The demand for food processing has reached an all-time high and will continue to grow, especially as the demand for fresh and mostly unprocessed foods rises. Less processing should theoretically include fewer contaminants, but if you’re processing new foods in an old facility, there is the potential for unhygienic practices.
Whether you’re revamping an old facility or building a new one from scratch, what can you do to design a food processing facility that is hygienic as humanly possible?
The first step to creating a hygienic facility is to look at the construction of the facility itself. Examine your layout — does the design allow the processing and packaging of the food product to flow in the same direction, or do you have to move back and forth to complete everything?
You should be able to enter at one end of the facility, follow the production step by step — without turning around — and exit with the finished product at the other end of the facility. This helps prevent cross-contamination between stages, and keeps “dirty” aspects of the process, such as food waste, from mixing with the “clean” packaged foods.
The facility itself should also be designed to prevent the incursion of pests, such as insects, rats or birds. Installing a concrete “curtain wall” that extends below the surface of the surrounding ground can help discourage rats from tunnelling into the building.
Secure all floor drains, if necessary, with screening to prevent rats from traveling up through the drain pipes and into the facility. Vents, both air and otherwise, should also be screened to keep insects, birds and rats from entering the building.
Component Material Choices
Likewise, you should carefully select the materials you use within the facility. Any surfaces that are in contact with food should be made of food-grade materials such as stainless steel or silicone. Areas that are not in direct contact with food, but are in the vicinity of food preparation, should be made of non-porous materials that can be easily cleaned and sanitised.
In areas where sanitisation is a concern, do not use porous or organic materials at all — this includes wooden pallets. If pallets are required during production, they should be made of food-grade plastic that can be sanitised between each use. Wooden pallets can be used for final shipment, after the food is fully packaged, but should not be used on the production floor.
Your facility should be zoned into at least three areas: B, M and H, standing for basic, medium and highest levels of hygiene.
Basic zones require very little in the way of hygienic intervention — these are areas where items are not susceptible to contamination, such as final shipping areas after the products have been fully packaged. Birds and other pests still need to be controlled in this area, but other than that, very little intervention is necessary.
Medium zones should be set up anywhere food items are at risk for contamination. These areas aren’t as highly sensitive as H zones, but still require a higher level of intervention and sanitisation to ensure the product is safe to consume.
High zones are areas where even a few seconds of exposure to the atmosphere could result in a food item being unsafe to consume. Items that are destined for at-risk consumer groups — such as infant formula and food — most frequently require the highest level of production hygiene available.
Each zone should be separate from the rest, contained and able to be cleaned and sanitised independently of the other zones, if necessary.
Implementing Barrier Technology
Barrier technology, as its name suggests, is designed to create barriers to protect the hygiene of food production. The zoning we mentioned a moment ago is one form of barrier technology. Protection against rodents and other pests is another.
The first barrier to implement is a literal one — fences and other barriers that can be used to keep unauthorised individuals out of the facility where they could potentially contaminate the products being assembled. This could include code-locked or biometrically secured entrances and exits on the facility, security cameras and other items that can help keep the facility secure.
Creating a hygienic food processing environment doesn’t have to be difficult — it does, however, require constant vigilance and the upgrade of older facilities.