Ask a dairy installer what matters most when it comes to piping, and you’ll likely hear about hygienic design. There's a good reason for that: By codifying appropriate measures to improve cleanability and reduce the risks of microbial contamination, the dairy industry’s strong hygienic standards keep end consumers safe.
Today, these standards are commonplace inside almost any facility that manufactures food-grade products, but there was a time when dairy producers stood alone as pioneers of modern hygienic design. This created a dual legacy that impacts the industry to this day.
First, there’s a longstanding sense of commitment; dairy installers work very hard to master every detail of superior hygienic design, and the industry as a whole takes pride in its reputation for safety and reliability. But a history of focusing narrowly on the safety of consumers has sometimes led installers to overlook another important consideration: the safety of operators inside the processing plant.
Hygienic standards are just one part of the puzzle
No installer intends to deprioritize operational safety. So why does it happen? Part of the reason lies in the complexity of statutes, regulations and ordinances in play. Each state has its own set of codes that dictate how to process dairy products and how to run piping. In some cases, states write their own standards; more commonly, they rely on the standards already established by private entities, which are fairly consistent from state to state.
For example, 3-A Sanitary Standards Inc. (3-A SSI) offers comprehensive hygienic standards, covering details such as tubing materials and cleanability. For operational standards, such as how to engineer, install, inspect and test a pressured pipeline (that is, a pipeline above 15 pounds per square inch), many states reference or recreate standards authored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
Very often, these hygienic and operational standards overlap. For example, state regulators could expect a product line to meet the weld quality and slope defined in the 3-A SSI hygienic standards, while also expecting that line to undergo borescope inspections and pressure tests as outlined by the ASME. Too often, installers follow the letter of code when it comes to the first half of that equation, perfectly applying the hygienic standards required by their state, while unaware of the piping codes that impact the same product line.
This tendency to focus on hygienic design while overlooking operational standards is especially common when streams such as air, steam and water are directly introduced into the dairy product. In that situation, hygienic standards establish details such as filtration and connections to the product region, but they don’t cover the unique plumbing and piping designs that typically apply. For those details, installers should turn to their state’s operational codes, whether that means following the ASME’s standards or a set of standards created or revised by the state.
If installers aren’t always following those operational standards as closely as they should, they aren’t necessarily alone — a gap in inspection responsibilities means that regulators aren’t always able to follow up on those standards. City and state building officials typically examine pipe safety items, but process-related considerations are outside of their purview. In other words, the rules exist, but regulators don’t always have the scope to check for compliance. This creates a “perfect storm” of low awareness and limited enforcement. As a result, people inside the plant could be at risk.
Ask installers about their codes-based strategy
To avoid this risk in your own dairy processing plant, talk with your installers about all of the codes and standards that come into force when piping a given project. The installer may have a codes-based strategy. If not, your team will need to either outline a strategy themselves or bring in additional resources to outline the necessary specifications.
With a proper plan in place, you’ll not only ensure code compliance and consumer health, but also help to protect your workforce.