Most bakeries cover tens of thousands of square feet — sometimes acres of floor space — all of which needs to be cleaned regularly and maintained in sanitary condition. Of course, given their size and complexity, such facilities are capital-intensive, costly to update and even more expensive to replace. That’s why so many older bakeries remain in service today.

Unfortunately, many of them were designed with standards and expectations from a different generation and more relaxed mindset about food safety. The days of considering the oven as the “ultimate equalizer” that kills anything and makes food safe are in the past. Knowledge and testing methodologies for pathogens and allergens have changed that forever.

Welcome to the era of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and the infancy of the Food Safety Modernization Act, and be prepared for the changes they will continue to bring. Legacy food processing plants and equipment in use today will face the most significant challenges. In older bakeries, the biggest issue will be in the design of the facility and equipment. Many of these plants were built to last forever but not to be cleaned under the latest rules and regulations. In most cases, this means a building might be structurally sound, but it doesn’t mean it will be easy for those who have to keep it clean, pest-free, sanitary and looking like a food plant should.

Keeping an older bakery acceptably clean to meet GFSI, regulatory and customer expectations is possible, and many plants illustrate this. However, as a side note, even with a good design, some bakeries may not be considered sanitary because of failed sanitation programs. A great design alone does not eliminate the need for continued diligence on maintaining sanitation.

Successful sanitation programs are always needed, but the hill is steeper and harder to climb with poor design, especially regarding dust control and trench drains.

Managing dust control

In an old bakery with manual ingredient dumping equipment or older mechanized conveyor dust collection systems, there are many points where leakage can occur. Fugitive dust is abundant in the environment, ­always accumulating on the overheads, throughout equipment and across floors, walls and ledges, and it brings its own set of issues.

In a newer facility with automated systems, fugitive dust is limited; therefore, keeping the older equipment as clean as new requires much more diligence. I wince at the thought of this, but at times, blowing compressed air is used to remove dust accumulations where vacuum lines cannot reach, even though dust removal via vacuum is preferred. Many bakeries use compressed air to relocate dust from the overheads and hard-to-vacuum areas so it can be swept and removed, but such procedures also cause the potential for allergen and pathogen cross-contamination. It can spread insect eggs and ­larvae and can transfer additional food sources to other areas for future generations of insects. 

Accumulations can create dust explosions and place the facility and personnel at risk. In addition, a quarter-inch of dust on an overhead surface greatly increases the risk for a secondary explosion once it is dislodged by an initial explosion. This can destroy a facility.

A dust-generating behemoth is hard to clean, but it can be done. It just takes diligence, hard work, time and money. A newer facility with working dust controls in place still takes diligence, hard work, time and money, but it takes much less effort.

So what to do if you have a dust-belching behemoth? Develop a strategy to reduce fugitive dust. This will involve first repairing the maintenance-related leaks and then planning for a pneumatic delivery system to minimize dust generation and maximize productivity. Start with the large-volume ingredients, and then move to minor ingredients as time and money permits. Remember to build in capability for other ingredients to be added later.

Keep areas clean, especially overhead pipes and other surfaces, and keep dust to a minimum. This will reduce the risk of a secondary explosion, which could be disastrous to your facility and people.

Cleaning dust from surfaces should be done with vacuums rather than compressed air. Compressed air generates a greater explosion risk and broadcasts dust into places you cannot see, reach or clean.

Use dust collection systems or hoods where possible to collect dust where it is generated and remove it from the environment before it reaches an area you will need to clean.

Those dang drains

Drains are catch points for all of the unwanted ingredients and microbial residents in a food plant. You can also find shoe dirt, process wastewater, dough, condensation and an occasional hairnet in an environment ­optimal for microbial growth.

Drains were originally designed for water collection, but today, many companies wage a “war on water” to prevent microbial growth in the environment and use dry-clean-only approaches. Drains in dry areas need to be cleaned, and their P-traps must be kept continually full to ensure that a sanitary block exists to keep sewer gas from entering the plant. In legacy facilities, drains are not usually made of stainless steel and are subject to corrosion, which makes them difficult to clean and sanitize. In wet areas, trench drains are sometimes used. These are difficult to maintain over time and difficult to clean. Often the covers corrode. They get wedged into the side support areas and are not easily removed for cleaning. Dough that has found its way into a trench drain or even a sanitary drain often serves as a breeding point for fruit flies.

Know where your drains are. They should be identified on a map and included at a regular frequency in your cleaning schedule. Properly train employees to follow aseptic techniques to avoid spreading what is in a drain to other areas.

If drains are damaged or grates are not removable, have them repaired to ensure that they are cleanable.

If a drain backup occurs, rope off the areas to keep wheeled carts or fork trucks from transferring drain ­water to other parts of the bakery. Keep the area secured until it has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.

These are just a few of the challenges with older facilities, but I hope this provides a glimpse of challenges now and in the future.