5 Fundamentals of Allergen Analysis #5: Make it easier to keep your plant clean

Cleaning procedures are an indispensable component of every allergen management plan. Yet the story starts long before the cleaning does: you need to make sure the cleaning procedures you choose are easy to follow and fit to purpose. This raises several issues, many of which are not always considered by manufacturers. Here are a few of the most important ones.

Facility design, layout and equipment

Think about how your production facility is designed. Maintaining dedicated facilities or strictly separating spaces for allergenic material can give you a head start, as such practices can help food processors define different regimes for the different sectors of the plant. While such practices can reduce cross-contamination, it is not always possible to carry them out, as they would affect the design of the food production facilities themselves.

Nevertheless, many other more practical adjustments can be made. For example, crevices and grooves should be removed wherever possible. Particulate material tends to accumulate easily in crevices, such as where a wall and a floor converge, and is not always easily removed. Generally speaking, the fewer crevices and grooves a production line has, the better. Crevices can be replaced, for example with rounded joints between floor and wall, which are more accessible to cleaning implements. This is as true for the design of the plant as it is for the machinery used in the production line. Old equipment, in particular, is not designed with the ease of cleaning in mind, adding yet another challenge. It is also important to assess the material (such as plastic, stainless steel or Teflon) and the texture of food processing surfaces. Why? Some surfaces should be avoided, as pastes and food soils can adhere to them.

The layout of the different sectors of the plant should also be taken into account. Equipment should be located in a way that allows for easy access, not only to the equipment itself but also to any surrounding surface. Maintaining adequate space between the equipment and any walls is recommended.

An allergen cleaning method fit for purpose

But what about the cleaning methods themselves? As a general rule, any method that tends to spread material, such as the use of compressed air, should be avoided. In many cases, the use of vacuum cleaners can serve as a good replacement. For the same reason, wet cleaning is preferable to dry cleaning, as the latter can disperse powders and particulates. Furthermore, wet cleaning can be automated and uses chemicals that facilitate the elimination of proteins; food allergens, of course, are proteins. Relevant parameters to take into consideration include the temperature at which the cleaning is performed, the kind of mechanical interaction between the cleaning agent and the surface, the duration of the cleaning, and the kind of agent is being used. Although water can be excellent for rinsing, it is poor at eliminating proteins. Other agents, such as detergents, proteases or chlorinated alkali detergents, are much more effective.