Posts Tagged ‘food equipment design’

Food Manufacturing Challenges – HACCP Design Principle No. 6

Sunday, November 20th, 2011
     My daughter’s boy friend stayed for dinner recently and was impressed with our after-dinner cleanup.  He watched as each of us carried out our individual assigned tasks, my wife putting away leftovers and condiments, my daughter rinsing and stacking plates into the dishwasher, and me at the sink hand washing.  To him we seemed a model of efficiency.  It didn’t take long to return the kitchen to its usual state of pristine evening cleanliness.  “Our kitchen is always a mess,” he complained, “probably because we’re so disorganized.”

     You can imagine what would happen if a food manufacturing plant operated like a disorganized household kitchen.  Although employees may know they are responsible for delivering safe products to consumers, without the right procedures in place an unsafe chaotic mess may result.  To get everyone moving in the right direction we look to guidelines established in HACCP Design Principle No. 6.

     Principle 6:  Establish procedures for ensuring the HACCP system is working as intended. –   In large part this Principle acts as a report card.  It follows up on the guidelines established in Principles l through 5, organizing activities into written procedures. 

     For example, design engineers must routinely analyze important identified stages within a design project, then write procedures, that is, a step-by-step instruction guide, which encompasses them.  In this way personnel involved in the design process make best use of the safeguards put in place by HACCP Design Principles 1 through 5.  These steps include things like preparing design proposals, analyzing risks and hazards, creating preliminary designs, conducting design reviews, building prototype equipment and tooling, running tests, collecting test data, and analyzing test results.  For each step, responsibilities of key individuals involved must be clearly defined and sequentially ordered.

     But writing department procedures is only part of Principle 6.  Procedures are no good if they’re just thrown into a file cabinet and no one ever looks at them.  What good are guidelines without a full understanding of how to use them?  Training may be necessary, and management must decide what form that educational process takes to be most effective.   

     Engineering management must verify that established procedures are adequate to the task.  This typically involves taking a hard look at finished design projects and checking critical factors.  Was an adequate risk analysis performed?  Were sufficient critical control points established and critical limits monitored for effectiveness? 

     Next time we’ll wrap up our discussion on HACCP Design Principles by examining No. 7.  It’s the last of the Principles and it’s concerned with establishing record keeping procedures.



Food Manufacturing Challenges – HACCP Design Principle No. 5

Saturday, November 12th, 2011
     Picture yourself on a highway, it’s dark out, the wind is blowing fiercely, and you’re unable to see that the pavement is accumulating icy patches.  You hit one, and your car veers out of control.  Luckily you drive one of the new generation of “smart” vehicles.  Wheel sensors detect your predicament and immediately initiate a sequence of events to correct the situation and bring your vehicle back into control.

     Corrective measures need to be taken in many situations when things go awry, whether they be computer-generated or human-generated corrections, and food manufacturing facilities are not exempt from the process.  Let’s look at how this applies within HACCP Design Principle No. 5. 

     Principle 5:  Establish corrective actions. – Simply put, when an established critical limit at a designated critical control point (CCP) has been found not to be functioning as intended, thereby exposing consumers to potential food safety issues, design engineers must enact corrective measures to resolve the issue as soon as possible.   

     Let’s return to the example set out in our last article, where we discussed HACCP Design Principle 4.  An engineering manager has discovered a problem with the lower critical limits established by her design engineer’s software logic as it concerns a CCP established with regard to cooker temperature.  The time and temperature in the logic create a hazardous situation by not taking into account that larger cuts of meat require more cooking time, resulting in them being undercooked. 

     Fortunately, the engineering manager’s diligent and ongoing day-to-day monitoring has alerted her to the error.  She immediately provides feedback about it to the design engineer, who makes corrections to the software logic.

     Problem solved, and all is working well within the food manufacturing plant, right?  Yes, but we’re not finished. We have to make sure that a mechanism is set in place to ensure that HACCP Principles 1 through 5 are being followed and that they are actually working to protect consumers from potential food contamination hazards.

     Next time we’ll take a look at the last of the HACCP Design Principles, No. 6, which concerns itself with maintenance and housekeeping issues.


Food Manufacturing Challenges – HACCP Design Principle No. 3

Sunday, October 30th, 2011
     How do parents make life safer and healthier for their kids?  One of the ways is to  impose limits on things like roaming distance within the neighborhood, curfews, and insisting that you eat your vegetables.  Just common sense, right?  Let’s take a look at some more of it.

     Limits are also necessary within the food manufacturing industry.  Let’s take a look at Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Principle No. 3 to see how they’re established and why.

     Principle 3: Establish critical limits for each critical control point. – You can think of a critical limit as a boundary of safety for each critical control point (CCP).  So how do you determine that boundary of safety?  It’s difficult to generalize, but if you’ve ever watched the TV show Hoarders, you have an excellent example of one that has not only been breeched, but torn asunder.   

     In order to prevent things in the commercial food industry from getting anywhere near Hoarders bad, maximum and minimum values are set in place, representing safeguards to physical, biological, and chemical parameters at play within the industry.  Critical limits can be obtained from regulatory standards and guidelines, scientific literature, experimental studies, as well as information provided by consultants.  These critical limits come into play with issues as varied as machine design, raw material temperatures, and overall safe processing times.

     How could the hoarders let things get so bad?  If you listen carefully, you’ll hear bits of information that provide a clue.  They’ll say it started with a few things falling to the floor which they didn’t feel like picking up and it escalated from there. 

     Now all of us live within environments which differ as to their cleanliness, but by and large we live within space where we feel comfortable and consider to be reasonably clean.  We don’t all habitually move stoves and refrigerators to clean, for example.  But if we were so inclined, refrigerators do come with front access panels that are easily removed.  Trouble is the space they provide access to often isn’t large enough to accommodate hands and a vacuum cleaner nozzle comfortably.  You can imagine how frustrating and potentially dangerous it would be to public health to have commercial machinery that provided such limited access for cleaning.    

     To cope with this problem design engineers institute minimum and maximum parameters, such as in the critical limit dimensions of a removable cover.  Their guideline would ensure that enough space is provided so that personnel can fully access all aspects of machinery with tools for cleaning.  That same cover can also have established maximum critical limits, so that dimensions aren’t too large and heavy to be manipulated by hand.  Human nature being what it is, something that is too difficult to remove may be “forgotten” and parts of the machine may never get cleaned.

     Raw meats and many produce can contain hazards like salmonella, E. coli, and other nasty critters that are dangerous to human health.  One of the ways the commercial food industry works to ensure that these contaminants aren’t unleashed on the public is to install programmable control systems into processing machinery that essentially cooks the meat at an established minimum temperature for a minimum amount of time.  Utilizing this type of temperature control in conjunction with an established maximum cooking parameter for temperature and time will virtually eliminate the possibility of overcooked or burnt food products.  When you buy that frozen dinner in most cases it’s completely cooked, but it’s a rarity to find it’s been burned.  

     Another situation in which critical limits are utilized is in the maintenance of machinery, such as when they limit the number of hours a machine can be operated before it is shut down for servicing.

     Next week we’ll move on to Principle No. 4 and see how it establishes monitoring requirements for each CCP.  ____________________________________________

Food Manufacturing Challenges – Look and Taste

Sunday, September 25th, 2011
     Ever wonder why the burger you get at your favorite fast food chain never looks like the one on TV?  The bun isn’t fluffy, the beef patty doesn’t make it to the edges, and the lettuce is anything but crisp.  Well, it’s because a professional known as a Food Stylist, working together with a professional marketing firm and production crew, has painstakingly created the beautiful, bright and balanced burger used to lure you in.  The process can take days or even weeks to create and has nothing to do with reality.  The burger you’re really going to get will look more like a gorilla sat on it.

     Many of the same issues must be dealt with when mass producing food.  Chances are human hands will never even touch the product, like they did when creating the prototype in the test kitchen.  In the world of food manufacturing, the “look” part can be extremely challenging.  How do you get machines and production lines to create visually appealing food that entices prospective buyers to make an investment in it?  How do you get it to taste good, or at least acceptable to the palate?

     The “taste” part of food manufacturing can be even more challenging.  For example, in the test kitchen of a pastry product manufacturer, a recipe will be developed using home pantry products like flour, butter, and eggs.  Ever made bread or a pie crust?  The stickiness factor is enough to drive many insane.  Even nimble human fingers have a hard time dealing with it.  Now enter food processing machinery and conveyor belts into the scenario.  This brings the possibility of stickiness to a whole new level.  Huge messes that gum up the machinery are common, and production line shutdowns are the result.

     When faced with these challenges, plant engineers have to work closely with chefs in the R&D kitchen to come up with some sort of compromise in the recipe or final form of the food product.  The goal is to cost effectively produce food products acceptable to consumers for purchase, and it’s often an iterative process involving many successive changes to recipes and equipment designs, coupled with a lot of testing and retesting, before success is finally met.  If testing ultimately proves that the product appeals to consumers’ tastes and flows nicely through production lines, then there’s a good chance it will be a commercial success.  In any case, cost is the dictating factor as to whether the food product will successfully make it onto the shelves of your supermarket.  A margin of profit must be made. 

     But this success is only part of the design process.  Before full commercial production can commence, processing equipment and production lines must be designed so that they:

  1. Are easy to clean at the end of the production run.
  2. Don’t contaminate the food during operation.
  3. Are easy to operate and maintain.
  4. Can be easily modified to make other products.

     Next time we’ll explore how cleanliness requirements factor into food manufacturing equipment design.