by Lynn Petrak

Comprehensive, advanced systems and supplies reflect the industry’s continued focus on sanitation.

As the food industry in general moves toward its goal of farm-to-fork efforts aimed at ensuring a high-quality and safe food supply, the processing facility itself is increasingly broken down into different segments, like links in the proverbial food chain.
In dairy settings, measures are in place from the time tankers of raw milk back into receiving docks all the way through the transport of packaged products.
Making sure that everything is as clean and possible has always been an important part of dairy businesses, but given the current intense regulatory environment, expansion of product lines, advances in processing equipment and the advent of high-tech cleaning systems, the axiom that cleanliness is next to godliness rings ever true.
If today’s sanitation systems aren’t necessarily revolutionary, they are considered evolutionary. “There are subtle changes continually happening out there,” observes Steven Nelson, product market specialist for Nelson-Jameson Inc., a Marshfield, Wis.-based integrated supply source for the sanitary processing industry.
Among those changes, Nelson says, is the increasing sophistication of production lines, a trend that affects the type and frequency of cleaning. “Although you will always have environmental issues like cleaning and sanitizing walls, and employee hygiene, the major change is the fact that plants are becoming so automated,” he says, noting that sanitation supplies and services have been adjusted for such applications, resulting in advances like clean-in-place (CIP) systems. “Basically, as the process becomes more automated, cleaning also becomes more automated.”
Another evolving trend in the industry with an effect on sanitation is the emergence of dairy conglomerates. “We’ve continued to experience consolidation in dairy, where plants are becoming bigger and produce a wider range of products in the same plant. That can raise true challenges for sanitation,” says Leanne Adkins, director of dairy and beverage and R&D for Ecolab Inc., a St. Paul, Minn.-based global developer and marketer of cleaning, sanitizing, pest elimination, maintenance and repair products. “The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t apply anymore.”
Meanwhile, keeping a lid on operating costs is a big priority, ratcheted up in the past year with the recent fuel crunch. “What’s driving the hydraulics of a plant is the cost of water and energy, which is changing rapidly,” Nelson says. “Plants want to reduce water usage and chemical usage, and they want to pick up more processing time.”
Reducing costs while improving productivity is also linked to the valuable resource of time, Adkins adds. “Time has become a big issue. They are saying, “If I can clean it quicker, I can get through more product,’” she says.
New Solutions
As the dynamics of the dairy business evolve, the method by which things are cleaned has also progressed. To boost efficiency, processors are using new technologies and, in some cases, new applications of existing technologies.
The use of CIP systems is just one example; other adjustments are going on as well. Nelson-Jameson, for instance, has begun selling more industrial vacuums to dairy operators. “Typically this industry has done what we call ‘wet cleaning,’ and that may be using a CIP system or a foamer, but it’s always been chemically related,” Nelson says. “Now, they may have a situation where they are dealing with powder and want to reduce the growth load, and reducing the load with vacuums seems to work well.”
Nelson-Jameson has pursued other new applications for use in dairy facilities, such as the company’s new line of single-cycle cleaners for hydraulics. “You can reduce the number of cleaning cycles and rinse cycles,” Nelson says of the technology, which was introduced in Europe.
Also reflecting processors’ interest in cutting out extra steps, Nelson-Jameson has developed cleaners that are more versatile. “Typically, you rely on alkaline cleaners to remove fats and oil and acids to remove minerals,” Nelson says. “With this new product, you can remove both simultaneously.”
Ecolab also has developed new products and services that address the demand for efficiency. One new platform is an expansion of the company’s Exelerate™ series of dairy-processing cleaners designed for the pre-treatment of heat exchange surfaces. “We are seeing enhanced cleaning performance with shorter cleaning time,” Adkins says of the system often used on HTST pasteurizers.
In early 2007, Ecolab will roll out a similar product for use with evaporators. In addition to efficiency, a new line of sanitizers from Ecolab have other benefits, Adkins reports. “We’ll be able to monitor and control the sanitizers via conductivity,” she says, “and that is new to the industry.”
Waste Not
Dairies are also looking beyond the just processing side of their operations. For example, many government regulations have zeroed in on the quality of wastewater.
“One thing that has evolved in recent years is the regulations surrounding cleaning products and what plants can release into the environment,” Adkins says. “There are restrictions on sodium, phosphate and the whole effluent, water-in/water-out cycle.”
To address such issues, Ecolab has a special water care division. “We are trying to formulate solutions that take those restrictions into account, with things like lower sodium and less phosphate. The thing that becomes the challenge, though, is that many times those can be the workhorses in cleaning, so it’s a question of how you come up with environmentally friendly chemistries that give you more time and cleaning efficiency,” Adkins says, noting that Ecolab has spent considerable R&D time on solutions to such issues. So far, she says, the wastewater issue remains one that varies by region. “There are pockets were the restrictions are worse and you have to look at it on a state by state basis,” she says.
Nelson agrees, saying Nelson-Jameson is also working with dairy customers on balancing sanitation needs and regulations regarding wastewater. “There are different stringencies to it and some states are more sensitive than others. Personally, I feel that in places that have volumes of water available, the key is keeping that water clean and sanitized for everyone,” he says.
Procorp Inc., Wauwatosa, Wis., works with dairy processors on wastewater issues. “Where we get involved is in taking wastewater from a factory and purifying it by standards set by local and state governments,” explains company president Tom Probst. In addition to helping plants minimize water usage, Procorp provides suggestions for cleaners and sanitizers that reduce the concentration of elements like phosphorus and helps plants in the recovery of certain chemicals. The company also continues to offer new products for manufacturing plants like dairies, such as a new water softening process that removes chloride from the effluent.