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Special Edition: Decontamination

Poor equipment design compromising food safety, EHEDG

By Jane Byrne , 12-Mar-2010
Last updated on 16-Mar-2010 at 13:43 GMT

Misinterpretation of fundamental criteria for the hygienic design of equipment by designers is resulting in incorrect installation of parts such as valves and sensors at the initial design stage of new food processing equipment and leaves processors exposed to contaminant threats, claims the EHEDG.

The EHEDG (European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group) is a consortium of equipment manufacturers, food industries, research institutes, universities and public health authorities, founded in 1989 with the aim of promoting hygiene during the processing and packing of food products.

Speaking to FoodProductionDaily.com, Dr Jürgen Hofmann, EHEDG executive committee member, said that interfaces in new food and beverage machinery have been proving problematic for the industry with dead ends as a result of faulty valve design trapping product and allowing soilage, thus preventing sterile units post cleaning.

“Designers or technical engineers are aware of the EHEDG documents outlining how to ensure machinery construction is compliant with European Directives and standards in hygienic design of food equipment but they often get it wrong and are compromising safety for manufacturers,” he claims.

Training

One of the more pressing goals of the EHEDG, stressed Hofmann, is the need to improve training and build awareness in how to effectively transfer the hygienic design principles to actual new builds.

“The long term benefits of doing so are not only product safety but also increased life expectancy of equipment, reduced maintenance and consequently lower operating costs,” he continued.

He said that while the training budget of many suppliers and processors has been cut due to effects of recessionary economics it is critical that food and beverage plant operatives attend EHEDG run seminars to ensure that they are also competent to operate, maintain, install and clean food machinery or processes in such a way that its hygienic safety is established and maintained.

“There is a real risk that operators, due to a lack of time and training, can reassemble machinery such as gaskets incorrectly following disassemble for lubrication as part of regular line maintenance, and this can cause a valve to not close properly resulting in the equipment being vulnerable to hygiene threats,” argues Hofmann.

He said often suppliers train operators on delivery of machinery but technical support on behalf of the equipment manufacturer 12 months down the road can be lacking and this can, in effect, undermine the originally high hygiene standards of the equipment.

Industry involvement

The EGEDG, continued Hofmann, currently sees open food processes and meat and fish production as areas of critical importance in terms of hygiene vulnerability and it is, he said, thus seeking the participation of processors from these categories in subgroups aimed at providing the industry with new guidelines.

The participation of food processors in these working groups is critical for highlighting where the problem areas lie on equipment pertaining to these sectors and their feedback will help influence future machinery designs,” claims Hofmann.

He said the open processes group will address, over the next two years, how the current challenges regarding the cleanability of cables, HMIs, sensors, screw threads, displays and drivers can be overcome.

New guideline due

The end of this month, added Hofmann, will see the publication of a new guideline on the design principles for valves for use in dry materials handling in sectors such as baking and snacks production.

He explained that regular cleaning of machinery in between batch runs in powder handling processes are proving problematic in terms of hygiene.

“Bakers are under pressure to produce a wide range of products in order to compete in today’s economic climate, and are thus requiring several changeovers on the one line with the equipment needing to be cleaned in between each batch to prevent cross contamination.

However, due to a line's outdated design it can often be difficult to guarantee a totally sterile unit in between runs,” said Hofmann.

He said that if engineers can ensure equipment is easy to clean at the initial design stage, it will result in greater efficiencies and savings for processors under pressure to reduce water, energy and detergent consumption and have sterile equipment in order to prevent costly recalls and a damaged reputation.

The fourth and final part of our special edition on decontamination will look at active packaging and regulation governing it.

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