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Questions and Answers: Stellar's James P. Oko on Sanitation

Food Manufacturing corresponded with James P. Oko of Stellar on the topic of sanitation in the food manufacturing industry.

Mnet 147766 Jim Oko Lead 1

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Food Manufacturing

Food Manufacturing corresponded with James P. Oko of Stellar on the topic of sanitation in the food manufacturing industry.

Q: Which innovations in sanitation should food manufacturers be aware of? 

A. Manufacturers should be aware of innovative improvements to clean-in-place (CIP) and clean-out-of-place (COP). Improvements in chemical distribution, nozzle design, pump flow rates and flow patterns have made these systems more attractive than ever for effectively cleaning process systems. Hermetically sealed items, such as motors and load cells, are other innovations that have made once difficult-to-clean areas of a line easier to access and clean.

Q. What plant sanitation techniques can food processors employ to improve food safety in their facilities?

A. Food processors have an arsenal of sanitation techniques readily available to them at their fingertips and a vast array of resources ready to step in when all else fails thanks to the Internet, media exposure and public awareness. It is important for processors to practice top-to-bottom sanitation methods implemented with the appropriate disinfecting agent aimed to keep food contact surfaces clean and dry. 

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There are systems that meter and control concentration levels and even record the level of “clean” achieved.  There are intervention steps such as pasteurization, high-pressure pasteurization and new microwave technologies emerging as potential candidates to add to the tools available to the process.

Right now, there should be an emphasis on training. Training personnel to achieve repeatable excellent results every day will ensure any of these available techniques are successful at improving and sustaining food safety in their facilities. It only takes one instance of failure to erase a reputation of good food-safe practices that may have taken years to build. Processors should invest in their procedures and people to ensure each person with the ability to come in contact with the product or a product-contact surface is properly trained in the sanitation techniques adopted within their respective operations.

Q. How has FSMA compliance impacted sanitation efforts at food facilities?

A. FSMA shifts responsibility of identifying manufacturing risks to the producer. Now, food facilities are more resourceful and innovative with their sanitation processes, encouraging sanitation departments to develop standards to minimize and prevent food safety hazards.

Many equipment suppliers are conducting in-house tests on equipment to validate equipment’s sanitation integrity prior to delivery — a smart way to control allergens from the beginning. Some food facilities are also employing in-house food safety experts to keep up with the latest regulations and best practices.

Sanitation technology has improved, as well. There’s now even better chemical technology for clean-in-place (CIP) and clean-out-of-place (COP) stations. These are developed with higher concentration levels that not only improve sanitation, but also reduce the amount of time required for cleaning.

Q. What are some sanitary design best practices food manufacturers should be following as they update or expand their plants and incorporate new equipment?

A. When expanding or updating plants, food safety can be a major threat as construction can introduce unsanitary conditions. For retrofits and renovations, specifically, food manufacturers must focus on plant personnel and traffic flow. Understand how construction will impact personnel’s good manufacturing practices (GMP) procedures like hand-washing. Ensure you’re clearly communicating ways to avoid potential contamination by developing alternate paths. Airflow is another key factor to keep in mind as you’re updating or expanding your plant. Ensure airflow is negative within the area of an expansion so it doesn’t contaminate positively pressurized production areas.

In addition to ensuring equipment is designed and built to meet sanitary requirements, it must be installed to those same standards. When incorporating new equipment, specifically, it’s important to screen installation subcontractors to ensure they’re following sanitary process installation. Prior to selecting a subcontractor, ensure they understand these items:

  • The importance of the sanitary hanger system supporting the piping install
  • Acceptable methods of constructing the piping system so it can be maintained and kept clean
  • Proper method of hanging piping so fluids will run back to the low points and the system will drain
  • Dead leg piping and how to avoid it
  • Identification of an unsanitary piece of equipment vs. a component or piece of equipment designed specifically as sanitary or hygienic
  • Standards and specifications used in the practice of sanitary design as they relate to different industry sectors
  • Process for wash downs and cleaning of equipment for sanitary facilities including cleaning clearances, construction materials and sealants, and installation requirements

Q. How are new trends in sanitary equipment design improving food safety standards?

A. Food processing equipment manufacturers are now offering more advanced sanitary solutions via higher-grade stainless steel and anti-stick surfaces. To withstand daily exposure to harsh sanitation chemicals, manufacturers are now using higher grades of stainless steel. Type 304 and 316 are the most common stainless steel finishes in the food processing industry.

There are also new FDA-approved coatings available that reduce the potential for raw materials to adhere to equipment surfaces. These help improve pre- and post-operational performance by providing a better barrier against bacteria colonies and the formation of biofilms that are often resistant to chemicals and inferior sanitation practices.

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