March 1, 2019

Knowledge to design more sanitary equipment available, it just needs to be collected

Melissa-Ortner-Heinzen“We can do anything with time and money.”

This was a phrase a mentor of mine said when I expressed the need for changes to equipment or processes. Change is easier said than done. Quite often, we see customer preferences or standards, as they relate to design requirements.

With everyone who works with fresh-cut produce facing the same risk — no kill step — it seems all equipment could be designed in a standardized fashion. Perhaps it would be with unlimited funds, but that’s not the case.

Equipment designed and built prior to today’s knowledge and standards of food safety and sanitation is often referred to as legacy equipment. Buying new is not without risk, but more inherent risk comes with legacy equipment.

Does new mean sanitary?

“If I buy new equipment, will it be sanitary?”

This question can only be half-answered in discussions with the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Like cars and bikes, some are designed for speed and others for simplicity. Both will get you where you need to go. However, the second part of the sanitary question hinges on how many resources the equipment user is willing to put toward cleaning and maintenance.

We’ve often seen customers stick with something identical that’s already installed in their facility. The reasoning: If it’s worked OK for years and the design is the same, an auditor isn’t going to recognize the difference, even if a more sanitary- and maintenance-friendly design is available. So, they opt to stay with legacy equipment.

It’s easier to order something that has been running comfortably for years without an issue, but is that the right food safety decision? What if there is a known risk, such as an elevator 3 inches off the ground?

Combing departmental knowledge

Risk assessments related to food safety require departmental involvement.

Maintenance, sanitation and operations all play a vital role in equipment usage on a daily basis. Each of these groups has expertise in their field. They understand the tricks of the trade.

Using this collective tribal knowledge is vital in equipment design. That’s good not just for a single manufacturer, but industry-wide.

The amount of knowledge available in this industry could easily result in equipment that will not be a top of sanitary design discussions for the foreseeable future, even 20 years from now. It’s capturing all that knowledge that’s very difficult. That includes studying legacy equipment, which can result in fixes and future design changes.

At one point in my career, I received a piece of equipment in which the welding was sub-par. When questions were asked to the OEM, they said that this is typical of what is in many areas of the facility. I thought, “What did I just do? Where do I take this from here?”

After I got over the overwhelming idea that I needed to improve the majority of welds in my facility, I had calming discussions with maintenance. That led us to a plan of attack. In this situation, I learned that involving the necessary groups and listening to their ideas, allowed for departmental ownership of food safety plant-wide, eventually making my job easier. Allowing personnel to be a part of the solution results in a higher receptiveness to change than to mandate.

You don’t have to be an expert in engineering or maintenance to know sanitary design and the necessary improvements of equipment. Observing operations, tracking resource cost and identifying risks lead to guided discovery accompanied with teamwork. That’s a great way to mitigate risks and make change.

Large amounts of time or money are not necessary to make a difference. It’s about spending money wisely for success in food safety, which, in turn, helps ensure and promote good business.

— Melissa Ortner specializes in food safety and technical support for Channelized Integrated Solutions and Heinzen Manufacturing International.