As sanitation methods evolve and food safety becomes a priority, equipment design follows.
Two decades ago, wholesale bakers mainly dry-cleaned their facilities. But, sanitation of bakeries and processing equipment changed as bakers began producing a greater variety of baked products and as their awareness of contamination issues grew.
“Twenty years ago, bakers didn't wash down their lines, they just vacuumed them down, blew them off or wiped them down,” says Eric Riggle, vice president, Rademaker USA Inc., Hudson, Ohio. “But as bakers became more aware of foodborne illnesses and as they began incorporating dairy and meat into products, such as pizzas and handheld hot pockets, they became subject to USDA standards. Now, they need to perform daily sanitation.”
Though wholesale bakers are part of the food processing industry, they also have their own unique needs due to the nature of their processes. Bakers work with sticky, hard-to-clean dough; with carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and with dairy and meat products, says Blaine Morton, director of marketing and business development for the food division at industrial cleaning product maker Zep Inc., Atlanta.
Recognizing these needs, the baking equipment and sanitation industry has stepped up throughout the past several decades to create specialized equipment unique to bakers' needs, say vendors who cater to bakers.
“Five years ago, we recognized that the food processing and food retail businesses — both of which have large baking arms — have sanitation needs that are different than other segments we deal with like poultry or red meat or fresh-cut produce,” Morton says. “They have to clean up fats, carbohydrates and proteins. They also deal directly with food safety and have no margin for error.”
Lately bakers have been facing the same kinds of E. coli problems that are more commonly seen in other food manufacturing sectors.
In mid-June, for example, Nestlé USA recalled its Toll House refrigerated cookie dough after health officials linked the dough to infections from the bacteria E. coli. People in Minnesota and Washington were sickened after eating Nestlé's cookie dough raw, according to news reports.
Nestlé has a reputation for strong quality-control measures, according to a June article that ran in the New York Times. But the increasingly disparate nature of contaminated food means no one is sure anymore which foods may be risky, according to David Acheson, associate commissioner for foods at the FDA, who was quoted in the Times article. “You can't assume it's the usual ground beef or fresh produce,” Acheson said.
Indeed, Riggle says, bakers are more aware than ever in this age of E. coli and other contaminated-food outbreaks that sanitation must take a primary role in their operations. “With news like the peanut scare, we're finding that customers are concerned and paying close attention to [sanitation and food safety],” he says. “They don't want it to happen to them.”
That being said, he notes that, globally, some wholesale bakers don't share U.S. sanitation concerns, although this is swiftly changing.
In other countries, there is some school of thought that a machine shouldn't be cleaned because it becomes seasoned and adds to the flavor profile. “That would never fly in America,” Riggle says. “The USDA would never allow it.”
Back when dry cleaning equipment was popular, Rademaker sold two separate lines to bakers: one could easily be dry cleaned, the other was made for wet cleaning. The company has been making wash-down lines since the early 1990s. About six years ago, the equipment maker shifted to selling only wet-clean lines; a sign of the times, Riggle says.
When designing equipment with an eye toward easy and thorough cleanup, Rademaker, like Zep and other producers of equipment used in the baking industry, looks at how quickly the equipment can be cleaned, how accessible its small parts are, and how much downtime cleaning necessitates.
Machines must be easy to clean quickly; this is the number one concern among wholesale bakers. “Bakers don't make money when the machines are being cleaned or maintained,” Riggle says. “Sanitation is downtime, and it also needs to be done at low cost.”
While bakers look at equipment downtime when determining sanitation costs, other factors play into cost control as well. This is where ease of equipment cleanup can play a role.
“Oftentimes, bakers don't have a lot of money to spend on sanitation crews. Many times, they'll hire contractors who don't have a lot of familiarity with the baker's particular machines,” Riggle says. “The contractors need to be able to look at a part and quickly see how to unscrew it, clean it, and put it back together again.”
To aid bakers, equipment makers ensure their machines can be quickly disassembled. Parts and components must be easy to release quickly from their assemblies, and conveyor belts must come away easily from the machine, Riggle says. The equipment should be designed so that dough and other material can't be trapped between metal pieces and that — during production — excess material falls off into drains or on the floor and can be easily swept or washed away. Rademaker tries to ensure its equipment can be taken apart for cleaning without use of specialized tools.
Beyond equipment, sanitation also extends to the baking environment itself, which must be washed down and thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis to keep away contaminants. Until recently, this type of cleaning was often done by mopping floors and washing down the walls, says Morton of Zep Inc.
“In the past, [washing involved] spritzing and wiping down the walls and changing buckets,” he says. Bakers that didn't use the mop would often wash the rooms and lines with a foaming system much like those used at a car wash, he adds.
These systems allow bakers to use what Morton termed a processing approach to sanitation. That is, employees adjust a dial at the top of the dispenser and press the “on” button. The wand regulates the amount of foam sprayed on the equipment and controls the time spent soaping down and rinsing the area. These types of onsite wash-down systems have become more common as bakers worry about contaminants. They've also been upgraded and redesigned, Morton says.
This year, for example, Zep released its Strong Box Foam Station, which is custom designed for food manufacturing and retailing operations. “It's a single block unit, so wherever possible, we've eliminated cracks and crevices on the unit to make it easier to keep clean and make it difficult for bacteria or biofilms to be in or on and around that dispenser,” Morton says.
The foam station also can be run with three detergent types: each best suited for carbohydrates, fats or proteins, he adds. “For bakery operations, it can use chlorinated alcohol for the carbohydrates, such as flour, starch and sugars; alcohol for fats; and acid detergents for proteins from plant or animal matter,” Morton says.
But bakers, like others in the food industry, also face hard-to-clean areas, such as drains and trunk lines. Biofilm that harbors Listeria, E. coli, Salmonella and other microorganisms can linger in these wet environments, Morton says. “The USDA recommends that processors work with sanitation suppliers to develop a sound floor and drain sanitation program,” Morton says.
What's the upshot? While wholesale bakers need a sanitation plan and schedule, equipment suppliers are working with them to ensure sanitation goes quickly, smoothly and safely for all involved.