When it comes to food and drink production, it's essential that processing and packaging lines are completing runs that deliver a quality, safe end product. After all, products that are contaminated and unsafe to consume or drink could hurt a brand's reputation, not to mention open a particular brand or company to legal issues.
But one common misconception when it comes to food and drink production is that it's only the end product that needs to be inspected and checked for quality control. Arguably just as important to keeping the end product contaminant free is keeping the equipment that processes the product contaminant free. Yes, the conveyor lines, packaging lines, metal detectors and more aren't immune from accruing contaminants such as harmful bacteria and more that could find their way into the end product, thereby compromising it.
So just what's the best way to keep this processing equipment clean (and safe)? While we'll get into the various ways to accomplish this later on in this post, it's first important to point out that any good cleaning, sterilization and sanitation plan in a food or beverage processing facility should include some common characteristics. These include:
- Both daily and routine cleaning, sterilization and sanitation should be practiced.
- The aforementioned practices should be monitored or supervised to ensure that it is done correctly and adequately. Additionally, the importance of these procedures should be stressed by management. In other words, this shouldn't be an afterthought; it should be a priority in any facility.
- Staff safety should also be considered when any cleaning, sterilization and sanitation plan is implemented. For instance, it's important for staff members to be properly trained and educated on whatever cleaning procedures they are carrying out in a facility.
- Failure to implement such a procedure could lead to severe ramifications.
How to Sterilize Equipment Used in Food/Drink Production
There are many different equipment components in the food and drink production line. There are conveyors, which move packaging to various filling or distribution stations. In some cases, there are even form-fill-seal machines, which essentially finalize the production and packaging process so that products can move on to shipment. Many processing lines also include the use of metal detectors, so that food and beverages can be checked to ensure they aren't carrying any harmful metal in them.
Sanitation is defined as “the process of reducing the microorganisms on a clean surface to a safe level.” This so-called “safe level” is generally thought to be a near 100 percent reduction in contaminants. With this all being said, just how is this processing equipment sterilized so that it's not potentially contributing to any likelihood of contaminated food or beverages? Here's a look at some of the most popular techniques for the cleaning and sanitization used in food and drink processing:
Radiation: This tactic involves the use of ultraviolet radiation to get rid of microorganisms, and is becoming a more and more common sterilization method used in food processing facilities. Generally, by just administering the UV light to processing equipment for 2 minutes is enough to kill all microorganisms that come into contact with them. While fast working, there are a few notable disadvantages to going the UV radiation route. One, such equipment is usually pretty expensive. And two, the UV light is usually only able to treat a small area of the processing equipment at a time.
Thermal Sanitization: As you can likely tell from the title of particular tactic, this sterilization method uses heat. That’s because under the right circumstances, heat is arguably the best way to destroy microorganisms on surfaces. However, when it comes to heat, there are three main methods of using it to sanitize food and beverage processing equipment:
- Steam: This method uses heat in a gaseous state, as when it is applied to the surface of the processing equipment – and under the right time circumstances – steam can be a critical ally. Generally, steam needs to be at least 170 degrees Fahrenheit and be exposed to processing equipment for a minimum of 15 minutes to properly sterilize and sanitize it. At about 200 degrees Fahrenheit, steam needs to be exposed to the equipment for only about 5 minutes. One downside to using steam, however, is that steam’s condensation byproduct has been known to add complications to the cleaning.
- Hot Water: Heat in a liquid state, as in hot water, is also a viable sanitization and sterilization method when it comes to processing equipment. Generally speaking, however, hot water must be heated to at least 171 degrees Fahrenheit to be effective in eliminating microorganisms, though higher temperatures will enable sterilization in a lesser amount of time. Depending on the process, temperatures that must be reached and times that hot water must be applied vary. The likes of circulating systems and dishwashers are commonly used for sanitizing and sterilizing equipment using hot water. Compared to the other means of thermal sanitization, using hot water is relatively inexpensive, easy and highly effective. However, being a slower process that needs a warm-up and cool-down period, it can be a bit more time consuming.
- Hot Air: The third and final way to apply thermal sanitization is to apply hot air to the packaging equipment. The experts agree that hot air must be applied for about 20 minutes and at a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chemical Sanitization: Last but not least, the other of the “big 3” sterilization and sanitization processes is the use of chemicals. Chemicals are a highly effective means of eliminating microorganisms from processing equipment – but only under the right conditions. For instance, in order for chemicals to work properly, the balance of chlorine, iodine and ammonium must be correct. What’s more is that there needs to also be the right concentration, temperature and contact time. As an example, when using a chemical to sanitize and sterilize, the right amount of the particular cleaning agent must be used, it needs to be used in the right temperature conditions and it needs to be applied for the appropriate amount of time to adequately work. If these standards are not met, efforts are likely to fail, thereby compromising the end food or beverage product through possible contamination.
Cleaning, sanitization and sterilization of food and beverage processing equipment isn’t something that should be taken lightly. It’s an important job that requires dedication and a high level of attention.
For more information on how to clean, sanitize and sterilize processing equipment used in food and beverage production, and for a look at said equipment that we have in stock, contact Bid on Equipment today.