Three step plan for preventing cross-contamination in food processing

Louise Smyth

An engineering company is recommending a three-step action plan to help the food processing industry reduce bacterial contamination and costs.

“90% of bacterial contamination in the food processing industry is caused by poor hygienic design, with gearboxes and motors a primary cause of problems,” explains Gareth Lenton, director of the Power Transmission Technology Centre at ERIKS UK. “Our experience has helped us to identify three common problems, which form the basis of our three-step plan.”

1. Specify motors equipped with anti-condensation breathers.

“Condensation build-up can harbour bacteria, shorten operational life,and result in unnecessary downtime and increased maintenance costs,” explains Lenton. “An anti-condensation breather compensates for the pressure differential between the warm air inside the motor and the cooler air outside, which prevents condensation and water from building up inside the motor. This leads to less corrosion, less monitoring and longer meantime between failure.” An ingress protection rating of IP66 to IP69 will also protect a motor from water jets and chemical cleaning products.

2. Choose gears and motors that have smooth surfaces.

“Cooling ribs, hollow areas and sharp edges are the perfect hiding places for food because they’re often immune to daily wash-down procedures,” Lenton says. “Bacteria then multiply in these spots and will eventually enter the food.”

Motors with round and easy-clean designs prevent food from accumulating, thereby reducing the risk of contamination. “For the best results, look for motors without tag plates,” advises Lenton. He adds, “Hollow torque arms and shaft covers, such as those on the Fenner Hypoid and Fenner KH, are also easier to clean.”

3. Make the switch to stainless steel.

“We know of one multi-national grocery retailer that wants its suppliers to exchange existing geared units for stainless-steel designs,” reveals Lenton. It’s easy to see why. Gear corrosion – specifically housing and bearing rust –­ can build up over time and even enter the food. Lenton states: “Our experience suggests that the use of stainless-steel geared motors would speed up cleaning times and reduce the use of chemicals, which could potentially save food processors up to 60% on cleaning costs.”

Even though this plan only covers gearboxes and motors, food processors that implement it stand to see significant improvements in the lifespan of critical equipment, overall costs for cleaning and the safety and quality of their products. Lenton comments that, “There’s also the reduced risk of non-compliance with the regulations that govern the food industry, such as BRC and IFS certificates. The peace of mind that comes from knowing, rather than hoping, for a positive outcome from an inspection is, in itself, invaluable.”

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