How to Select the Right Feeder For Your Materials

The ingredient feeder is responsible for metering the right amount of ingredients from the source into the next process. This part of the ingredient system is often overlooked, which can cause problems later on. Different materials, particularly fibrous, aeratable, abrasive and cohesive materials, can all create problems in the wrong feeder. If you’re struggling with flow problems, consider these tips on how to select the right feeder for your materials.

How to Select the Right Feeder For Your Materials

First: Assess Your Materials

Having a good understanding of your materials’ properties will help in selecting the right feeder. It will also help in designing the optimal system overall. If your equipment designer understands the difficult characteristics of your material, they can make adjustments to the feeder and prevent flow and measurement problems. Give your equipment supplier a sample of the materials beforehand, so they can make an assessment.

Consider the following material characteristics, which can cause flow problems at the feeder.

  • Fibrous: fibrous materials are lightweight, with long strands, tend to be fragile and they easily interlock and mat.
  • Aeratable: Aeratable materials are usually fine powders that behave like liquids when aerated. This can cause them to flood hoppers and create hazardous dust clouds.
  • Abrasive: abrasive materials can wear out your feeder quickly, but the wrong feeder liner can cause the materials to break apart.
  • Cohesive: cohesive materials tend to stick to each other and form balls or clumps.

Feeders for Fibrous Materials

Fibrous materials are some of the most challenging to work with. There is a wide variety of fibrous materials, such as fiberglass, carpet fibers, wood flour, husks and many more. The strand length will be an important consideration, as well as density and moisture content. Fibrous materials with short strands will be easier to work with, and long strands will be more difficult.

In some cases, a screw feeder may work best. However, there should be a large gap between the screw and the tube, so the long strands don’t break apart in the process. A slower than normal rotation, variable screw pitch and a rotating flow blade will help to keep the material moving at a steady rate. In other cases, a vibratory feeder may work better than a screw feeder for long-strand materials, as a screw feeder can damage the material. An agitation system will help to prevent matting, however the hopper must also suit the feeder. If the fibers are very susceptible to matting ratholing, a surge hopper may be ideal.

Feeders for Aeratable Materials

Aeratable materials like talc powder, flour, glass microspheres and other powders can pose serious hazards without the right feeder design and safeguards. These materials flow like water when aerated, and also create dangerous dust clouds. Dust clouds create debris across the factory, they can be hazardous to workers’ health if inhaled, or a spark, even from static electricity, can cause them to ignite.

One of the most important considerations in selecting a feeder for aeratable materials is dust suppression and collection systems. Fugitive dust can be an issue at various points in the process, including the hopper, feeder, conveyance system and more. Tight seals between these processes will help to keep dust from escaping. However, dust collectors should be used at any point where the material may escape, and regularly assessed to ensure proper airflow.

Besides creating dust, aeratable materials are also prone to flooding. They will flush out of a feed screw and overfill the system if the feeder is not designed properly. A center rod works better than an open flight in this case. It may also be beneficial to use smaller, more frequent refills to prevent aeration. Vibrators can also help to densify the material and make it easier to work with.

Feeders for Abrasive Materials

Abrasive materials can quickly damage the feeder. However, the wrong feeder lining can also damage the material. Selecting the right feeder for abrasive materials means finding a liner suitable for the particle size and hardness of the material.

An abrasion-resistant bolt-in liner made from steel, carbide, or polyethylene can help to protect the feeder. However, this may not be suitable for large particles dropped from a distance. As the hardness and abrasion resistance of the liner increases, it also becomes more brittle, so it will be more susceptible to damage from heavy impacts. This also makes it harder to form and handle, so fabrication will be more challenging. To find the right balance of hardness and abrasion resistance, it’s helpful to have a good material sample and assessment of the overall process.

Feeders for Cohesive Materials

Cohesive materials tend to stick to each other and clump together. The first line of defense against this problem is the hopper design. An asymmetrical mass-flow hopper will help to discourage rat-holing. The hopper should also have a completely smooth surface, with no ledges or protruding welds for the material to stick to.

You might use external paddles and a flexible hopper to de-clump the material as it moves into the feeder. Or, a slow-spinning, vertical or horizontal agitator will break up the material before it enters the feeder. Air pads or vibration might also help. However, agitation devices should cycle, not work continuously, or they can cause the material to become airborne or compacted.

A properly designed screw feeder will be best for cohesive materials. The opening from the hopper to the feeder should be as large as possible. A screw with a larger center shaft, smaller flights and progressive pitch will also help the material fill the screw flights evenly and feed consistently.

Different materials flow in different ways. A feeder that works for one material might not work for another. To select the right feeder for your materials, the best defense is a clear understanding of how the material flows. Giving your equipment manufacturer a sample of your materials and testing the process beforehand will help to ensure your equipment works properly when its’ installed.

Minimizing Risk in Food Processing: Worker Safety, Sanitation and Traceability

minimizing risk in food processing

Safety and sanitation regulations in food processing are very strict, perhaps because the stakes are very high. Ineffective safety and sanitation procedures can put consumers at risk as well as workers. Maintaining high safety and sanitation standards is an ongoing and sometimes arduous process, but lax standards can mean liability, recalls, and big losses, both to profitability and to public image. If you’re considering improvements or changes to your food processing facility, consider these common risks to food processing plants, and how you can minimize risk in food processing.

How to Minimize Risk in Food Processing

Proper Sanitation

Thorough and effective sanitation procedures are vital to food processing at every level. The FDA lays out sanitation rules and guidelines across a number of documents for different industries and verticals, including the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). Different facilities require different cleaning and sanitizing procedures, since they use different types of equipment and work with different foods. Finding the right procedure can be difficult, and some risks are especially hard to eliminate.

These are the most common sanitation risks in food processing to look out for:

  • Drains: Drains are one of the most common harborages for pathogens, especially Listeria. Studies show that between 33 and 47% of drains in food processing plants carry Listeria. Cleaning drains is an unpleasant but essential task that must not be overlooked in cleaning procedures.
  • Cleaning debris: “Cleaning” generally refers to removing debris, while “sanitizing” refers to destroying bacteria. For sanitizing chemicals to do their job, they must contact the equipment surface, which means debris must be cleaned first. It’s important to have the right tools for the job, including the right cleaning detergents to loosen materials, and the right brushes to scrape or brush away debris.
  • Electronics: Electronics can make food processing equipment more efficient, but electronics are also harder to clean. Use electronics with the right IP certifications or hermetic sealing, so they can stand up to high-pressure cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Vents: Vents are usually hard to reach, so they often go uncleaned. This allows both dust and bacteria to build up, which can be harmful to air quality as well as food safety, and can introduce risks of dust explosions where dust and powders are present.
  • Color-coded cleaning tools: Cleaning tools used on floors or drains should be separate from cleaning tools used for equipment, even if the tools are the same. Color-coding is helpful for keeping tools separate, and is explained in 21 CFR 117.
  • Good manufacturing practices: Good manufacturing practices (GMP) are an important part of sanitation and food safety. Using the proper steel grade, removing breakable burrs or openings in welded joints, and a number of other practices will prevent design flaws from creating safety hazards.

Worker Safety

Sanitation is critical to minimize risk in food processing and protect consumers, but worker safety is also essential. Often, these two go hand-in-hand. When safety protocols protecting workers are lax, food safety standards fall behind as well. Food processors must adhere to OSHA regulations for worker safety, and additional safety measures can also help to reduce liability and minimize risk. The following are some of the most common risks to workers in food processing.

  • Heights: If you have catwalks, ladders, or your staff are working at heights at any time, it is important to have proper railings, traction stickers, and fall protection systems. OSHA updated these rules in 2016 to better protect workers from falls.
  • Slippery surfaces: Surfaces exposed to water, grease, blood, or other slippery substances can also present fall hazards in food processing plants. Use mats over these areas to prevent slips, and make sure mats are cleaned properly during sanitation procedures.
  • Dust: Seemingly harmless dust can be dangerous for a number of reasons. Breathing in dust puts workers at health risks and dust residue from foods can invite pests. The most dangerous hazard, however, are dust fires and explosions. These can destroy entire facilities and kill workers. Make sure vents are cleared (see vents section above), bulk bags are emptied properly, and workers are well educated on dust and powder explosions and hazards.
  • Removable safeguards: Safeguards might sometimes interfere with a worker’s task, so it can be tempting to remove these to make the task faster or easier. However, safeguards protecting workers from blades or other moving parts should not be removable. Emphasize that safety is the first priority, and safeguards should never be tampered with or removed. If the task is difficult, help employees find alternative ways of making it more efficient.
  • Electrical hazards: Electrical wiring can be especially hazardous when working with high-powered equipment. Only a licensed electrician should alter, repair or install electrical components. It is also important to ensure wires are not damaged, especially those that might come into contact with liquids, and that outlets are securely grounded, especially in sandy soil conditions.
  • Hazardous cleaning chemicals: Sometimes proper sanitation requires the use of cleaning elements that can be extremely hazardous to workers. For example, chlorine dioxide gas is sometimes used to disinfect enclosed spaces. However, this chemical is extremely toxic. Workers should understand how to handle these chemicals, how to use protective gear, and the consequences of exposure.

Traceability

Traceability is another important aspect of food safety and an important part of minimizing risk in food processing. Effective traceability measures are not only required by FSMA, but also allow food processors to reduce the impact of contamination if it occurs. There are several essential features of an effective traceability system.

  • Proper labeling: Labeling shows where ingredients came from, where they went and when. This is essential for detecting and recalling contaminated ingredients or products, and limiting the effects of a recall.
  • Automated systems: Automated systems help to dispense ingredients precisely, not only eliminating waste but ensuring the right lots go into the right products.
  • Integrating software: Integrating tracking software with your automated ingredient system will not only make labeling simpler and more accurate, but will also improve your record-keeping in case of an audit.
  • Testing: A simulated recall will show whether your traceability measures are effective. Performing a simulated recall will show you any weaknesses in your traceability sequence, so you can fix them. If you need to perform a recall, your staff will be familiar with the procedures.

By minimizing risks in food processing, you can avoid or reduce the impact of potentially costly mistakes or problems. As your business expands, or as you add or change equipment at your facility, remember to reassess. With the right safety, sanitation and traceability procedures in place, you can protect yourself from liability and loss.

USDA Safety and Compliance Requirements for Food Processors

USDA compliance

Preventing illness and contamination across the food supply chain is a challenging process, with many regulatory bodies involved. It can be difficult to know where the responsibilities of one group ends and another begins. The USDA and the FDA work closely together in different areas of the food supply chain to ensure sanitation and safety. In some cases, USDA safety and compliance requirements and inspections are similar to the FDA’s, and in other ways they are different.

USDA Safety and Compliance Requirements for Food Processors

Grant of Inspection and HACCP

The USDA requires that businesses and facilities working with meat, poultry, eggs and egg products apply for a Grant of Inspection. There are several steps to this process, including application, registration, sanitation requirements, and hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), among others. This is similar in some ways to requirements set forth by the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA).

HACCP for a Grant of Inspection is similar to FSMA requirements in many ways. HACCP requires the following:

  • Written hazard analysis: Where hazards are likely to occur in the production process and how these can be prevented.
  • A flow chart: A flow chart should describe the steps in the product process, the purpose of each process, and any hazards associated.
  • Written hazard plan: For each product, a written hazard plan should address the associated hazards and how to prevent or mitigate risk.
  • Corrective actions: How to prevent a problem or mitigate risk if a problem occurs.
  • Validation and Verification: Validating that the HACCP plan works and verifying that it continues to work.
  • HACCP Records: How to maintain records to show the HACCP plan is being followed.

Sanitation Procedures

Businesses and facilities that work with meat and poultry must have strict sanitation procedures in place. This helps to prevent the spread of bacteria and foodborne illness, or limit the damage if contamination occurs. These procedures and requirements are also similar to FSMA.

A thorough and effective sanitation plan is one of the best ways to prevent illness and mitigate risks in your facility. Your Sanitation Standard operating procedures should include the following. Keep in mind that all facilities are unique, and this list is not exhaustive.

  • Team responsibilities: who is responsible for sanitation and what their duties include.
  • Disassembly: Machines that are not suitable for clean-in-place procedures must be disassembled.
  • Scrubbing: For sanitary cleaning chemicals to work, debris, grease and oil must first be removed from tools and machines.
  • Facility cleaning: The facility itself, as well as the tools and equipment, should also be cleaned, including floors, walls, and ceilings.
  • Sanitary garments: Garments like gloves, aprons, and other gear should be changed at least daily, or more often if necessary.
  • Verification: A process must be in place to show that these procedures are being conducted properly.
  • Corrective actions: If any cleaning procedures are not followed, corrective actions should be in place to stop production if necessary and prevent the problem from happening again.
  • Recording-keeping: Accurate record-keeping shows when cleaning procedures are being conducted, and by whom.

Recall Procedures

Even the best sanitation and hazard management procedures don’t work 100% of the time. This is where recall procedures come in. Just as FSMA requires recall procedures for other food processors, the USDA requires recall procedures for meat and poultry processors.

Recall procedures are intended to reduce the impact of contamination by stopping the distribution of contaminated food. A recall can also be used if contamination is not harmful, but foods have been mislabeled or an excess of harmless ingredients have been used. In meat processing and other food processing, the requirements are similar. You should have the following, though this list is not exhaustive.

  • Recall team: who is required to implement a recall and what are their duties?
  • FSIS office: the contact information for your local Food Safety and Inspection Service office.
  • Hazard evaluation: on what criteria do you decide to conduct a recall?
  • Recall scope: how will you determine where products must be recalled from?
  • Records: how are products traced and how do you store and manage these records?
  • Recall notice: how will you communicate your need for a recall?
  • Recall disposal: how will the recalled products be disposed of?

Keeping food and facilities safe requires everyone’s participation. With thorough procedures in place, as well as verification and regular assessments to ensure these procedures work, you can reduce risks of fines, complications and recalls.

6 Ways to Reduce Costs in Food Manufacturing

Reducing costs in food manufacturing doesn’t have to mean reducing product quality. In many cases, solving problems that cause waste or lost time will not only save money but will also improve the overall process and product quality. Utilizing technology at critical points, implementing preventative maintenance, and other measures can all help to reduce costs in food manufacturing.

6 Ways to Reduce Costs in Food Manufacturing

1. Precision Measurement Reducing Ingredient Waste

Some ingredients require tight tolerances, and using too much of these ingredients can create product defects. Other ingredients are less exact, but using too much ultimately results in waste. In either case, using accurate and precise measuring tools can help to reduce unnecessary ingredient loss and over-use.

Finding the right load cell means considering the load cell capacity, scale instrument capacity, and the individual ingredient accuracy. It also means keeping the load cell accurate, and placing it properly to prevent noise, vibration, unbalanced loads, and other interference. In some cases, especially when the optimal ingredient amounts are significantly different, or have significantly different tolerances, it’s ideal to use different scales, which can function simultaneously. When there are multiple microingredients in use, a microingredient system will provide exact measurements. This will help to reduce costs in food manufacturing by reducing ingredient overfill or waste.

2. Reducing Product Defects Through System Design

A number of issues can cause product defects, which can cause products to be discarded or recalled. Recognizing these issues and solving them through thoughtful system design will eliminate problems before they begin.

Systems constructed without good manufacturing practices (GMP) in mind can create product defects in a number of ways. For example, low-grade steel, improperly welded joints, or metal burrs can all introduce metal fragments into the mix. This will ultimately result in discarding or, worse, recalling large quantities. Working with an experienced manufacturer and vetting the manufacturer beforehand can prevent this.

Product defects might also result if ingredients are not properly mixed. A ribbon mixer must be filled to its swept volume for it to work properly, and underfilling the mixer—such as cases of lowered production requirements—will cause ingredient separation. The mixer design, including the volume and profile, among other features, should all be carefully considered in order to get a good mix within the right time frame. The mixer must also be allowed to run for the appropriate duration. Emptying the mixer prematurely ultimately will not save time, as it will create an inconsistent mix.

Material segregation after mixing can also cause product defects. Material segregation often occurs simply through the physics of movement, but it can be prevented by removing or rearranging certain processes.

3. Preventative Maintenance Instead of Equipment Replacements

Preventative maintenance can be easy to overlook, however it’s one of the best ways to reduce costs in food manufacturing. Regularly scheduling maintenance procedures and verifying that they are completed can prevent break-downs, but also prolong the life of expensive equipment. For example, with proper mixer maintenance, your mixer can last for decades. Without it, it can require parts replacements in a few years.

Make time for these essential maintenance procedures:

  • Lubricating drive belts, chains and sprockets
  • Calibrating load cells
  • Checking and replace seals where necessary
  • Check drive belt tension
  • Check mixer alignment
  • Check and replace electrical components where necessary

4. Lower Costs and Save Time With Bulk Ingredients

It’s no mystery that buying in bulk saves money long term. Transitioning from smaller bags to bulk bags also means adding some additional equipment, but it can save time and reduce costs in food processing long-term. Properly installed, a super sack unloader with the right discharge makes it easy to dispense bulk ingredients safely and efficiently.

5. Reducing Liability and Fines Through Design

Some costs are small and add up over time, however regulatory noncompliance or personal injury lawsuits can create heavy fines and legal costs. Reducing these as much as possible can help to reduce costs while also creating a safer product and safer workplace. Observing OSHA regulations for worker safety and the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) are the best ways to reduce expenses from liability.

The following are some of the most common causes of workplace injuries and deaths, which are also easy to avoid:

  • Dust fires and explosions: emphasize the importance of cleaning and maintaining proper ventilation
  • Slip-and-fall accidents: Ensure catwalks have safety railing, power cords are covered, wet floors are clearly marked, and employees have proper safety gear when working from heights.
  • Electrical hazards: Make sure that electrical cords are not damaged, machines are properly and securely grounded, and electrical wiring is always conducted by a licensed electrician.
  • Falling objects: Workers should never walk or stand underneath heavy objects, such as super sacks. If heavy objects move across the facility, make sure the path is clearly marked.
  • Missing safeguards: Safeguards separating workers from dangerous machine parts such as mixing blades or electrical components should not be easily removable, and should be in place at all times.
  • Shortcuts: Even the best safety procedures are ineffective without participation. Prioritize safety, state why these measures are important, and do not incentivize taking safety shortcuts.

6. Remove Downtime With Machine Synchronization

Lost time is essentially lost money. With the right system design, you can synchronize your machines and reduce idle time as much as possible. By introducing some redundancy, you can also reduce the impact of a machine shut-down, while also improving productivity during a fully-functional process.

For example, measuring ingredients as they move through the system removes weighing time. Other devices measure ingredients as they move into or out of a holding vessel. With this fill time aligned with the next step, such as mixing time, measurements remain exact without losing any time between processes. By using two smaller mixers instead of one large mixer, you’ll also be able to continue production even if one mixer requires maintenance, repairs, or replacement.

These measures will help to reduce costs in your food manufacturing facility, and also help to create a more effective, efficient workplace. As you make improvements to your plant, keep these strategies in mind.

Mitigating and Preventing Recalls in Food Processing

preventing recalls in food processing

Food processing plays an essential role in creating the majority of foods for both animals and humans. Ensuring that this process is safe and well-controlled can help to prevent costly and potentially dangerous recalls. Mitigating and preventing recalls in food processing means utilizing good manufacturing practices, safety measures, cleanliness, and careful, repeated testing.

6 Ways to Mitigate and Prevent Recalls in Food Processing

1. Good Manufacturing Practices

The equipment used to process foods is one of the most common causes of recalls. Ensuring that food processing equipment is properly designed and inspected can help to dramatically reduce recalls and increase food safety. Good manufacturing practices include all of the following:

  • Proper welding practices: There should be no spaces for bacteria hide and build up, nor any vulnerable areas that might crack or flake off. This includes proper sealing of all joints, screws and edges, as well as preventing metal burrs or sharps that might flake off and contaminate food.
  • Suitable steel grade: When working with high heat, acids, oils, or abrasive ingredients, using a high-quality, thoroughly tested steel is the best way to prevent recalls in food processing due to metal fragments.
  • Hermetic Sealing: Equipment with tiny, unsealed spaces are natural breeding grounds for pathogens. Hermetic sealing of devices like load cells ensures that bacteria don’t build up, and also extends the life of the equipment by preventing moisture from harming sensitive electronics.

2. Proper Cleaning

Thorough and well-designed cleaning procedures are the first line of defense against food-bourne illness pathogens. Taking time to create and implement a cleaning process that is both effective and easy to follow can help to mitigate and prevent food recalls due to bacteria. This is also an important part of creating a safe and effective HACCP plan. Consider the following when creating and implementing a cleaning program:

Clean in place vs disassembly: Some equipment can be cleaned more thoroughly and effectively using clean-in-place (CIP), while other equipment must be disassembled first. CIP can be ideal for cleaning and sanitizing processes working with liquids, while disassembly and individual cleaning is better suited for solids and powders.

Implementing the right cleaning method is also essential for sanitation. Detergents and cleaning solutions should be strong enough to sanitize the equipment. These can only work if stuck-on oil or other materials are removed first, so scrubbing should be a part of the cleaning process. Finally, the process should be tested to be sure it is effective; if too much bacteria remains after cleaning, the process should be reassessed.

3. Cooking and Freezing

These two processes can easily go awry, and monitoring them closely can mitigate and prevent recalls in food processing due to foodborne illness. Keep in mind that products with high fat or oil content can create pockets of bacteria that resist the cooking process. Both the freezing process and the cooking process should consistently reach the proper temperature for the proper time period. Safeguards should be in place to alert staff if the cooking or freezing temperatures are outside of allowable limits.

4. Proper Storage

Both ingredients and finished products, as well as cleaning solutions, must be stored properly. Improper storage can easily undo all of the other precautions carefully put in place. For storage procedures, keep the following in mind:

  • FIFO: Ingredients should be stored to easily enable first-in-first-out use.
  • Temperature control: Perishable ingredients or finished products should be stored at the correct temperature at all points during storage and shipping (see point above).
  • Separate cleaning solutions: Cleaning solutions, as well as any pest-control products, should be stored separately from ingredients or finished products.

5. Consistent Testing and Verification

Food safety procedures are only effective when they work and when they are followed. Regular inspections and testing can show if these procedures are actually being followed and, if they’re working.

Testing can show if procedures are not being followed, or if they are not working. However, it is also important to find the root of the problem; why the procedure isn’t working or isn’t being followed. Employees might not understand the reason for each step, or a particular procedure might have obstacles, such as faulty equipment or limited time constraints. When employees understand the reason for each procedure and its importance to food safety, it’s more likely to be completed. Similarly, be sure employees have the time and equipment they need to complete a procedure.

6. Lot Traceability

Completely preventing recalls in a high-volume food processing situation is not feasible, but accurate lot tracing can help to mitigate the effects of a recall. Effective lot tracing is essential to consumer safety, and also FSMA regulations. Being unable to trace ingredients and products through processing and shipping can result in uncontrolled illness as well as fines and liability.

An electronic lot tracking system synced with an automated ingredient system is the best way to maintain lot traceability across the supply chain. Just as with your cleaning or food processing safeguards, it is important to verify that this system works. Perform inspections and mock recalls at regular intervals to ensure that tracking is accurate and a product could be effectively recalled using the system in place.

High-quality design, reliable systems and regular verification are the keys to mitigating and preventing recalls in food processing. Ensuring that your food processing, cleaning and recall procedures are effective—and continue to be effective—will help to prevent a recall, and reduce the overall impact if the need arises.

6 Lot Traceability Problems and Solutions in Food Processing

lot traceability problems and solutions

Lot traceability is essential for consumer safety. While it’s impossible to prevent food safety hazards 100% of the time, lot traceability allows manufacturers and distributors to stop the spread of contamination when it occurs, and prevent more customers from accessing the contaminated goods. Common lot traceability problems in storage, processing, and distribution can make it difficult to contain contamination. Look for these common lot traceability problems and try these solutions to improve the safety and security of your process.

6 Lot Traceability Problems and Solutions in Food Processing

1. Problem: Inaccurate measurements

Solution: Proper calibration, consistent conditions

One of the most important aspects of lot traceability is accuracy. When the right amount of each ingredient makes its way into the recipe, labels are also accurate and any ingredient can be easily traced to a product, and vice-versa. When these measurements go awry, it not only upsets the quality of the finished product, but also disrupts lot traceability.

Accurate measurements require an accurate weighing and batching system. To start, it’s helpful to weigh the material as it enters the hopper or bin, or just before. Many suppliers will overfill bags so not to shortchange customers, however too much overfilling can throw off a recipe. Do not assume a bag that says 25kg actually is. An extra .2 or .5 kg can significantly disrupt your recipe, especially for critical ingredients. At the start of the process, and throughout it, be sure to install scales and flow meters with the appropriate level of accuracy, and calibrate them regularly to ensure they remain accurate.

Other situations, besides issues with weighing equipment, can cause inaccuracies. For example, temperature changes, such as those between the truck and the facility, or between storage and use, can cause the density of some ingredients, like oils, to change. This would disrupt measurement through a flow meter. Maintaining consistent temperatures can prevent this problem.

2. Problem: Mixing lots in storage

Solution: Proper storage cleaning, opportunity tanks

Storage is another challenge that can cause lot traceability problems. If separate lots come into close contact during storage, the potential for contamination spreads. This often occurs during storage in silos or tanks. If the tank or silo is not properly cleaned between lots, there is little use in separating them. To store the new lot while the existing one is used up, use a secondary holding vessel or opportunity tank. This is also useful if you are working with an experimental recipe and ingredients you will only be using for a short time.

3. Problem: Mixing excess ingredients

Solution: Disposal

If ingredients are left over when a batch is completed, they must be disposed of. Mixing the leftover lot into the next batch may reduce waste, but it also makes accurate lot traceability impossible. Perhaps the most well-known example of this lot traceability problem occurred in 1997 with Hudson Foods. Without a positive cutoff, ingredients continually moved from one batch to the next. When an E. Coli contamination occurred, there was no way to accurately trace the contaminated lot. This resulted in the largest recall in history, which bankrupted Hudson Foods and demonstrated the critical importance of keeping lots separate.

4. Problem: Inaccurate labeling

Solution: System integration

Accurate labeling is essential for lot traceability. If the final product is not labeled with the correct ingredients, lot numbers and dates, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make a recall. Seamless communication between the labeling and food processing systems can help to make this process as accurate as possible. When the system receives, dispenses, and batches a product, an integrated labeling system will track each of these activities.

5. Problem: Inaccurate reporting

Solution: Inspection

When the weighing, mixing, batching and labeling systems all work together seamlessly, it can make lot tracking easy. However, if this system gets out-of-sync, it is important to know about it right away. Inspections and verification should be conducted to ensure that each part of the system is communicating and reporting properly.

6. Problem: Lack of verification

Solution: Simulated Recall

The ultimate test of traceability across the food processing line and supply chain is a recall. Hopefully, the need for a recall never arises. However, if it does, it is important for every staff member to understand the process. A simulated recall allows you to test and verify traceability across the supply chain. This will show you if your system is accurately reporting lot numbers and maintaining accurate records across the food processing operation. It will also show how easy—or difficult—it is to isolate a particular lot, and reveal where changes may be needed.

Food processing plays an important role in traceability. When you can verify which ingredients make their way into your recipe, where they are from, when they arrived, and where the end product goes, you can be confident in your ability to conduct a recall if necessary. This will not only protect your product’s integrity but also your business’s good standing.

7 Most Common Foodborne Illness Risks in Your Food Processing Plant

foodborne illness in food processing

A variety of bacteria and viruses, including Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, E. coli, and Campylobacter, among others, can infect food, causing thousands of illnesses and deaths every year. These pathogens can hide in many different materials, usually originating from infected water or soil. The sheer volume of ingredients and finished products that food processors and manufacturers produce increases the risk of spreading these pathogens, making facility-wide hygiene and sanitation critical. Foodborne illness outbreaks can occur when these viruses and bacteria are allowed to proliferate, eventually infecting ingredients and finished products. In this blog post, we’ll discuss common foodborne illness risks in your food processing plant, and how to prevent them.

7 Most Common Foodborne Illness Risks in Your Food Processing Plant and How to Avoid Them

1. Lack of Hygienic Design and Hermetic Sealing

Hygienic design is one of the most effective ways to mitigate common foodborne illness risks in food processing facilities. Hygienic design standards are outlined by several worldwide regulatory bodies, many which follow similar frameworks. The European Hygienic Design Group (EHEDG), 3A Sanitary Standards Inc., National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International and, most recently, the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) all outline hygienic design principles to prevent the spread of foodborne pathogens. These guidelines focus on decreasing the proliferation and spread of pathogens, as well as containing and stopping the spread of allergens or other contaminants, such as metal fragments.

Hygienic design guidelines from every source require that hollow spaces, as well as cracks or crevices, be either filled by proper welding practices, or, if the hollow spaces are necessary by their function, they must be hermetically sealed. If these spaces are not sealed, or if cracks and crevices are present, they provide safe havens for bacteria, viruses and mold to multiply. Utilizing hermetic sealing and inspecting equipment for cracks can eliminate this risk.

Learn more about hygienic equipment design in food processing »  

2. Lack of Hand Washing and Hygiene

The CDC reports that over 50% of healthy people carry Staphylococcus aureus bacteria—the cause of staph infections—in or near their noses, mouths, hair or skin. Though staph infections, which are particularly problematic in hospitals and can be deadly to those with compromised immune systems, are well-known, it is less known that staph bacteria are also causes of food poisoning. Staph bacteria produce toxins that cause foodborne illness symptoms, such as vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. Though staph food poisoning is seldom severe, it is unpleasant. It is also avoidable with proper food safety hygienic practices. Since staph bacteria are so widely prevalent, this is one of the most common foodborne illness risks in your food processing plant.

Since staph bacteria can live on the skin and hair of healthy people, gloves, hair coverings and beard coverings are especially important for stopping the spread of staph. Any workers that are handling ingredients or finished products, whether during the cooking, packaging, inspection, or cleaning process, should take proper precaution. Hand-washing stations should be readily available, as hand-washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of staph and other bacteria.

3. Unsanitary Drains

Listeria is not the most common foodborne illness risk for food processors, but it is among the most deadly. Of the estimated 1,600 people who contract Listeriosis, the infection caused by Listeria, about 260 die. Listeria, like many other bacteria responsible for foodborne illnesses, can live in many different environments. A notable feature of Listeria compared to other bacteria is its resistance to freezing temperatures. This makes it a particularly problematic bacterium for producers of ready-to-eat frozen foods.

Listeria bacteria can be eliminated by most sanitary cleaning practices. However, it often propagates in hard-to-reach places and areas of standing water, like drains, or cracks in the floor. Proper facility maintenance, preventing drain back-ups, and cleaning drains regularly can stop Listeria from spreading in these areas. Food processors should take care to prevent Listeria from becoming airborne, which can occur during cleaning with high-pressure hoses or scrubbing.

4. Tracking In Dirt

Bacteria thrives in soil. In many cases, these bacteria are helpful, and vital to the processing of nutrients. However, foodborne illness pathogens also thrive in soil, especially soil that is fertilized with manure or compost. Soil tracked in from trucks, shipping boxes, shoes and many other sources can spread bacteria from the shipping area into the food processing area. Food processors working with raw ingredients or raw foods must take special care to prevent this common foodborne illness risk.

Thorough cleaning can eliminate pathogens hiding in dirt. Separating shipping and processing areas can also help to prevent the spread of pathogens to other areas of the facility. As might be expected, areas with lots of foot traffic or receiving shipping vehicles should be cleaned more thoroughly.

5. Pests

It is well known that flies, mice, rats, birds, cockroaches and other pests carry and spread disease. Since they can be difficult to completely get rid of and they are naturally drawn to food, pests are one of the most common foodborne illness risks in food processing plants. If windows or doors are open during food or ingredient processing in order to keep temperatures down, this can present obvious entry points for pests. Older, larger buildings may also present more entry points. Any messes or spills, food or ingredients that are unsealed and sitting out, or even garbage can attract pests, and eventually lead them to food products.

Regular inspections and a high level of sanitation are the best way to reduce risks of pests. If pests do not have access to food or cannot detect it, they have little motivation to enter the facility. Keeping the facility sealed and using indoor heating or cooling also reduces entry points.

6. Lack of Maintenance

Machines that are not working properly can expose ingredients or finished products to pathogens. This can include a wide range of equipment, from faulty can reformers resulting in botulism to faulty refrigeration or heating equipment failing to kill bacteria, even faulty conveyor equipment allowing ingredients or food to collect and sit in unmoved pockets. Many other types of equipment failures can create foodborne illness risks in food processing plants.

A thorough maintenance program will keep equipment in full working order and it will help to detect problems before they create foodborne illness risks. A detailed maintenance list and timeline, including all procedures and documentation for each, will keep essential maintenance activities organized and verifiable.

7. Lack of Traceability

Though lot tracing does not prevent the spread of pathogens, it can stop the spread of infection if foodborne illness breaks out. A lack of traceability was, in part, what caused the recent E.Coli outbreak on romaine lettuce to become so widespread. Changes to labelling, including harvest time and location, has helped to mitigate this problem.

Lot tracing and tracking is best conducted through automation. RFID scanning and tracking software can help to automatically number and document ingredients or raw foods as they move through the supply chain. Proper labeling then ensures that any contaminated products can be easily identified and removed, wherever they go.

Preventative measures are generally better than reactive measures when it comes to food safety. Proper food processing equipment design, maintenance procedures, traceability, and sanitation from the start will prevent the growth of bacteria, viruses and mold and stop them from becoming a problem. For more information on sanitary equipment design for your food processing plant, contact us online or call (616) 374-1000.

8 FSMA Food Safety Risks Processors and Manufacturers Must Know

FSMA food safety risks

The Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) created stricter food safety rules for farmers, growers, and food processors of all kinds. Compliance means preventing or dramatically reducing the chance of contamination, while non-compliance can result in FDA fines, consumer illnesses, and legal battles. Process design, planning, and controls play a key part in FSMA food safety compliance, as well as the everyday activities for food processors. The following are common FDA food safety risks that food processors and manufacturers face, many which can be prevented or minimized through proper process and system design.

8 FSMA Food Safety Risks Processors and Manufacturers Must Know

1. FIFO System Not in Place

When it comes to mixing and coating, perishable ingredients should be used on a first-in-first-out (FIFO) basis. This seems easy and logical at first glance, but a system that is not designed to ensure FIFO can easily pose FSMA food safety risks. A common and easy way to use bulk materials on a FIFO basis is through a silo or hopper which is refilled at the top and opened at the bottom. Gravity pulls the oldest materials towards the bottom, so they can be used first. However, there are some risks to this concept that must also be taken into account (see the next section).

Another common method to add ingredients is through bulk bags or super sacks. When bulk bags are shipped, they may be stored on the plant floor or loading dock until they are ready for use. If bulk bag shipments accumulate, the most recently delivered may be the most accessible, leaving older bags sitting for long periods. This can allow bacteria, mold, or pests to proliferate. The system for storing and using bulk bags and similar items must be clearly marked and employees should be aware of the importance of the FIFO system.

2. Dead Spots in Storage Tanks

Silos and hoppers appear to be the ideal FIFO system; filling from the top and taking from the bottom creates an automatic FIFO process. However, the tank must be designed to ensure that all the material is moving simultaneously, or dead spots can create FSMA food safety risks. Material segregation problems and flow problems can slow or stop movement in certain regions of the tank. This allows newer material to move through the tank too quickly, and causes older material to sit, inviting mold and bacteria over time. This will also create product consistency problems, as the ingredient may segregate based on particle size, viscosity, density, or other factors.

An angle of 70 degrees can help to ensure material flows evenly through a silo or hopper. Teflon coatings and stainless steel coatings can also help to promote flow. Highly disparate mixes that segregate within the storage unit may need additional mixing, smaller storage tanks, or separation prior to processing.

3. Equipment is Not Suitable for Clean in Place

Clean in place (CIP) equipment can be easily sanitized and decontaminated on-site. FSMA food safety regulations require that food processing machines be regularly cleaned. This prevents bacteria and mold from accumulating on wet, powdery, or greasy surfaces. It also prevents cross-contamination between batches.

CIP can be a challenge for equipment that also utilizes sensitive electronics, like load cells, or equipment with hard-to-reach places, like conveyance. Instead of avoiding the electronics in a machine while washing it—and thus creating potential for bacteria build-up—use hermetically sealed devices that prevent washing water from entering the enclosed device. Proper system planning and design can ensure that the system is equipped with sanitary, CIP conveyance, usually made from stainless steel.

4. High Oil Content Resists Microbial Heat Treatments

If you rely on heat to eliminate microbes, it is important to know the oil content of the product or ingredient mix. Oil creates a protective effect around some types of bacteria, making them harder to eliminate through heat alone. Soybean oil, olive oil, other vegetable oils and liquid paraffin, among others, are known to create this effect. This is an especially important consideration for animal feeds with high fat content. The build-up of oil on equipment or in the product itself due to inconsistent mixing can create harbors for bacteria.

Sterilizing washes designed to use on oil can eliminate heat-resistant microbes. Consistent mixing and regular testing can help to prevent pockets of oil from developing in the product which can shield bacteria.

5. Electronic Lot Tracking and Process Controls Don’t Integrate

Lot tracking is a critical FSMA food safety protocol. It helps to track the ingredients used in food processing, and it allows manufacturers, distributors and retailers to remove any contaminated products quickly. While electronic lot tracking systems have automated this process and helped to increase food safety enormously, they can be difficult to program or reprogram when the process or ingredients change.

Batch process controls that can be easily reprogrammed and integrate with your lot tracking system allow you to accurately track your products while giving you the flexibility to change your recipe as needed.

6. Food Safety Plan is Not Adaptive

Once you have a plan required by FSMA food safety rules, it’s tempting to consider the boxed checked and move on. However, just as your businesses and processes change to become more efficient, you food safety plan should also be able to recognize new threats and challenges. This might include new machinery and cleaning processes, new ingredients and potential cross-contamination or allergen risks, adding manual processes and increasing staff training, adding automated equipment, expanding processing operations or storage, and a number of other things.

If you have changed your operation in any way that affects how your product or ingredients are mixed, stored, handled or processed, it is important to also assess your food safety plan.

7. Insufficient Staff Training

FSMA food safety regulations require a safety plan and hazard analysis from a Process Control Qualified Individual. Some businesses contract with outside companies for this, others have a staff member dedicated to this role. However you choose to do it, this person should be trained to identify hazards, prevent them from happening, and change processes where appropriate.

Staff who handle food and ingredients or clean equipment should also receive training on the importance of FSMA food safety regulations. While it is important to explain what FSMA is, it is perhaps more important to explain why staff participation matters. This might be a common precaution such as using hair nets and clean gloves, or a job-specific duty such as adherence to FIFO, as mentioned in the first point.

8. Increased Mycotoxins Threats for Feed Producers

Mycotoxins produced by fungi in grain are particularly critical risks for animal feed producers, including livestock as well as pets. Recent increases in rainfall have increased the risks of mycotoxins in grains, making testing, sanitation and prevention even more important. All of the above FSMA food safety precautions, especially lot tracking and proper storage tank construction, can help to prevent the spread of harmful mycotoxins.

FSMA food safety regulations were designed to keep consumers safe and prevent the spread of illness. Food processors of nearly all sizes are now responsible for FSMA adherence, though there are many ways to accomplish this. Food processors and manufacturers should take note of these FSMA food safety risks, and pay close attention to system design when upgrading, expanding, or designing new facilities.

Improving Accuracy in Automated Processing Systems: Finding the Right Load Cell

improving automated process accuracy

Automated systems have made food, pharmaceutical and chemical processing systems faster and more efficient. An important part of this process is the accurate weighing of ingredients. As ingredients have become more concentrated, the importance for highly accurate scales has increased. The challenge for many engineers is designing an automated system that is both efficient and accurate. To improve weighing accuracy in automated processing systems, you have to start with the load cell. Finding the right load cell can help to improve the accuracy of the automated process in general, without sacrificing efficiency.

Improving Accuracy in Automated Processing Systems: Load Cell Capacity and Weighing Instrument

The load cell capacity, weighing instrument and the ingredients themselves all play an important role in the weighing accuracy of automated processing systems, regardless of the industry they’re used in. In today’s blog post, we’ll start with these important factors. Other considerations, like the size of the feeder, the scale vessel mounting position, the controls, and environment, also play an important role, and we’ll cover these in our next post.

Load Cell Capacity vs Scale Instrument Capacity

Finding the right load cell means looking at both the weighing sensor and the weighing instrument. How a scale displays weight and the most accurate measurement it can use are determined by the weighing sensor, commonly called the load cell, and the weighing instrument, commonly called the scale head. A typical load cell is accurate with 5,000 divisions. So, in a 100 lb cell, it could display incremental changes by .02 lbs.

More finely-tuned scale instruments make it possible to improve this accuracy further. Most scale instruments can exceed load cell capability, with the ability to divide by 10,000 or even 20,000. So the 100 lb load cell could show increments of .01 lbs or .005 lbs, respectively.

Scales legal for trade must adhere to scale standardization rules published in the National Type Evaluation Program’s Handbook 44, and scale instruments with this level of specificity are considered outside the standard. However, process scales may not be required to meet these standards, and the additional accuracy offered by the improved scale instruments can improve accuracy in the automated process.

Full-Scale Capacity vs. Individual Ingredient Accuracy

The scale’s division accuracy is a percentage of the full-scale capacity, sometimes expressed as the full scale capacity multiplied by the division. For example a 100lb scale may be shown as 100lb x .02 if the scale divisions is 5,000. This is often misconstrued with an individual ingredient’s accuracy requirement. If, for example, the scale is accurate to within .02lb and an ingredient requires 2% accuracy, it’s easy to assume that the scale will be sufficient. However, this is not the case. It depends on how much you are trying to weigh.

For example, 1% accuracy in a 100 lb scale is 1lbs. If you are trying to weigh 25 lbs of an ingredient on the 100 lb scale with a scale division of .02lb to within 1% then you will be OK since the .02 lb division is 8 hundredths of a percent of 25lbs. However, if you want to weigh .25 lbs of an ingredient in the same scale and you are off by one division of the scale then the potential error is 8% of the target weight. In order to find out what the minimum division should be for .25 lb target weight with a desired accuracy of 1% we need to divide .25 by 100 to get the desired percentage of the target weight. This means that the scale divisions would have to be .0025 instead of .02 so the scale should be much smaller.

Efficiency vs. Accuracy in Automated Process Weighing

The use of small amounts of highly concentrated ingredients alongside larger amounts of base ingredients presents a measurement challenge. A scale that is large enough to measure out the larger ingredients may not be accurate enough for the smallest ones, but a scale that’s accurate enough for the smallest ones will be too small for the large ones.

There are a few solutions to find a balance between efficiency and accuracy in automated process weighing:

  • Use two or more scales. Divide the recipe based on the desired accuracy for each ingredient. Two 50 lb scales capable of 5,000 divisions will each provide .01lb divisions, which will be twice as accurate as one 100 lb scale capable of 5,000 divisions, and the two scales working simultaneously will maintain speed and efficiency.
  • Fill a smaller scale more then once. If there is an ingredient that exceeds the scale capacity then it is possible to weigh the ingredient up to the scale’s capacity, discharge the scale and continue to weigh the same ingredient in the scale until the target weight is achieved.
  • Use a microingredient system. A specialized microingredient system can increase efficiency when there is a significant difference between the amounts and accuracy between highly concentrated ingredients and base ingredients.
  • Dilute the ingredient. A highly concentrated ingredient may require accuracy within +/- .01 lbs. However, if the ingredient is diluted—say, by ten times—the accuracy will drop to +/- .1 lbs.

Finding the right load cell and scale to accommodate every ingredient in the mix is the first step towards creating an automated processing system that is both accurate and efficient. In our next post, we’ll cover the next elements to consider, including the feeder, controls, surrounding environment, and more.

Liquid Coating Processes for Uniform Snack Coating

Whether for flavor, vitamin content, shelf life, or texture, liquid coating is the preferred application method for many cereals, snacks, pet food mixes, and more. Though this provides a number of efficient, time-saving advantages for snack coating, it can introduce some challenges if the process isn’t correct. Consistency and uniformity in liquid coating are two of the most common challenges in pet food and snack coating. With careful process design considerations, you can find the right process for your coating and substrate.

Liquid Coating Processes for Uniform Snack Coating

Before Application: Measurement

A standard mass flow system.

Before applying the liquid coating to the substrate, it’s essential to accurately measure the flow of each material. There are several way to do this, and which you choose will depend on the accuracy you require, moisture or temperature conditions, the composition of the carrier ingredient, and the layout of your facility. The carrier ingredient will be the “master flow” and the liquid coating process will depend on it, making accuracy even more important. You may need to consider potential flow problems at this stage.

You might choose the following flow measurement systems for continuous snack coating:

  • Volumetric: A screw conveyor, rotary feeder, or belt conveyor measures solid flow through RPMs (or Hz). A nutating disk, positive displacement pump, piston pump or turbine measures liquid flow through RPMs (or Hz) or pulses. Volumetric measurement is sensitive to changes in density, and not recommended for applications with high accuracy. Calibrate often to adjust for elevated temperature or moisture content,
  • Mass flow: Mass flow measurements have more versatility, with a variety of measurement systems. Weigh belts, weigh screws, impact scales, and nuclear gauges more accurately measure flow through RPMs and weight simultaneously.
  • Loss in weight: This measurement system works similarly to mass flow systems, however it measures weight as the material flows out. A garner hopper and scale hopper work in unison to take accurate measurements in a continuous flow system. This system is also quite accurate, however a facility’s height restrictions may be problematic. The scale hopper operates in weight exception mode during re-filling to accommodate continuous operation, and this should not exceed acceptable tolerances.

Liquid Coating Applications

With the measurement system determined, you have the right amount of liquid coating and substrate, but you still need to decide how to apply an even, consistent coating in the continuous process. You might use a screw conveyor, rotating drum, or mist coater.

Screw Conveyor and Spray

liquid application screw conveyor
Two spray nozzles and a screw conveyor.

As the screw conveyor moves the substrate, spray nozzles apply the liquid coating. In a simple screw conveyor very little agitation of the product takes place. To get a uniform coating, the substrate will require agitation. Some of the screw conveyor flights can be cut away to form more of a ribbon to agitate the product while moving it forward. Lifting flights and paddles on the screw conveyor will provide more movement, and there should be enough space for the material to tumble through.

The tumbling action through the screw conveyor must be gentle for fragile materials, which can slow down the process. Liquids moving through the spray nozzles can also present problems. If the liquid flow rate changes a great deal, then additional spray nozzles may be needed so the quantity being sprayed does not drop below or go above the rated capacity for flow and pressure, which can affect the quality of the atomization. If the liquid has suspended solids, spray nozzles will easily clog.

Rotating Drum and Spray

This liquid coating process works similarly to the screw conveyor, except the material moves through an open-ended cylinder. Flights lift and tumble the material, and spray nozzles coat the material as it moves through. This method is generally gentler and ideal for fragile snacks or foods.

Since the rotating drum is open on both sides, fugitive liquid and dust can quickly become an issue. Without proper ventilation or cleaning, the liquid or dust can create slip and fall hazards, unpleasant or hazardous working conditions, or it may damage equipment. The required length of the drum may also be a concern for facilities with limited space.

Spinning Disk and Mist Coating

liquid coating spinning disk atomization
Liquid application through spinning disk atomization.

During this process, the material moves across a spinning disk and flows over the edges. As it falls, the liquid coating hits additional disks moving much faster in the opposite direction below. The liquid atomizes into a mist that coats the material as it falls.

Atomization through spinning disks solves many of the liquid coating problems presented by spray nozzles. Since pressure is not required for the liquid coating application, density changes and solid suspensions are no longer a concern. This also allows for multiple liquid coatings simultaneously, regardless of changes in density or viscosity. Finally, the system is completely enclosed, which prevents fugitive dust and liquid from escaping.

Finding the right pet food or snack coating process will help you not only increase product quality and consistency, but it can also reduce costs, product loss, labor, and maintenance needs. Always test the process before installation, and work closely with your equipment manufacturer to get the right system.