When expanding a facility or adding a new line to a bakery, perhaps the biggest food safety risks involve cross-contamination when construction and production occur simultaneously. In all cases, Rowdy Brixey, president, Brixey Engineering Strategies & Training, pointed out that barrier guards or curtains often do a good job to isolate and protect existing production lines or processes.

However, in situations in which a renovation or equipment installation emits dust or harmful odors from welding or the grinding of metal, bakers will opt for a temporary wall along with a ventilation system.

In other instances, they will tent the area with fiber-reinforced plastic that stretches and adheres to the floor, walls and ceiling to temporarily seal the work area. Jim Kline, president, The EnSol Group, noted the enclosed room is durable enough to be outfitted with sliding doors to allow access that’s away from the food production area. The key is to ensure any plastic material used is food-safe and fire-retardant.

“In one case, we used an air handler to draw air out of the work area and into the parking lot to create negative pressure compared with the rest of the bakery,” Mr. Kline said.

With older ovens and other used equipment, bakers may face more difficult challenges involving the removal of fiberglass installation. In a worst-case scenario, asbestos may come into play.

“That’s when you bring in the experts,” Mr. Kline advised. “They build small cocoons rather than a small tent and remove that material, certify the air is clean and ensure you don’t have an issue.”

While isolating parallel lines is relatively straightforward, a project gets complicated when bakeries need to cross over or through active production areas. Those situations are not uncommon in multiline facilities where new equipment needs to be shoehorned in between production lines.

“Ideally, when you’re putting a line in, you want access from one end to another so you can create a corridor you can get through,” Mr. Kline explained.

If creating a pathway isn’t possible, working around the bakery’s production schedule provides partial line isolation. Shutting down production for an extra day or two allows adequate time to place equipment into position and provide proper sanitation before the operation resumes.

“A plant that’s running a single shift may say, ‘Your work has to be from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., and you have to be cleaned up when you finish,’ for them to restart production on the next day,” Mr. Kline explained.

During the project, don’t forget to advise construction workers and outside engineers to follow proper GMPs, especially when the rest of the bakery is in operation.

“You have to tell them to wear beard nets and hairnets because they’re in a bakery and working in or near an active production area,” Mr. Kline said.

After installing a new mixer or oven, follow a checklist that validates everything from a sanitation and maintenance perspective. Sometimes trial runs on a production line can provide benefits in more ways than one.

“I would always recommend running product through the new equipment before doing a full detailed cleaning,” Mr. Brixey suggested. “This can help loosen any grit, oil and metals that might be lodged in some part of the unit or system. Maintenance should then double check all fasteners, guards and safeties before releasing the equipment back to sanitation.”

Upon ramping up production, make sure to audit the project to meet all expectations.

“A post-mortem should include training, personnel safety, food safety, all punch list items, scope results and, lastly, budget compliance,” Mr. Brixey said.

During the following six months, it’s critical to reinforce training provided by OEMs during the startup process. Additionally, follow a specific preventive maintenance program although it may adapt to the individual equipment in a specific operation.

During the project, don’t forget to advise construction workers and outside engineers to follow proper GMPs, especially when the rest of the bakery is in operation.

Sunil Sehrawat, food safety professional for Asia-Pacific food safety services at AIB International, said the first step of the audit involves gathering data and creating a master list of equipment in the plant, including structural items. Next, qualified and trained personnel should identify maintenance tasks and effective frequencies for maintaining each item. Only then should a risk assessment on each piece of equipment be conducted

“Records of each of these steps are required to successfully manage the preventive maintenance program and should include temporary and permanent repairs,” Mr. Sehrawat advised.

In operations, Adam Stroh, senior process project manager, Stellar, said bakers have many lower cost ways to maintain those best practices of line isolation, especially in operations with minimal risks. For example, create a manual chain-of-custody protocol that tracks ingredients throughout the manufacturing process with quality checks, proper documentation and labeling.

Remember airborne cross-contamination is an ongoing concern. Correctly identify where heating, cooling and other air-handling or rooftop units are required as well as proper filtration systems. On the raw processing side, install dust collection and air ventilation controls where most of the mixing takes place.

“This will also help alleviate the migration of allergens from one processing area to another,” Mr. Stroh said.

Securing food safety also requires following best practices by any employee working on the equipment.

“Today’s maintenance teams should maintain their tools in a sanitary fashion and always notify sanitation once repairs or routine maintenance have been completed so equipment can be properly sanitized before releasing it back to production,” Mr. Brixey said. “Documentation has never mattered more than it does today.”

Moreover, tools and utensils must be segregated much like ingredients to prevent possible down-day cross-contamination.

“Compressed air should not be used to clean equipment, or you risk airborne transfer of allergens,” he advised.

Mr. Sehrawat said reinforcing such best practices by management and a multifunctional food safety team through annual follow-up training sessions encourages GMPs through repetition.

“The components of risk assessment, risk management and risk communication require interdependent approaches, methods and models,” he explained. “Education and training are the strongest and most effective ways to build those skills and approaches.”

Overall, Mr. Brixey said, food safety begins with understanding and following the policies and procedures designed to keep food safe.

“Awareness training is a necessity, but I really like workshops that involve all departments in interactive team problem-solving and prevention exercises,” he said. “If we can’t train effectively as a team, then how can we expect them to perform well in our day-to-day operations?”

That’s why following best practices provides the surest way to keep production interruptions from occurring on the plant floor.

This article is an excerpt from the March 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on line isolation, click here.