Hygienic Design of Food Processing Facilities
By Frank Moerman, M.Sc.
Increasing consumer demand for fresh foods has led to the development of processing and preservation methods that have minimal impact on either the nutritional or sensory properties of foods. Freshly prepared foods often contain less salt, acid, sugar, additives and preservatives. Since the use of mild preservation technologies primarily results in pasteurized products, hygienic processing equipment and a hygienic process environment are needed to prevent microbial, chemical and physical contaminants from affecting these products while preventing product exposure to sources of filth (pests, dust, etc.). Combating product contamination may occur not only at the equipment level but also at the factory level. Incorporation of hygienic design into your food processing facility can prevent development of pests and microbiological niches; avoid product contamination with chemicals (e.g., cleaning agents, lubricants, peeling paint, etc.) and particles (e.g., glass, dust, iron, etc.); facilitate cleaning and sanitation and preserve hygienic conditions both during and after maintenance. The facility infrastructure can be so designed and constructed that it cannot contaminate food products, whether directly or indirectly.
To control food safety, providing barriers to food contamination is a generally applied concept. The first barrier refers to outside premises, such as fencing, to prevent unauthorized access to the facility. The access of transport vehicles with raw materials and end-products, personnel, domestic and non-domestic animals should be monitored and controlled. Factory site drainage and storm water collection must be sufficient; areas within a 3-m perimeter of the factory must be kept vegetation free to avoid pest breeding and harborage sites; a 10-cm thick concrete curtain wall around the factory foundation at least 60 cm below ground discourages rodents from entering the building; effluent treatment plants and waste disposal units should be sited such that prevailing winds do not blow microbial and dust aerosols into manufacturing areas.
The second barrier concerns the closing of factory buildings. All entrances/exits (i.e., window and door openings, openings for vents, air circulation lines, floor drains, etc.) must be designed for control over access, flow or exit of personnel, raw and finished food products, air, process aids (process water, process steam, food gases, etc.), waste, utilities (plant cooling and heating water, plant steam, compressed air, electricity, etc.) and pests (insects, birds, rodents, etc.). Floor drains must be screened to avoid rats from entering the food plant via sewers; ventilator openings, including vents in the roof, should be screened to prevent the entry of roof rats, insects and birds; gaps at the entrances of electrical conduits, process and utility piping, which are convenient pathways for roof rats, must be closed.
The third barrier is the segregation of restricted areas (zones) within the plant, each of which have different hygienic requirements and controlled access. The fourth barrier is the processing equipment (including storage and conveying systems), which must have an adequate hygienic design and must be closed to protect the food product from external contamination.
Zoning: A Cornerstone in Prevention of Food Contamination
Zone B is an area in which a basic level of hygienic design requirements suffices. It encompasses areas in which products are produced that are not susceptible to contamination or that are protected in their final packages. A B0 zone is the area outside the buildings within the perimeter of the site where the objective is to control or reduce hazards created by unauthorized personnel entry and hazards created by water, dirt, dust and presence of animals. B1 zones include warehouses that store both raw materials and packed processed products, offices, workshops, power supply areas, canteens and redundant buildings/rooms. The objective for a B1 zone is to control or reduce hazards created by birds and pests.
Zone M is an area in which a medium level of hygiene suffices. It includes process areas where products are produced that are susceptible to contamination, but where the consumer group is not especially sensitive and where no further microbial growth is possible in the product in the supply chain. In this area, product might be exposed to the environment, during sampling and during the opening of equipment to clear blockages. The objective for zone M is to control or reduce the creation of hazardous sources that can affect an associated area of higher zone classification. Another objective is the protection of the interior of food processing equipment from contamination when exposed to the atmosphere.
Zone H applies to an area where the highest level of hygiene is required. A “High Hygiene” room, which, in food processing is the equivalent of a cleanroom, must be completely contained. Zone H is typical for open processing, where even short exposure of product to the atmosphere can result in a food safety hazard. Products and ingredients that are processed or stored and are destined for a highly susceptible consumer group (e.g., infant nutrition), are instant in nature or ready for consumption. They must be handled in a refrigerated supply chain, as they are susceptible to growth of pathogenic microorganisms. The objective for H zones is to control all product contamination hazards and to protect the interior of food processing equipment from exposure to atmosphere. Filtered air must be supplied to this area.
These areas should be limited in size, must have a simple equipment layout to facilitate process, cleaning and maintenance operations and should have utilities located outside. However, investing in an enclosed line that brings barriers very close to the product is more logical than trying to create a complete cleanroom around a partially open line.
Zoning and the establishment of barriers to ensure that product of acceptable hygienic quality is produced should only be applied where their use will help significantly to protect products. Designing the entire factory as a cleanroom is not the purpose of food area segregation to protect both product and consumer. Zoning and barrier technology must be applied in an appropriate and consistent way, thereby avoiding unnecessary investment.
Construction of Facilities: Appropriate Layout
The layout and design of the food factory must be adapted to the hygienic requirements of a given process, packaging or storage area. The interior of the factory must be designed so that the flow of material, personnel, air and waste can proceed in the right direction. As they become incorporated into food products, raw materials and ingredients should move from the ‘dirty’ to the ‘clean’ areas. However, the flow of food waste and discarded outer packaging materials should be in the opposite direction. Before building begins, simulation of the flow of people, materials, products and waste can help the designer determine the most appropriate place for installing the process equipment and where the process and utility piping should enter the process area. Even the simulation of maintenance and cleaning operations can be useful to determine the most appropriate factory layout. Graphical computer-aided design and 3D visualization programs can help in the hygienic design, positioning and routing of processes, process supports and utility systems. These programs allow the observer to “walk through” the facility, seeing the inside of the facility from different angles and locations. To save building and renovation costs, potential problems can be solved before the onset of construction. Additionally, in the development of high hygiene areas, computational fluid dynamics can help simulate and visualize expected airflows.
To meet a possible increase of processing activities within the food plant in the future, the building and its food processing support systems should be designed so they can either be expanded, or another building and/or utilities can be added. Oversizing the main utility systems is a common practice. If possible, the factory should also be made adaptable (i.e., the ability to modify the production area for other manufacturing purposes) and versatile (i.e., the ability to do different things within the same room).
Construction of Facilities: Pest Prevention
To exclude flooding and the entry of rodents, factories should be built at a higher level than the ground outside. Exterior doors should not open directly into production areas, and windows should be absent from food processing areas. The number of loading docks should be minimal and be 1–1.2 m above ground level. Preferably, outside docks should have an overhanging lip, with smooth and uncluttered surfaces that are sloped slightly away from the building to encourage water run-off. Areas beneath docks should not provide harborages for pests, should be paved and should drain adequately. To provide protection for products and raw materials, docks can be shielded from the elements by roofs or canopies. However, these structures can become a serious sanitation problem due to roosting or nesting of birds. Bird spikes or nets can solve that problem. To prevent the entry of insects, dock openings should be provided with plastic strips or air curtains, and external lighting to illuminate these factory entrances should be placed in locations away from the factory building. Intruding insects can still be attracted and killed within the food factory by strategically positioned ultraviolet (UV) light electric grids or adhesive glue board traps.
Construction of Facilities: Interior Hygienic Design Construction Materials
Construction materials for equipment and utility piping should be hygienic (smooth, non-absorbent, non-toxic and easily cleanable), chemical-resistant (to product, process chemicals, cleaning and sanitizing agents), physically durable (unbreakable, resistant to steam, moisture, cold, abrasion and chipping) and easy to maintain. Materials used to construct process and utility systems located in the non-food contact area may be of a lower grade than those applied in the food contact zone. Surfaces that are frequently wet should not be painted as the paint can crack, flake and chip.
Lead, mercury and cadmium should not be used within the factory. However, as part of many electric components, it is very difficult to exclude their presence. In the food contact area, electric components must always be enclosed in junction boxes, casings, closed cable housings, cabinets, etc. or should be installed in non-product contact zones or in technical corridors. Alloys for food contact may only contain aluminium, chromium, copper, gold, iron, molybdenum, nickel, platinum, silver, titanium, zinc, carbon, etc. However, zinc, copper, aluminium, bronze, brass, carbon and galvanized and painted steel have poor resistance to detergents, disinfectants, acidic food and steam and must be avoided in food contact areas.
Polytetrafluoroethylene, polyethersulfone, polyvinylidene fluoride, phenol-formaldehyde, urea-formaldehyde, melamine-formaldehyde, epoxy and unsaturated polyester resins are used in the construction of electric components, while other plastics like polypropylene (PP), low-density polyethylene (PE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyurethane (PU), ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM), silicone, etc. are applied as jacket materials for electrical cables or for the construction of pneumatic hoses and compressed air tubing. PP, PE and PVC are also used to construct drain pipes, while shields of polycarbonate can protect the food area below light sources from shattered glass after accidental breakage of lamps. Silicone, nitrile, PU, EPDM and butyl rubber are largely used as materials for gaskets, seals, etc. Epoxy is widely used as floor, wall and ceiling coatings. Remember that many plastics perform differently at -25 °C than they do at 20 °C.
Integration of Piping
Utility piping in technical corridors or zone H areas should be integrated into wall compartments or the ceiling. If this is not possible, it is recommended to use open racks, fixed to the ceiling, or walls and columns close to the ceiling. However, sufficient clearance must be provided between pipe runs and adjacent surfaces so that both are readily accessible for cleaning and maintenance. The pipe racks must be designed hygienically to minimize the presence of horizontal ledges, crevices or gaps where inaccessible dirt can accumulate.
Food processing support piping should be directly routed from service rooms to process areas and should always be logical and simple. The amount of utility piping should be minimized and should have—like process piping—a slope of 1/200 to 1/100. Especially in process, hot water and process steam piping, standing “pools” of liquid that can support the growth of microorganisms must be avoided. To remove condensate, steam traps should be located at all low, convenient points along any extended pipe length. Steam purges for relief of steam condensate in a drain should be closely connected to that drain. In open systems, the steam vapor coming out of a drain can cause humidity and odor problems within the factory. Discharge of condensate from the system should be via an air break to prevent back-siphonage. Neither process nor utility piping should have dead legs.
Like process piping, utility piping should be grouped together in easily accessible pipe trains whenever possible. The points of use should also be grouped, in an attempt to minimize individual ceiling drops. Vertical entrance of piping into the equipment or equipment jacket is more hygienic than horizontal utility piping runs. Running of process and utility piping over open equipment in food preparation areas cannot be accepted, and nesting of ductwork should be avoided. Piping should not clutter the ceiling. When necessary, suspended racks that run over a product zone shall be equipped with a drip pan that protects the product zone below and can be readily removed for cleaning. Bumper guard construction can also be installed in heavy traffic areas to protect piping from external mechanical forces.
Piping should be installed at least 6 cm from walls and floors to encourage thorough cleaning around it. Piping in corners should be avoided, as it hampers thorough cleaning. Process equipment shall be installed such that enough space is provided to facilitate pipe cleaning.
As piping (utility and process) can affect or disrupt the airflow pattern in zone H rooms, a fog test can control airflow patterns. The geometry of the utility piping can destroy the desired air pattern (e.g., piping with a square or rectangular profile is less favorable than circular). Square and rectangular shapes create turbulence and depressions where dust can accumulate, but cylindrical profiles make cleaning easier.
Penetration of Piping through Walls, Ceilings and Floors
Piping that transports dirty fluids should not run in the vicinity of or cross utilities that transport process aids, especially if these process aids are in direct contact with the food to be processed. Like process piping, food processing support piping should run unidirectionally, with the support piping running from the cleanest area toward the least clean areas. Support systems should deliver a certain process aid first in the process area with the highest hygienic risk (zone H) and last in the zone of lowest hygienic risk (zone L).
Pipeline penetration through walls, ceilings and floors should be minimized, as holes in these areas can lead to sanitation problems and can invite the entry of insects and rodents. Openings in floors for pipes should be guarded with a sleeve to avoid spill of cleaning solutions onto a lower floor. When several pipes penetrate the floor, a larger curbed floor can replace several pipe sleeves to improve the cleanability of the surrounding process environment. However, that curbed floor may create a large opening where pests may harbor, and where dirt, water, etc. may accumulate. It must be a completely closed curb with a cover that leaves no gap around the penetrating piping.
Holes in walls for pipe traverse need not to be sealed water- and air-tight when both sides of the wall are in rooms of the same hygienic zoning, but any opening should be large enough for access and cleaning. However, if a wall separates rooms of different hygienic zoning, all holes for pipe traverse must be sealed. The exterior surfaces of the pipes that traverse walls or ceilings should then have water- and air-tight contact with the wall or ceiling. Foaming-in-place is an appropriate method to close the gaps formed between pipe surfaces and walls as are the applications of plastic caps around the piping and flashing flanges. If running of process and utility piping through walls or ceilings in zone H rooms cannot be avoided, the apertures through the walls and ceilings shall be properly closed against air leakage, as they give excessive air volume losses which may affect product.
Sanitary Insulation of Piping
Hot piping should not run in the neighborhood of piping that transports cold food products, cold process water, etc. The warm-up of these cold liquids can give rise to the growth of food pathogens. Insulation of hot piping is required, not only to economize on energy, but also to prevent excessive heating of the food production environment above acceptable temperatures. Poorly insulated ethylene glycol and cold/chilled water piping can sweat or be covered with ice, resulting in dripping water. To avoid ingress of dust, vermin, etc. into the insulation, it is highly recommended fully welded metal cladding or plastic covering be installed. It should be impossible to walk on the insulation during maintenance. Damage to insulation can be inhibited by covering the pipe insulation with a smooth, hard, non-electrostatic, plastic cover, rather than steel sheet cladding.
Hygienically Designed Transfer Panels
Flexible hoses can be used for performing transfers within a given process area. However, hoses are impractical to perform transfers between rooms, especially if these rooms have a different level of “cleanliness.” To make connections between different processing units in adjacent rooms, the use of hygienically designed transfer panels is recommended. Interconnection between the different ports should be made with sanitary U- and J-bends. Piping behind the transfer panel and the panel ports must be sloped to ensure proper drainage of residual liquid toward a drain pan. For the same reason, the whole transfer panel can tip a little bit forward. Ports should be capped when not in use to prevent any potential spill or contamination.
Chemical and Wear-resistant Floors
Floors should be sloped toward drains and provided with curbed wall floor junctions, with the curbs having a 30-degree slope to prevent accumulation of water, dust or soil.
Concrete flooring, including the high-strength granolithic concrete finishes, are especially suitable in warehouses where excellent resistance to heavy traffic is critical. However, untreated concrete can be dusty if dry and highly susceptible to damage from water and acids when wet. Concrete flooring is not recommended for high-care production areas, because it can spall and absorb water and nutrients, allowing microbial growth below the surface.
Epoxy flooring provides a durable, seamless, chemical-resistant and readily cleanable surface. However, over time the coating can crack and buckle due to exposure to cleaning chemicals or wear caused by heavy traffic. Once this happens, moisture pockets under the coating can create a microbiological niche.
Tile flooring is an excellent surface for food plants. However, with heavy wear and in more aggressive cleaning environments, tiles may lose some of their grouting, allowing the penetration of water beneath them. Plastic or asphalt membranes may be laid between the underlying concrete surface and the tiles. Brick floors also may be satisfactory but tend to be somewhat fragile and, unless vitrified, permit water penetration.
Welded PVC sheets have excellent chemical resistance. However, they are not suitable in hot and wet areas, and the welded PVC may be damaged by heavy cart traffic. Steel plates may be used on balconies, for example, and on loading docks and walkways in the vicinity of the process. However, they may corrode and are difficult to bond to concrete. Wood floors are satisfactory in packing and warehouse areas; however, the wood should be impregnated and coated with a durable plastic such as PU. Generally, wood floors may become worn, porous and absorbent, requiring expensive maintenance, and thus are not typically installed in modern food plants.
Drains should have appropriate capacity to avoid “ponding” of water and hence contamination in the area to be drained. The drain bodies must be free of pockets that can hold food soil; otherwise, they will cause odor problems. Only drains with an internal P-trap and atmospheric break should be used. P-traps create a water-lock that keeps sewer gases out of the plant.
Balanced Air Supply and Exhaust System
Exhaust systems should have sufficient capacity to remove excess heat, dust, vapor, aerosols, odors and bioburden from process rooms. However, a positive overpressure must always be maintained. The supply of filtered air in the room by the heating-ventilation-air conditioning system must thus be large enough, otherwise the exhaust system will attempt to draw the required amount of air from adjacent less clean areas through doorways and windows. Exhaust fans must be located outside the building to maintain a negative pressure in the portion of the duct system located within the building. If they are installed in the exhaust hood, the exhaust air is pushed through the duct and not pulled out. By pushing vapors, fumes, etc. through that duct, the system puts the exhaust duct under positive pressure, which can force dirty air back into the room through holes and gaps in the duct work.
Hygienically Designed Lighting
Lighting must illuminate horizontal and vertical working surfaces evenly, without causing glare and at an intensity of about 300–500 lux at normal working height. Walls and ceilings should be light-colored because that permits fast detection of dirt and soil on their surfaces. In contrast, dark-colored walls and floors require additional lighting.
Preference should be given to lighting mounted on ceilings rather than on walls, because process equipment, storage racks, etc. can form shadows that make cleaning and inspection of floor, walls or ceilings difficult. For the same reason, overhead piping may not obstruct lighting.
Selected lighting should produce little heat and UV light to prevent attraction of insects. Because high-intensity discharge lamps (metal halide, and high- and low- pressure sodium lamps) have high penetration depth, they are used as high-bay lighting in warehouses; fluorescent luminaires are preferred as low-bay lighting, giving good illumination with less glare when covered with a prismatic cover or opalescent diffusing panel.
Lighting systems and their supports may not create horizontal ledges, legs or surfaces. To avoid projections that can accumulate dust, they can be built into the ceiling or wall with a hermetically closed seal, a procedure that is typical for cleanroom areas where lamps are changed via the technical area.
Hygienic Supply and Application of Electricity
In zone M areas, installing individual cables or multiple cables of small diameter, sharing the same route, in conduits is recommended. When two or more cables partly share a common route but go to different termination points, the creation of unsealable openings that allow the cable(s) to enter or exit the conduit is possible. However, this practice is only recommended for short distances. For long distances, straight line, non-bundled electric cables should be mounted on wire trays, preferably separated from each other. Vertical cable trays are less prone to dust accumulation, and are more accessible for inspection and cleaning. The use of horizontal racks for electrical cabling should be minimized, or they should be protected by a removable lid or installed vertically (on their side) to minimize horizontal surfaces.
When two or more cables partly share a common route, but go to different termination points, unsealable openings allowing cable(s) to enter or exit the conduit should be avoided. Conduits should be suitably sealed at both ends with a proprietary cable/sealing gland where a cable does pass through. In the food contact and splash areas, cables can also be protected from dirt, penetrating liquid and damage by encapsulating them in hermetically closed cable housings. However, the use of pipe rather than conduit should be discouraged because of the difficulties in maintaining the integrity of the piping system at cable entries and exits. Cable mounting in pipes still creates a hollow body and hence a hygienic risk.
Electric components should be enclosed in dust- and water-tight cabinets or field boxes with all connections made at the bottom. Connections of cables and wires to housings must be sealed. The enclosures should be spaced away from equipment or walls and should be provided with an easily drainable 30° top roof. The heat generated by the electrical installations within these enclosures, and concomitantly the dust that penetrates the electrical installation during its cooling by means of fans, should be ventilated toward a technical area or a central ventilation system.
Control panels with high ingress protection rating should be provided with hygienically designed control and indicator devices. However, the more modern and hygienic membrane panels or touch-screen display panels now often replace these older, non-computer-based control panels.
Many food manufacturers only make use of the classic food preservation approach to control food safety. In the past two decades, however, the European Hygienic Engineering & Design Group has demonstrated that hygienic design of food process equipment and factories can contribute significantly to enhanced food safety. Hygienic food factory design starts with the selection of an appropriate location and the application of a hygienic building concept that prevents the entry of pests. The factory layout must permit the correct flow of materials, waste, air and personnel without compromising food safety as well as the installation of hygienic zones that offer maximal protection to the food produced. Process equipment and process and utility piping must be designed from food-grade materials that are compatible with the food product produced and the cleaning agents and disinfectants applied to sanitize the production environment. To avoid the introduction of new contaminants, equipment and piping must be hygienically integrated within the factory’s premises. Walls, ceilings and floors must have an appropriate finish, lighting must provide sufficient illumination and drains should guarantee proper drainage to facilitate clean-ing and to maintain hygienic conditions within the factory. The aim of this article is to serve as an introduction to proper hygienic food facility design.
Frank Moerman received his M.Sc. in bioengineering from the University of Ghent in Belgium. In 2002, he became a member of the European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group (EHEDG) responsible for Belgium. More about EHEDG can be found at www.ehedg.org.
Lelieveld, H.L.M., M.A. Mostert, J. Holah and B. White. 2003. Hygiene in Food Processing: Principles and Practice. Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing Ltd.
Lelieveld, H.L.M., M.A. Mostert and J. Holah. 2005. Handbook of Hygiene Control in the Food Industry. Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing Ltd.
Lelieveld, H.L.M. and J. Holah. 2011. Hygiene Control in the Design, Construction and Renovation of Food Processing Factories.
Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing Ltd., in progress.