Posts Tagged ‘food manufacturing’

Food Manufacturing Challenges – HACCP Design Principle No. 1

Sunday, October 16th, 2011
     Imagine a doctor not washing his hands in between baby deliveries.  Unbelievable but true, this was a widespread practice up until last century when infections, followed by death of newborns, was an all-too common occurrence in hospitals across the United States.  It took an observant nurse to put two and two together after watching many physicians go from delivery room to delivery room, mother to mother, without washing their hands.  Once hand washing in between deliveries was made mandatory, the incidence of infection and death in newborns plummeted.

      Why wasn’t this simple and common sense solution instituted earlier?  Was it ignorance, negligence, laziness, or a combination thereof that kept doctors from washing up?  Whatever the root cause of this ridiculous oversight, it remains a fact of history.  Common sense was finally employed, and babies’ lives saved.

     The same common sense is at play in the development of the FDA’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) policy, which was developed to ensure the safe production of commercial food products.  Like the observant nurse who played watchdog to doctors’ poor hygiene practices and became the catalyst for improved hospital procedures set in place and remaining until today, HACCP policy results in a proactive strategy where hazards are identified, assessed, and then control measures developed to prevent, reduce, and eliminate potential hazards.

     In this article, we’ll begin to explore how engineers design food processing equipment and production lines in accordance with the seven HACCP principles.  You will note that here, once again, the execution of common sense can solve many problems.

     Principle 1:  Conduct a hazard analysis. – Those involved in designing food processing equipment and production lines must proactively analyze designs to identify potential food safety hazards.  If the hazard analysis reveals contaminants are likely to find their way into food products, then preventive measures are put in place in the form of design revisions.

     For example, suppose a food processing machine is designed and hazard analysis reveals that food can accumulate in areas where cleaning is difficult or impossible.  This accumulation will rot with time, and the bacteria-laden glop can fall onto uncontaminated food passing through production lines.

     As another example, a piece of metal tooling may have been designed with the intent to form food products into a certain shape, but hazard analysis reveals that the tooling is too fragile and cannot withstand the repeated forces imposed on it by the mass production process.  There is a strong likelihood that small metal parts can break off and enter the food on the line.

     Next time we’ll move on to HACCP Principle 2 and see how design engineers control problems identified during the hazard analysis performed pursuant to Principle 1.

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Food Manufacturing Challenges – Cleanliness

Monday, October 3rd, 2011
     My wife and I have an agreement concerning the kitchen.  She cooks, I clean.  Plates and utensils are easy enough to deal with, especially when you have a dishwasher.  Pots and pans are a little more challenging.  But what I hate the most are the food processors, mixers, blenders, slicers and dicers.  They’re designed to make food preparation easier and less time consuming, but they sure don’t make the clean up any easier!  Quite frankly, I suspect the time involved to clean them exceeds the time saved in food preparation.

     Food processors on a larger scale are also used to manufacture many food products in manufacturing facilities, and being larger and more complicated overall, they’re even more difficult to clean.  For example, I once designed a production line incorporating a dough mixer for one of the largest wholesale bakery product suppliers in the United States.  A small elevator was required to lift vast amounts of ingredients into a mixing bowl the size of a compact car.  Its mixing arms were so heavy, two people were required to lift them into position.  It was also my task to ensure that the equipment as designed was capable of being thoroughly cleaned in a timely and cost effective manner.

     Food processing machinery must be designed so that all areas coming into contact with ingredients can be readily accessed for cleaning.  And since most of the equipment you are dealing with in this setting is far too cumbersome to be portable, the majority of the cleaning must be cleaned in place, known in the industry as CIP.  To facilitate CIP, commercial machinery is designed with hatches and special covers that allow workers to get inside with their cleaning equipment.  Small, portable parts of the machine, such as pipes, cutting blades, forming mechanisms, and extrusion dies, are often made to be removable so that they can be carried over to an industrial sized sink for cleaning out of place, or COP.  These potable machine components are typically removable for COP without the use of any tools and are fitted with flip latches, spring clips, and thumb screws to facilitate the process.

     Everything in a food manufacturing facility, from production machinery to conveyor belts, is typically cleaned with hot, pressurized water.  The water is ejected from the nozzle end of a hose hooked up to a specially designed valve that mixes steam and cold water.  The result is scalding hot pressurized water that easily dislodges food residues.  Bacteria doesn’t stand a chance against this barrage.  The water, which is maintained at about 180°F, quickly sterilizes everything it makes contact with.  It also provides a chemical-free clean that won’t leave behind residues.  Once dislodged, debris is flushed out through strategically placed openings in the machine which then empty into nearby floor drains.

     As a consequence of the frequent cleanings commercial food preparation machinery requires, their parts must be able to withstand frequent exposure to high pressure water streams.  Parts are typically constructed of ultra high molecular weight (UHMW) food-grade plastics and metal alloys such as stainless steels, capable of withstanding the corrosive effects of water.  And since water and electricity make a dangerous combination, gaskets and seals on the equipment must be tight enough to protect against water making its way into motors and other electrical parts.

     Next time we’ll look at how design engineers of food manufacturing equipment use a systematic approach to minimize the possibility of food safety hazards, such as product contamination.

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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.

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Food Manufacturing Challenges

Sunday, September 18th, 2011
     Some people just have a knack in the kitchen, and my wife is among them.  She transforms raw ingredients into the most amazing culinary delights, almost like she’s waving a magic wand.  The finished products are works of art, hand crafted with tender loving care, and lucky me, I get to feast on them regularly!

     During the course of my engineering career I’ve been employed within many industries, and at one point I made the decision to leave the electric utility industry and enter into the world of food manufacturing.  I accepted the position of Plant Engineer with a wholesale manufacturer of baking ingredients and frozen pastry products.  My main responsibility was the design of food manufacturing equipment and their production lines.

     What I had expected to be a relatively straightforward process soon proved to be more challenging.  I was no longer working with hard metal as my raw material, that is, gears, nuts, and bolts, but a whole new arena of things described by adjectives such as gooey and pastey.  Engineers don’t typically create food products, and let’s face it, you probably wouldn’t want to eat anything that I cooked anyway!  But an engineer working within a food manufacturing plant must act as a liaison between the worlds of engineering design and the culinary arts.

     Now food manufacturers typically hire professional chefs to develop new products in their research and development (R&D) kitchens.  Like my wife, they’re well qualified to produce wonderful hand-made culinary delights.  The sticky part comes in when their small batch recipes and preparation techniques don’t translate smoothly to the world of mass production.  When it comes to handling food, human fingers are far superior to metal machinery, and raw ingredients behave differently for each.

     Herein lies much of the challenge for design engineers within the food industry.  How do you design equipment and production lines to make huge quantities of food that look and taste as good as the prototype products made by hand in the R&D kitchen?  Next week we’ll find out.

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