Maintaining Quality and Sanitation in Snack Food Facilities

By Evan Reyes, Director of Sales, Sanitation Division at Goodway Technologies

Goodway Belt CleaningFor sanitation and quality assurance teams in snack food facilities, the landscape has undoubtedly evolved over recent years. Food safety regulations are increasingly more stringent, and food processors are forced to find efficient and effective ways to improve their food safety programs. This is even more apparent in contract manufacturing and co-packing environments where not only are regulators looking over shoulders, so too are customers.

A significant driver of stricter regulation is the introduction of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This piece of legislation focuses on preventive controls to ensure the safety of U.S. food supply. It has a tremendous impact on food manufacturing facilities, changing the way they approach routine food safety procedures. With FSMA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has more significant influence and oversight—including the ability to shut down a facility or initiate a recall if there are food safety concerns.

Another component of increasing regulation is the rise in food allergens. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of a food allergy in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, and that has resulted in severe consequences for consumers if not appropriately managed. Research from the CDC found that every three minutes, someone heads to the emergency room as a result of a food allergy reaction.

Consumers aren’t the only ones feeling the impact of increased sensitivity to allergens. It’s creating more recalls. For food producers, especially contract manufacturers, recalls can mean lost sales, direct costs, and long-term impact on reputations.

With the health of both consumers and bottom lines at stake, cleaning and sanitation should be a top priority in food manufacturing and processing facilities.

What other cleaning and sanitation concerns do snack food facilities need to be aware of?

Reducing food allergens and preventing cross-contamination are certainly significant concerns for snack food facilities, but they aren’t the things to worry about. Production and profitability are also of concern.

Changing consumer trends and the need for incremental revenue have increased the volume of co-packing and contract manufacturing environments. The need for flexibility and quick changeover times have made cleaning even more challenging. Take the growth in snack bar sales, for example. People are looking for healthier options, and manufacturers are answering the call with new products using natural ingredients like dried fruits, which can be a sticky mess for conveyor belts. Expectations are for quick turnaround and increased productivity to meet financial goals.

Consumers are also looking for quick and healthy meals, and ready-to-eat options are an ideal solution. However, because these items are eaten right out of the package with no-kill step at home, they have a higher risk of microbial contamination. Facilities producing ready-to-eat products have more stringent sanitation requirements through FSMA.

What are the proper cleaning techniques?

Having the appropriate tools and technologies is an essential first step for food processing facilities looking to improve cleaning and sanitation results.

For production environments where water use is prohibited or strictly monitored, dry steam cleaning is an economical, eco-friendly and effective form of cleaning. The method produces as little as five percent moisture content during cleaning. With this method, steam is superheated and pressurized to provide powerful cleaning and sanitizing properties. This powerful cleaner uses no added chemicals to remove stubborn grease, oil, sugar, and other residues. It works effortlessly on a variety of surfaces, even hard to reach niche areas.

Additionally, yeast, mold, and bacteria are instantly eradicated, reducing microorganism counts. Dry steam also helps to loosen up and remove allergens where water use must be controlled or limited.  It can be much faster than traditional dry clean methods like brushing, scraping and wiping in these hard to reach and dry clean applications.

Due to its low moisture content, dry steam solutions are safe to use around electrical equipment and sensitive packaging areas. Steam evaporates quickly and leaves surfaces virtually dry and free from residual moisture. It also eliminates concerns about using harsh chemicals that may impact employee safety and the health of the environment. The high temperatures can kill microorganisms and remove allergens from the surface, leaving equipment dry and ready for immediate use.

Other benefits of dry steam cleaning include:

  • Productivity – Reduces changeover times, and increases production and revenue with improved equipment and conveyor reliability.
  • Efficiency – More thorough cleaning of food contact and non-food contact surfaces.
  • Quality – Improves hygiene, creates cleaner plants and facilities, improves detailed cleaning, and reduces labor.
  • Environmental – Reduces water usage, wastewater, chemicals, and prevents regulatory fines.
  • Safety– Most dry steam equipment is easy to operate, offers a clean-in-place solution, and helps to improve safety in the work environment.

What else can facilities do to meet food safety standards?

Every facility should have a thorough sanitation schedule implemented, and it should be reviewed frequently with team members. Ensuring proper compliance may also mean increasing the number of dedicated sanitation professionals in a given facility.

Food production equipment should also be evaluated regularly. Older equipment may need to be modified or replaced to eliminate bacteria harborage points.

Bottom line? Snack food facilities, especially in the co-packing and contract manufacturing segments don’t have the option to skip the cleaning and sanitation process. Implementing proper cleaning and sanitation procedures, and finding the right equipment that increases cleaning quality, and reduces changeover times and labor costs is essential to their long-term success.