Hygiene guidelines for food industry machinery

European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group provides clarity
Food & Pharma
6 April 2018

The importance of a professional approach to hygiene in the food industry cannot be overemphasised. Even relatively minor shortcomings can have far-reaching consequences including serious illness and even death.

In view of the risks to public health, it is entirely appropriate that the European Union applies strict rules to hygiene in the food industry. It is a given that the health of people comes first. However, hygiene problems can also cause serious damage to the businesses concerned. The direct costs of recall campaigns can be very high indeed, but the costs resulting from damage to a company’s reputation are often even more substantial. For example, an American food company suffered damage amounting to $160 million as a result of a hygiene problem and saw the value of its shares fall by 30%.

What does the law say?

The point is that while EU legislation specifies that machinery in contact with food must be easy to clean, it is up to manufacturers to decide how this task is accomplished exactly. In addition, there are also ISO standards on this subject, but they too contain little prescriptive detail.

Added value of the EHEDG

EHEDG – European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group – can be seen as an extension of the laws and ISO standards. The group develops guidelines on hygienic design that are based on clear and concrete examples, which can therefore be translated into practice.Companies that offer machines that comply with EHEDG guidelines can be certified for this on request. The organisation – which is recognised by the food industry – has 1,400 members worldwide, all of them working on a voluntary basis.

Improved hygiene thanks to easily maintained machines

“Machines used in the food industry must first and foremost be thoughtfully designed,” says Hein Timmerman, Global Sector Specialist at Diversey, an international food safety company and board member of EHEDG.

“For example, we prefer to see as few parts as possible on a machine oriented horizontally. This is because contaminated substances can remain on them more easily. It’s very important that the machines can be easily cleaned while at the same time ensuring that the effort required for this is kept to a minimum. It’s also important that the machine stands on sufficiently high legs, otherwise it won’t be possible to clean the underside properly. As a significant side-effect, machines that are kept clean also contribute to the elimination of allergens.”

Environmental factors

“In addition to the machine itself, environmental factors are also important. For example, hygienic drainage must be provided in the vicinity of the machine so that food residues, water and cleaning agents can be easily removed. The environment around the machine also has to be kept clean. There is after all little point in cleaning the floors around the machine if the people who have to work with the machine first have to walk through an adjacent area where the floors are dirty or otherwise contaminated.”

“It’s equally important that the people who have to carry out maintenance are well supported. Too often, foreign-language speakers are used for this purpose. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that the maintenance instructions have to be translated correctly and completely. Each individual must understand precisely what they have to do.”

From PPM to PPB

“Today, we have more advanced analytical techniques at our disposal than ever before. In the past, checks were limited to PPM measurements (parts per million), but nowadays we are able to measure at PPB level (parts per billion). As far as food safety is concerned, we must never overlook any detail, at any time.”

It’s in the detail

“For example, rubber covers must be made of traceable and food-grade materials and threads may only be used if they are completely shielded. Otherwise, contaminated material may be left behind that subsequently ends up in the food.”

“Maintenance technicians must also use clean tools. Any lubricants they use must be of a suitable ‘food grade’ type, and every part of the machine must be traceable, even if it is subsequently replaced. This means that in the event of a problem, it is possible to determine who is responsible.”

It is important to note that machines that are easy to clean and maintain do not have to be more expensive than their less maintenance-friendly counterparts. Moreover, such machines often require fewer attachment points and are also more durable, as well as requiring fewer chemicals and less water to clean them properly.

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