Here’s the first of a four-part report on “10 Principles of Equipment Design for Low-moisture Foods.”

By Joe Stout

In January 2001, in response to food safety concerns in the meat industry, key executives in the meat industry led by the American Meat Institute’s executive committee and their member companies developed a vision to share approaches to improve food safety in a noncompetitive and cooperative effort. Sanitary design of equipment fit within this category.

This important decision set the stage for the creation of the AMI Equipment Design Task Force, charged with developing equipment sanitary design principles that set expectations for the meat and poultry industries.

Since that time the passion for sharing food safety approaches has continued to expand. Kraft Foods hosted plant based food safety good practices sharing sessions from 2002 to 2007 and the concept of sharing food safety enhancement approaches continues today.

During the past several years, a similar situation as the meat industry experienced has unfolded in low-moisture foods. Recalls of peanuts, cereal and seeds initiated because of actual or suspected pathogen contamination have been increasing and causing alarm in the industry and with consumers.

In response to this development, the recently formed group of sanitation professionals started meeting in support of enhanced food safety in mid 2008. They began to share ideas on improving food safety through equipment design enhancements. Recently they have begun working under the auspices of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

This group is now known as the GMA Sanitary Design Working Group. The goal was to modify the AMI Ten Principles to adapt them to low-moisture foods to further enhance equipment designs for all processors, their suppliers, and co-manufacturers. The companies involved in this effort include Kraft Foods, Con Agra, Campbell Soup, Kellogg’s, Heinz, Sara Lee, Nestle and General Mills.

Companies are represented on the working group by engineers, quality managers and sanitarians, and their business has been to establish priorities and consider how improved equipment designs could favorably impact cleaning effectiveness and ultimately food safety. The objectives not only centered on improving sanitary design to control potential harborage areas where undesirable microorganisms might gather in the equipment or facility, but were also focused on designs that would diminish concerns of allergen carryover and foreign material into food products. Basically this group has taken a HACCP-based approach.

The GMA Sanitary Design Working Group is aware of challenges facing processors and equipment suppliers from an operational and capital investment perspective and understands that installed equipment, as well as equipment available for purchase from a variety of equipment suppliers, may not be an ideal design. The group’s approach is to share and educate both processors and equipment suppliers on simple designs with the goal to have equipment designs, which can be effectively and repeatedly cleaned.

The basic “Tool Kit” for sharing, educating and calibrating with other processors and equipment suppliers contains the “10 Principles of Equipment Design for Low-moisture Foods.” Complementing the 10 principles is a checklist that will be used to calibrate the industry on the expectations of future designs and any retrofits of existing equipment.

The design principles and checklists will provide guidance to both equipment manufacturers and low-moisture, ready-to-eat food producers (i.e. confections, baked goods, snacks, nuts) on elements of improved sanitary design.

There is a long history of using the “AMI 10 Principles of Sanitary Design” to drive understanding, education and continuous improvement of equipment designs in the meat industry. Just as the 10 principles of design developed by AMI have driven improvement in the meat industry, the modified 10 principles -- when applied and used by processors and equipment suppliers for existing and new equipment in low-moisture foods -- also have the potential to drive improvement in designs and cleanability.

To support the evolution in design, the GMA Sanitary Design group has been actively working with trade groups and suppliers to communicate the 10 principles and the corresponding checklist that is intended to be used as a calibration and continuous improvement tool for the industry. This can be an especially effective tool when used between processors and their equipment suppliers to evaluate equipment design of new purchases. As processors and equipment suppliers voluntarily develop programs consistent with the 10 principles and use the checklists, the industry’s food safety record will continue to improve.

Editor’s Note: Next week, in our next installment in this series on sanitary design, Joe Stout will address the first five principles of sanitation design. A food scientist by education, Stout has worked for Kraft Foods for 28 years in the areas of operations, sanitation, and quality. He is a registered sanitarian with the State of Pennsylvania. Stout is the facilitator of the GMA Equipment Design Group for Low-moisture Foods. In addition to having experience in equipment design in dry processes, he was also chairman of the American Meat Institute Equipment Design Task Force, and has been active with 3A and the EHEDG.

Click hereto read Part II of the “Sanitary Design as an Enabler of Food Safety” white paper.  

Click hereto read Part III of the “Sanitary Design as an Enabler of Food Safety” white paper.  

Click hereto read Part IV of the “Sanitary Design as an Enabler of Food Safety” white paper.