Top 10 Areas of Coatings Concern in Food and Beverage Facilities
By Rebecca Dolton
Peeling paint. Flaking rust. Cracked floors. Porous surfaces. In a food and beverage facility, any of these deficiencies related to industrial protective coating applications could spell significant trouble in the form of compliance write ups, fines, shutdowns or—even worse—contaminated products that lead to recalls.
Over time, coatings will eventually deteriorate, presenting possible contamination concerns. The deterioration may be gradual or accelerated due to age, chemical exposure, frequent wash downs, general use and other factors. However, facilities can put their compliance concerns to rest—while also enhancing their focus on food safety—by identifying areas of potential coating deficiencies, implementing preventive control plans, and committing to making proactive repairs.
Alleviating compliance concerns related to coatings applications starts with an understanding of where and why specific coatings are present—or not present—throughout a facility and when those areas were last addressed. This includes identifying all areas where industrial protective coatings are used. These areas commonly include wet and dry processing areas, chemical storage rooms, facility floors and walls, mechanical equipment rooms, employee welfare areas, water and wastewater treatment assets, warehouses, loading docks, direct food contact storage silos and more.
To effectively identify and address all areas where coatings are present, a facility should perform periodic site evaluations prior to official U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and third-party audits. When doing so, it’s helpful to invite a National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE)-Certified Coatings Professional along for the evaluation, as in-house site managers may not have the knowledge to assess all areas of concern. This trained professional can deliver significant value by not only properly assessing every coating use and deficiency (whether evident or emerging), but also by identifying the optimal coatings to use in specific environments and applications. In addition, the coatings professional can help the facility develop repair specifications for those areas, so it can expedite repairs before and after compliance audits.
Here’s a quick look at the top 10 areas of concern a certified coatings professional will watch for during a comprehensive facility evaluation:
- Peeling paint and flaking rust: A facility won’t pass inspection when peeling paint and rust are evident, so it’s important to correct these deficiencies as they arise. A coatings professional conducting a site evaluation will note all obvious areas as well any early signs of corrosion, so facility managers can address them before they become compliance issues. Such surfaces will need to be properly prepped and recoated to eliminate contamination concerns.
- Porous surfaces: Bacteria can thrive in the smallest spaces, and the holes and voids found in porous surfaces, such as uncoated concrete floors and walls, can allow bacteria to proliferate. These areas should be coated as soon as possible to mitigate bacteria growth potential.
- Areas with frequent wash downs: Protective coatings used in any area of a facility that experiences frequent wash downs are subject to accelerated wear. In a meat processing facility, for example, harsh chemicals and heavy water use can wreak havoc on coatings. A coatings professional will recommend the most appropriate systems for these areas based on the anticipated frequency of wash downs as well as the types of cleaning chemicals used.
- Proper slope-to-drains: In areas subject to frequent wash downs, proper slope-to-drains are critical to reduce ponding water, slip/fall hazards and bacteria harborage points. Building flooring up along walls and creating a proper slope helps to encourage draining following wash downs to eliminate these risks.
- Trench drains: Commonly used in a variety of food and beverage facilities, trench drains contain a lot of surface area where water and microbes can become trapped, encouraging bacteria to proliferate. Converting these trench-style drains to box drains greatly reduces that surface area and therefore the contamination potential.
- Floor-to-wall transition zones: These areas are common harborage points for bacteria, as the typical 90-degree transition can trap bacteria and water, creating the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive. Incorporating a cove base here can provide seamless transitions from floors to walls to eliminate this harborage point. A cove base also has the added benefit of protecting walls from damage from wheeled carts by preventing wheels and cart edges from contacting walls.
- Cracks and peeling in floors: Voids in flooring are another common harborage point for bacteria, as moisture and microbes can easily become trapped there. In fact, some such areas may never dry completely, creating an ideal environment for bacteria propagation. Any cracks or voids should be patched prior to inspections or immediately after receiving a compliance writeup.
- Damage to insulated metal panel (IMP) wall systems: Damage to IMP walls inside walk-in coolers, refrigerated warehouses and insulated buildings can enable bacteria to penetrate the insulative layer between the panel’s exterior surfaces. Using impact- and chemical-resistant coatings systems in these areas can help prevent damage that leads to this scenario or restores panels to their original condition.
- Direct food-contact surfaces: Facilities must follow specific guidelines anywhere food will be in direct contact with surfaces, such as in grain elevators and storage silos. For example, a coatings professional will ensure that specifications for bakeries and grain facilities include FDA 21 CFR 175.300-compliant coatings for direct food contact.
- Improper coating selections for the environment: Choosing the wrong coating for an environment can create long-term maintenance concerns and raise life-cycle costs. For example, in environments that experience frequent wash downs and thermal cycling, many facilities make the mistake of using epoxy flooring technologies. While certainly viable for other areas, epoxy flooring systems are prone to cracking and flaking when exposed to thermal cycling. A certified coatings professional will therefore recommend using a urethane concrete-based system instead. This type of system will expand and contract with the concrete substrate below, reducing cracking potential as well as the opportunity for bacteria to grow under loose coatings.
Identifying, understanding and addressing these 10 areas of concern will help food and beverage facilities not only maintain compliance, but also be able to quickly restore it when any deficiencies arise. A primary outcome of performing a comprehensive facility evaluation with a NACE-certified coatings professional is the development of repair specifications for every area that features coatings. The specifications may include a list of approved coating systems, application requirements, applicator recommendations and other details specific to an area and application. Having these items documented proactively enables the facility to immediately correct an issue, restore compliance and continue operations—without having to make those assessments when the stakes are higher to have an area or process back in service.
Rebecca Dolton is regional market segment director—Food and Beverage/Pharma for Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine Coatings. She has served the coatings industry for 10 years and has won a Corporate Quality Award for her outstanding performance in meeting customers’ needs. Reach her at Rebecca.L.Dolton@sherwin.com.