by Lynn Petrak
Sanitation supplies and services are designed for maximum effectiveness and efficiency.
So much for a little spit and polish. These days, sanitation services and supplies are state-of-the-art in dairy processing facilities, encompassing both high-tech automated systems and products that can reach into tiny nooks and crannies.
Such sophisticated sanitation elements are in place out of design as well as necessity. Food and beverage manufacturers of any kind can ill afford any safety or quality-related issues tied to improper or inadequate cleaning, given the recent resurgence of recalls and headline-making food safety incidents.
Ron Harrison, director of training for pest control services provider Orkin Inc., Atlanta, underscores the importance of cleanliness in today’s production and marketing environment. “Whether it’s milk or peanut butter, food safety is at a level that it hasn’t been,” he says. “Although dairy doesn’t seem to have the problem that others do, those are horribly, scary things in the news and everything is relevant to the potential risk of contamination.”
To Harrison’s point, dairy operators, like any food processors, are susceptible to risk but are also unique in their collective and longtime approach to stringent sanitation standards. Other sanitation supply and service providers agree that dairy businesses are well equipped to combat potential contamination through their tools and programs.
Robin Pacey, marketing manager for Cintas Corp., a Cincinnati-based supplier of corporate identity uniform programs, entrance mats, restroom supplies, first-aid and safety products and document management services, also emphasizes the structure and history of the dairy industry. “The dairy operators are unique in the food processing industry because they execute good manufacturing practices (GMP) due to the strict government requirements for milk and milk products,” she says. “Other areas of the food processing industry are not subject to the same strict requirements currently.”
Because of its heritage of sanitation, both proactive and regulatory-influenced, the dairy industry can serve as model for other food and beverage manufacturing sectors. “What’s unique about the dairy industry is that it drives innovation, because of the sensitive nature of the food products. Most of the innovations, anywhere from CIP (clean-in-place) to chlorinated CIP cleaners to new sanitizers, have been developed due to the needs of the dairy producers,” remarks Jim Diamantis, vice president of business development for food chemistry supply and services company Alex C. Fergusson Inc. (AFCO), Chambersburg, Pa.
The dairy industry also has helped support the trend of turnkey sanitation solutions that maximize effectiveness while helping to conserve both human and financial resources. That is especially true as dairies continue to streamline operations and grapple with higher production costs.
According to Diamantis, the ability to leverage efficiencies is pivotal because of the demands on today’s plant operators. “The companies are looking for ways to extend their production runs, so they don’t have to clean every eight hours,” he says, noting that many manufacturers are looking for 24- to 48-hour continual run times for their equipment, with minimal downtime for cleaning that must be just as effective as more frequent applications.
Next Generation Supplies
As production demands and pressure to ensure food safety ramp-up for dairy manufacturers, so too has the R&D work on the sanitation side.
Over the past few years, for example, there has been a lot of buzz about the “next generation” of cleaning supplies, including sanitizers used for work surfaces, CIP systems for equipment and employee hygiene. “There is a new twist on sanitizers,” Diamantis says, citing some of AFCO’s latest technologies. “Everyone has used peracetic acid as a sanitizer, primarily for CIP, but Alex Fergusson has a unique non-rinse foaming peracetic acid sanitizer. The advantage is that you don’t have to rinse it. It saves on time, but it’s also broad spectrum and multi-functional — it can be used for non-rinse but also for a sterilent for environmental sanitation.”
Cleaning supply and services company Ecolab Inc., St. Paul, Minn., also has developed various new products that address effectiveness and efficiency. Last year, Ecolab expanded its Exelerate series of dairy processing cleaners to include a system for use with evaporators and another designed for the pre-treatment of heat exchange surfaces. The specialized peroxyacid-acid-based liquid pre-treatment is designed to penetrate protein-based dairy soils and speed up the cleaning process.
Nelson-Jameson, Marshfield, Wis., also has introduced cleaners that are more versatile, like a sanitizer that can remove fats and oils as well as minerals. The company also recently introduced new surface sanitizer wipes as part of its line co-branded with Kimberly-Clark.
Environmentally friendly sanitizers and dispensing systems are increasingly in demand among many manufacturers, including dairies. “The challenge, though, is that it’s hard to define ‘green’ because everyone has a different definition,” Harrison says.
At Orkin, Harrison says, the company distinguishes “green” supplies as products and equipment that are environmentally friendly. One emerging focus, he says, is on biological products that are shown to be effective cleaning systems. “There are a lot of products out there like that, which are minimal to no toxicity and are very friendly in the approach to eliminating organic debris,” he says.
In addition to sanitizers, delivery systems are being upgraded to make things easier and more accurate for users at the plant level. Diamantis reports that AFCO has a full line of cleaning and sanitation equipment that dispense its products and reflect today’s demands for accuracy and ease of use. “They are all specialized allocation systems that not only monitor how much we dispense but allow us to not waste the product,” he explains.
Sanitation supplies used in tandem with cleaners and dispensing systems are the subject of innovation and improvement as well. Saf-T-Gard International Inc., Northbrook, Ill., for instance, has developed new shoulder-length, chemical-resistant gloves for various sanitation and maintenance jobs, including the cleaning of 56-gallon drums and chemical cleanup.
As sanitation materials and delivery systems become more flexible and accurate, they are being utilized in more places in dairy facilities, especially as manufacturers embrace hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) programs. Cintas, for its part, sells spun-polyester food processing garments that help cut down on cross-contamination, as well as a 6 Log Microbe Reducing Wash Formula designed for the laundering of food processing garments. For other points in a plant, Cintas supplies personnel hygiene supplies and recently started marketing an UltraClean restroom cleaning service.
Ecolab, too, specializes in integrated cleaning, sanitizing and food safety solutions. Within its portfolio of supplies and services, Ecolab offers plant-wide cleaning and sanitation solutions, a broad range of food surface antimicrobial treatments, industry-specific water management expertise and pest elimination services.
Finally, because the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” still rings true, dairy plant operators are also realizing the benefits of tightening up their respective operations to prevent the spread of bacteria and pests in the first place. That realization has led, among other improvements, to the development of antimicrobial surfaces, the broader of use of stainless-steel equipment and more installations of monolithic floors.
Lynn Petrak is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.