Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Food processing equipment used in the industry contribute to many food poisoning episodes unwittingly because of inappropriate design parameters based on which they are fabricated that enable microorganisms thrive in certain parts in spite of thorough cleaning. Though stainless steel (non-magnetic varieties) has replaced other fabrication materials during the last five decades, inadequate appreciation of parameters that go into sound machine design results in equipment which could be vulnerable to residual contamination or left over residues with potential to spoil large volumes of food under processing. Due to cost consideration, plastics are replacing metal as preferred fabrication material posing problems of contamination from these parts. Food industry should be careful while selecting processing equipment to ensure that they are soundly designed to address the various concerns safety experts point out from time to time. Here is a critical commentary on this important issue which is a must reading for all food technologists.

"Improved hygienic design enhances cleanability, decreasing the risk of biological (pathogens), physical and chemical (e.g., allergens) contamination. Furthermore, equipment that is designed and constructed to meet hygienic principles is easier to maintain and reduces the risks of physical hazards (e.g., metal fragments from food equipment) in food processing. Surfaces of food equipment and related ancillary equipment are divided into food contact and nonfood product contact surfaces. While most of the discussion in this article relates to food contact surfaces, it should be recognized that nonfood product contact surfaces are very important and cannot be overlooked, as these surfaces have been implicated in environmental contamination. Under 3A Sanitary Standards, the accepted definition of a food contact surface is any surface that has direct contact with food residue, or where food residue can drip, drain, diffuse or be drawn. All food contact surfaces must meet specific hygienic design and fabrication requirements to ensure cleanability. Corrosion resistance and durability of the materials used are also important to maintain cleanability. Where appropriate, equipment should also be constructed to allow accessibility for inspection to observe whether it is adequately cleaned. Hygienic equipment design encompasses the following:"

With the advent of Clean-in-place (CIP) system of equipment offered by most of the manufacturers, food poisoning may be considered as a thing of the past but still inadequate attention to manage such cleaning operations can pose some problem and continuous vigilance only can avoid unanticipated food infection on the factory floor. It is the small scale sector which suffers because of the inability of these processors to shell out huge investment for buying high end equipment with CIP regime which costs heavily. These players end up buying equipment from small scale engineering firms with indifferent quality fabrication which can derail any well laid plan for safety management. In India the difference in the cost of machinery between large players and small fabricators can be as high as 100-200% and with a low volume production base, many food processors invariably gravitate towards small fabricators resulting in frequent production problems. While dry foods do not pose much of a problem except for infestation it is the high moisture food on the processing line that is vulnerable to safety risks. Many of the points raised in the above critique are valid and food industry must listen and practice what is recommended for their own sake as well as that of the consumers whom they are supposed to serve.


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