Engineers key to food safety

by Editorial Staff
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BY ANNE GIESECKE

Engineers are the front line for food safety, worker safety and environmental compliance. Engineers make decisions from the time the bakery is designed and the equipment purchased to profitable production.

Traditional expectations for an engineer include: installation work (new machinery, cables, pipe work), maintenance and preventive maintenance, minor fabrication, mechanical and electrical skills, maintenance of P.L.C.s and boilers, and paper work such as, a daily log of work carried out complete worksheets and maintenance schedules. This is not enough anymore.

The engineer in today’s food plant is the front line in decisions that will impact the future sustainability of the company. The engineer should be part of a team that includes those responsible for worker safety, food safety and product quality.

The basic design of the building and equipment installation should be measured by cost factors that include sanitary design, water and energy use, and food security inside and outside the structure. Some examples are: flour silo inside or outside; heat recovery replacing boilers; reuse of process water; hands free restrooms and production area hands free washing stations.

Equipment needs to be designed to be cleaned easily and efficiently. The engineers need to work with sanitation to make sure they know how to take off and replace guards that are critical to worker safety and production. Dry cleaning, a minimum use of water and CIP systems need to be considered from food safety and cost parameters. The options for cleaning and sanitizing water temperature, pressure and the use of ozone or chemicals will make significant differences in long-term operating costs.

The fastest line speed may not be the optimum speed. Engineering and production together need to set the line speed to optimize maximum production and minimize cripple. The savings will be obvious and clean-up time cut.

Most important are the employees. Success of the operation will be dependent on employee ownership of their daily responsibilities and their sense of responsibility to the operation as a whole. One successful operational approach is Lean Manufacturing. Lean principles and tools such as 5S should be considered in meeting the goals of smooth work flow and waste reduction. The analysis of smooth work flow may be done by line but needs the participation of all the employees on the line. Incremental implementation of the tools is critical. An introduction to these management approaches is available at www.Wikipedia.org, search Lean Manufacturing.

For example, a key to 5S is the labeling of ingredients and chemicals, what the substances are, what they are used for, such as, propylene glycol food grade for refrigeration systems, and ethylene glycol for automotive antifreeze, and a sign for where they are kept.

Operating with the best building and equipment designs and people may be crashed by organizational barriers. One barrier is often that bills are paid by one department but the expense is in another department or that the costs of one department are dependent on another department. Plant floor people across shifts need to know about ingredient, water and energy costs. Meters on key pieces of equipment for water and energy may provide information to ensure continuous improvement. Production sheets should verify the planned use of ingredients. Management must evaluate the distribution of costs through the process.

Baked foods and snacks will become increasingly customized to customer and consumer preferences. The management of allergens, the use of ancient grains and exotic flavors need continuously improving manufacturing controls. Changing ingredients means changing needs for time and temperature for storage, use and sanitation. Changing ingredients and colors may change pH, waste water treatment and waste disposal.

Equipment will change perhaps as X-rays replace metal detectors; ovens with sensors for product height and color, convection, infrared and a microwave finish, laser date and lot codes; membrane technology for water reuse; more robotics, biodegradable packaging, fuel cell energy. Food safety, worker safety and environmental regulations will become more burdensome.

The engineering team, along with other teams in the bakery and snack food plant, needs to be able to write and maintain hard copy and computer records. The required skill set is changing and the attitude of the individual narrowly defined job is changing. With management support the engineering department may be a key to sustainability of the business. Engineering decisions made with a broad understanding of the process flow and common sense may set up success. Engineering working with the other teams in the plant may help ensure success.

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