY — Once upon a time, an outbreak occurred, and the game was never the same. There probably isn’t a member of the baking industry who doesn’t remember the salmonella outbreak at Peanut Corp. of America. And Bill Kehrli, vice-president, sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging Group, will never forget: Cavanna supplied around 30 packaging lines to a major North American bakery plant that received a tainted shipment of peanut butter.
“The plant shut down and basically tore apart the entire factory trying to clean it. Our equipment was in pieces,” Mr. Kehrli recalled. It took more than a dozen technicians to reassemble the equipment, and from that moment, the idea of “clean” for Cavanna — along with nearly every food production facility and equipment manufacturer in the country — changed forever.
“We partnered with our customers and attended seminars put on by the American Meat Institute about what it means to be clean and how to build equipment that’s sanitary design,” Mr. Kehrli said. “Today, we’re preaching the ‘Gospel of Sanitary Design.’ ”
In this Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) era, sanitary design is a top priority for the baking industry. “Food safety not only affects brand awareness and the health of end users, but it also influences overall equipment effectiveness,” said Kelly Meer, product manager, Bosch Packaging Technology. “In order to achieve higher production efficiency, reduce cleaning time and prevent product contamination, it is essential for bakers to invest in a hygienically designed packaging solution.”
The meaning of clean
There’s no disputing that every facet of bakery production has to be clean. But words such as clean and sanitary, while vital pieces of a baker’s lexicon, can often mean different things to different people. To make sure that packaging equipment meets sanitary design standards for both the baker and supplier, communication is crucial, and that should start at the training level.
“The same diligence a bakery puts into training staff to make the product should go into cleaning equipment and preparing it to run the next day,” said Dennis Gunnell, vice-president, sales and marketing, Formost Fuji. “Identifying standards and understanding what ‘clean’ means is critical because ‘clean’ to one person might not mean the same thing to someone else.”
Mr. Kehrli echoed that sentiment. “Someone else’s definition of clean might not be my definition,” he said. “My definition of clean is that it’s spotless. You can swab it anywhere, and all the bacteria are killed. It goes beyond wiping something down with a damp rag or blowing with compressed air.”
Visibility is often the key to identifying a standard of clean. Remember the adage, “If you can’t see it, you can’t clean it” — the same goes for confirming that it’s clean. “We design our equipment with guides that come off quickly without tools and decks that pivot out of the way so you can see underneath,” Mr. Gunnell said. “Not only do these features make the equipment easier to clean, but it also helps an operator see it’s clean as well. For example, if you don’t allow a deck to be removed, or at least pulled out of the way, an operator might think it’s clean, when in fact, there could be bacteria growing underneath.”
For food safety purposes, Bosch designs its packaging equipment so that stationary parts are below the process belt. “This ensures that products cannot become contaminated by dust and other residue, and it prevents parts from falling down and jeopardizing products or consumer health,” Mr. Meer observed. That said, Bosch’s packaging equipment’s observation windows, transparent casings and other accessibility features allow operators to inspect or clean it at any time.
After defining clean and identifying standards, the next critical issue is mapping out a plan. “Whether it’s processing or packaging equipment, the first question I always ask is, ‘What is our reason to clean?’” said Karl Thorson, food safety and sanitation manager for Minneapolis-based General Mills. “There has to be a reason to clean, and sometimes a better way to think of it is, ‘What would happen if I didn’t clean? What’s the impact to the system, the environment, the product?’ ”
It doesn’t matter if it’s a food safety or allergen issue. When bakers understand why a piece of packaging equipment needs to be cleaned, it’s much easier to move forward with design, an area where many bakeries are becoming more involved much earlier in the process. “Once I understand the ‘why,’ I can address it by marrying up the right design with the appropriate cleaning method,” Mr. Thorson said.
Mr. Gunnell encouraged bakers to take a more active role in the design process, something he’s seen trending in the past few years. “It’s been prevalent in the frozen food and meat industries, but we are now seeing more bakers asking to see the design of the conveyor and have a conversation about how it’s being built,” he said.
Increased collaboration is also happening at BluePrint Automation, according to Alan Beehler, director of applications. “Food safety professionals are getting more and more involved in the equipment design,” he said. “Every year, food safety concerns are becoming more elevated, and more of our customers are taking their involvement a step further.”
The sooner a bakery can start a sanitary design dialogue, the better. “Bakers should think about it up front — not after the new equipment is installed — right from the first stage,” Mr. Gunnell suggested. “Always ask the question, ‘How is this going to help me not only in production but also in sanitation?’ ”
Angela McDaniel, Formost Fuji sales and marketing coordinator, agreed. “It’s important for bakers to weigh the assessment of sanitary design from the beginning,” she said. “Trying to change it after the equipment has been built is not as cost-effective as going with sanitary design from the beginning.”
Matching method to need
It goes beyond just identifying what the standards are, especially in the packaging area where it might not be so black-and-white. Depending on the product and its specific characteristics, sanitary design for packaging equipment can range from wipe down to full washdown.
“It really depends on what ‘soil’ is going to be run on that system, and what concerns go along with that,” Mr. Thorson said. “What are the anticipated issues going forward? In packaging, if you anticipate having jam-ups, unsealed liners or major spillage or contamination of the line — which is a huge risk — then maybe you’ve got to design differently and go to the extreme of wet washdown.”
For Mr. Kehrli, washdown is more than the gold standard; it’s the standard. “If you’re going to clean the primary packaging equipment, then really clean it. The only way to fully do that is get in there and hit it with hoses and the right chemicals,” he said.
Washdown is also a core capability for BluePrint Automation, and Mr. Beehler pointed out its importance, especially for systems that have exposed product entering the packaging area. “We offer full washdown capable equipment using caustic foams and sanitizing solution that is corrosion resistant,” he said. The company’s sanitary design also minimizes nooks and crannies where crumbs, inclusions and other sanitary threats might hide. “All these areas are mechanically cleanable and also visible, and the equipment is constructed in a way that caustic foams and sanitizing solutions can be applied without damaging the equipment,” he said.
But — there’s always that “but” — some operations are not conducive to washdown packaging equipment, or they simply don’t need it. Mr. Thorson always considers the food safety need, wear on the equipment and also the cost of installation. He suggested a packaging line that only experiences minor spills might not require fully washdown capable equipment. He also emphasized the importance of planning ahead. “You have to think about what kind of flexibility you want for the future,” he said. “Will you possibly be running formulas in the future that would be more challenging to clean?”
Another important consideration for washdown is the environment itself. Oftentimes, the packaging area of an existing facility is not washdown-friendly. “It’s not just the equipment that needs to be sanitary design; the building needs to withstand washdown with drains in the floor,” Mr. Kehrli observed.
In a legacy building that’s been operating for decades, installing a washdown capable piece of equipment in an area that’s not conducive to it is counter-productive, especially for neighboring equipment that isn’t designed with the same capability. “In that case, when you spray the water, and the chemicals get in the air, it’s almost like raining inside the building, and that can potentially harm the other equipment,” Mr. Kehrli said.
Burford Corp. takes this into consideration with its tyers. Although its equipment does not come in contact with product, it’s compatible with other machines that are washdown-capable. “For a wet environment, we’ve made modifications to ensure that, while our machine isn’t washdown, it can be removed so that operators can wash in that area,” said Mitch Lindsey, technical sales, Burford. “All they have to do is roll our equipment off the line so the components that are in contact with product can be washed down.”
If not opting for washdown, there are still plenty of options. “Bakers are looking for sanitary design, even if not necessarily complete washdown,” Ms. McDaniel said. “As long as equipment meets the standards for sanitation, then removal of all the parts for proper cleaning becomes most important.” Formost’s sanitary design enables its packaging equipment to transform from a full machine into bare bones for complete sanitation.
When cleaning equipment, bakers understand that time is money … and downtime costs. To shorten downtime, redundancy helps. “Maybe I’ve got a belt for one product or another, or at least a clean set that can easily follow quick changeover principles and get into the next product run as soon as possible,” Mr. Thorson said. “Then I can do a detailed spot cleaning on the framework and things like that without doing a full-flood washdown.”
Bosch offers a second format set with its format parts carriage, according to Mr. Meer, allowing one set to be cleaned while the other is in use. “In a four-leg system, four operators just need two hours to change over the format parts and clean the entire system while critical parts are cleaned out of place,” he said, explaining that this helps bakers quickly resume production without the risk of allergen residues.
The allergen issue
Allergens are hard to control. It’s an issue that transcends individual areas of processing, and packaging can’t be discounted, either. When it comes to allergens, a proactive defense is best.
“It’s not unheard of on a packaging line to take many hours to pass an allergen clean,” Mr. Kehrli said. “For example, on a flowwrapping system for bars, operators can clean all the belts. Then, they go around with a swab and touch the different areas of equipment; if they find allergens on it, they can’t start up the line.”
When running products with very different formulas, Mr. Thorson advised bakers to consider everything with packaging design, especially when running products with allergens and non-allergens. “At minimum, you need to ensure that you can clean the product zone to the visibly clean standard,” he said. “If appropriate, you can follow up with analytical allergen testing (protein specific) of the surfaces and/or product.”
In areas such as secondary packaging where sanitary design is not as crucial, some bakeries rely on layout to address the allergen issue. “What we’ve done with certain customers is wall off processing and primary packaging and then have wrapped product go through a wall into secondary and tertiary packaging,” Mr. Kehrli said. “That creates an internal room that can handle washdown and an external room that does not require it.”
In the end, sanitary design should permeate every stage of bakery operations in some way. In a post-peanut-crisis, FSMA-driven world, it’s the new normal. “This should be the standard, not the goal,” Ms. McDaniel said.