Enlist new technologies in your bakery's battle against cross-contamination from airborne particulates and the dangers of combustible dust.
Airborne allergens, dust and particulates migration are not new problems for high volume bakeries. But they are becoming increasingly important ones due to heightened awareness of potential health ramifications for both employees and consumers, as well as more inspection frequency and upcoming regulations by OSHA. The good news is that a number of equipment manufacturers across the nation are ready and able to ensure that bakery operators are prepared to meet any new challenges.
According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, more than 12 million (one in 25) Americans have food allergies, a majority of which are caused by such common bakery ingredients as milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soy. As an increasing number of consumers are diagnosed, the demand for “free-from” foods is skyrocketing. Packaged Facts market research recently reported that sales of gluten-free products in the United States alone climbed to $2.64 billion last year and are expected to approach $5.5 billion by 2015.
Yet just about every time you pick up a newspaper or turn on the television, there is news about a product recall, much of the time from ingredient cross-contamination. While smaller bakeries can dedicate their facilities to producing free-from products, larger facilities have to rely on scrupulous housecleaning in every area from makeup to packaging to ensure total isolation of products from allergens. Because even a trace amount of an allergen can lead to serious illness or even death for consumers, bakeries gearing up to meet that demand must be vigilant in their precautions against cross-contamination.
“Over the past five to 10 years, food allergens such as milk-based mix or wheat flour, seeds and nuts used either in the makeup area or applied topically have become more of a concern for bakeries, and operators are looking for better ways to keep them separated from standard products,” says Bill Laramore, Jr., president of Thomasville, Ga.-based W.D. Laramore Manufacturing, a major manufacturer of flour reclaim and recycling systems and equipment. “One of the first questions we ask our clients is, ‘Are you going to run any allergens on the line?’ If the answer is yes, we recommend using separate systems for each allergen so that they don’t come into contact as they are reclaimed, recycled and delivered for reuse.”
Whether or not they produce free-from products, every bakery has long wrestled with the problem of airborne flour particulates, dust, molds and yeast. And the results have been costly. Baker’s asthma, which, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, affects 7 percent to 15 percent of bakers, is one of the most frequently reported types of occupational asthma.
This condition is responsible for a growing number of workers’ compensation and disability claims. On the equipment side, build-up of airborne matter often also results in expensive sanitation and production halts.
“When new high-volume bakery plants are being designed, many operators are now “zoning off” or subdividing different process areas such as makeup with solid walls and/or separate air handling systems to prevent the propagation of flour throughout the facility,” says Laramore. As for air handling systems themselves, Laramore Manufacturing’s products are designed to create a “vacuum hole in the atmosphere so they can reclaim not just what goes into the hopper, but also what’s in the air around it, to ensure that less atomized flour and contaminants can get out,” he adds.
Scott Houtz, president of Air Management Technologies Inc., a Lewisburg, Pa., provider of energy and environmental solutions, cautions that installing air supply systems in close proximity to the makeup area can result in improper airflow and make the workspace a flour distribution system, spreading the particulates throughout the bakery. Exhaust fans can also be troublesome because the dust and particulates discharged to the outside end up being deposited on the roof. In some instances that dust can come in contact with moisture and mold growth may result (particularly on ballasted roofs). The mold that is created may then be brought back inside by the air supply units.
To make sure the dust is captured, “you should try to deal with it at the source,” Houtz says. He points to a custom combination bread and roll par-bake line designed by Laramore as a particularly effective, high-efficiency solution for flour particulate collection when makeup rooms are located near air supply sources (in this case, air conditioning.)
On this piece of equipment, Laramore positioned vacuum enclosures at each belt and dough transfer point, pressurized vacuum heads above the belts out of the stamper and discharge belt and vacuum chutes where the product is dumped out of the overhead proofer. A 20-horsepower, two-stage, centrifugal vacuum and filtering system separates seeds and other potential contaminants from the flour before it is passed through the stainless steel filter sieves to be recycled.
“The system also automatically cleans the air release socks while back-washing the sieves,” Laramore says. “So in addition to generating a vacuum to reclaim flour, it filters approximately 312,000 cubic feet of the dustiest air in the plant every hour.”
Effectively ridding the air of dust and particulates depends as much on the filtration medium as on the filtration system itself, says Ryan Hanson, account executive at Mac Process Inc., a Kansas City, Mo., company that specializes in pneumatic conveying and air filtration systems. He calls the ePTFE membrane “the finest filtration medium available today.”
Hanson adds: “The thin ePTFE membrane allows the air to move right through but is structured so that it traps even fine dust particles and doesn’t even need a secondary filter. It also has a non-stick surface so it is easy to clean.”
Equipment used for everyday housekeeping also can make a major difference in air quality. When Turano Bakery opened a new 100,000 sq.-ft. facility in Orlando, Fla., for production of soft buns for McDonald’s, sanitation manager Jeff Benny opted for commercial shop-type vacuums to try to manage the flour dust in the makeup area.
“The problem was that they kept breaking down,” says Benny. “I went through somwhere between six and 10 of them in a one-year period alone so I decided to consider buying an industrial vacuum.”
Although the initial investment for a small Nilfisk industrial vacuum was higher than for a shop-type vac, it has been well worth it, not only in terms of equipment longevity, but also because it cut his clean-up time “from three hours to an hour and a half,” Benny says. He also now uses the industrial unit to clean the plant’s packaging area.
Reduction of sanition time isn’t the only element separating industrial vacuums from shop-type vacs, according to Paul Miller, general manager of Morgantown, Pa., Nilfisk Industrial Vacuums.
“Shop-type vacs have a small, single-stage filtration system that allows particles to pass through the motor and disperse back into the facility through the exhaust stream,” he says. “And when it comes time to purge the filter, you have to take the unit apart, giving the contaminants yet another opportunity to escape into the air.
“Industrial vacuums are equipped with oversized, multi-stage filters to prevent clogging and trap particles and dust so they can’t escape back into the air. And, they don’t have to be taken apart to be purged.”
Like Benny, he says many operators prefer portable rather than centralized systems.
“If a portable can meet the facilities needs, it makes sense in terms of economic investment and system flexibility,” Miller says.
Centralized systems can be more convenient for smaller spaces because they require just a hose instead of an entire vacuum unit. However, he notes, these systems are much more expensive and they are designed based upon the bakery’s needs at a particular point in time.
“If the production line is expanded or changed there will not be drop off points within the new area,” Miller says. “Often companies will try to expand the system on their own and then find that they are no longer able to get the suction they need.”
A better–and more economical–solution for operators who must expand or reconfigure their lines is to simply augment the centralized vacuum system with portable units, he says.
Combustible airborne dust has also been front and center of air quality issues for OSHA and high-volume food facilities since the disastrous 2008 Imperial Sugar plant explosion and fire in Georgia that killed 14 workers. Since then, OSHA has stepped up its site inspections and issued fines to several facilities. Next year, the agency and the National Fire Protection Association (NFDA) are expected to issue new regulations to prevent such tragedies from recurring.
Mac Process participated in the rebuild of the Imperial Sugar plant.
“We have definitely focused on the elimination of combustible dust by integrating NFPA-standard dust collectors into the system, isolating vent collectors and ductwork, and redesigning the filtering system,” Hanson says.
“The bakery industry as a whole has been very diligent and proactive in following OSHA’s current standards for housekeeping,” says Laramore. “But now we are looking at reengineering our systems–both new and existing, whether they are designed and manufactured by us or someone else–to make sure we are in compliance with what’s coming as well as with what’s current for Class II Division 2 Group G locations.”
By next year, Laramore plans to develop a website to help educate clients and other manufacturers about the new regulations, link them to the appropriate government and other key informational websites to keep them up to date on the latest developments and create a blog-like forum for dialogue.
“We’re not doing this for promotion of our business,” he explains. “We just want to create a society of knowledge that can help us all.”