Minor and micro ingredients are diverse, and each one has a different impact on the operator and overall plant safety. Sometimes, automation can mitigate those safety concerns, and sometimes, automation needs to be safeguarded to mitigate hazards. Much of this relies on what those ingredients are and the nature of an operation’s current manual ingredient handling style.
Minor and micro ingredients are often handled in bags, which can place a physical strain on operators. Dust can also be an issue for worker health. “A bakery’s automated ingredient handling systems, whether fully automated or only partially, can make a significant improvement in both food and operator safety,” said Bill Kearns, vice-president, engineering, Fred D. Pfening Co. “Those features that improve food safety also frequently contribute to worker safety.”
For example, a bulk bag unloader can replace the manual act of dumping bags. Typically stored on pallets, ingredient bags can be vulnerable to damage, rodent and insect infestations, and other foreign materials. By eliminating manual bag handling, bakeries can reduce the potential for worker injury and the costs associated with it.
"In cases where the ergonomics of manually adding ingredients repetitively to the bowl are a concern, customers should consider automating their minor ingredients,” said Jason Stricker, sales manager, Shick Solutions.
Automation can also eliminate the safety concern associated with dust. Manual handling means more dust from opening bags, measuring and dumping ingredients, which is a concern for workers in this area. “Minimizing the operator’s exposure to dust can provide a better quality-of-work environment and prevent development of possible exposure allergies,” said Kevin Pecha, sales manager, AZO. Adequately sized dust filters and fans tailored to specific ingredients can help minimize dust, he noted.
Proper aspiration can mitigate this issue in a manual operation; however, this issue is eliminated in an automated system. “Automated systems are closed systems,” said Stephen Marquardt, sales director, food, Zeppelin. “They are designed so you have proper aspiration systems around it, and you have explosion protection on filter stations — all these things you need. I would say safety is much better with an automated system than a manual operation.”
Dusty lightweight ingredients that hang in the air can ignite explosively if exposed to accidental sparks or static electricity. Explosion protection definitely needs to be considered when dealing with bulk ingredients such as flour stored in silos, but with minor and micro ingredients, it’s on a case-by-case basis. “For every project, you would need to do a risk assessment to evaluate what would be needed there,” said John Hunter, sales account manager, baker supply systems, Buhler.
A gluten-free plant that uses a lot of starches — ingredients at high risk for explosion — would need explosion mitigation, while a dense ingredient like salt would not. “You have to understand what the ingredients are and design appropriately,” he said.