Cleaning in food manufacture - managing service delivery

19th of September 2013
Cleaning in food manufacture - managing service delivery
Cleaning in food manufacture - managing service delivery

Cleaning a food manufacturing facility may sound like a straightforward process.  However in planning a cleaning programme, care must be taken to properly match particular machinery or types of soil with the correct cleaning methodology and materials, as this can have a significant impact on the quality, speed, and cost of cleaning. The delivery of cleaning must also be managed effectively.

Steve Bailey, managing director of Hygiene Group - writing for ECJ - examines the various approaches to cleaning and how they can be applied to achieve the best result.

As the traditional approach to cleaning, the sequential method seems intuitive and follows a simple workflow pattern: remove debris to another area, rinse surfaces, apply detergent, rinse again and finish with sanitiser. This method seems to be the most logical way of cleaning, everything being done a stage at a time by a group of cleaners all working together.

It is also easy to supervise and monitor how the clean is progressing, and, to third parties and the untrained eye, appears to be a very professional approach. The sequential format is often referred to as ‘legacy cleaning’ – procedures that have always been carried out in the same way as they are seen to work effectively. Is this a case of ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ – or is there a more efficient solution?

Years of experience has clearly demonstrated that when cleaning in a convoy, as in the sequential method, a team can only work as fast as the slowest member. In addition, a rigid and highly structured approach such as this can mean a team lacks the flexibility required to respond to short-term needs or crises. Finally, there may be an unintended consequence – it is very easy to find a sequential team cleaning an area of piece of equipment that does not need cleaning, simply because it is on the schedule.

However, the traditional approach does have many strengths and is the most appropriate option in specific cases; for example when a factory or process shuts down sequentially and each area becomes available for cleaning as the product moves through the system. However with extended or continuous production, it is necessary to combine elements of legacy cleaning with a more flexible approach that balances food safety with economy – equipment must be cleaned when necessary, and not before.

Cluster cleaning can be the most suitable approach for a production plant operating progressive processes. Take for example a factory which feeds ingredients from silos into various mixers before the product passes through moulding, ovens, cooling and finally wrapping. Upon completion of each stage areas of the plant may become idle for a predetermined period of time, and any raw material left in residue poses an increasing risk of contamination.

Under the sequential method of cleaning however, these areas would be left until the whole plant was ready for cleaning – often making the task harder and more time-consuming, with food particles having dried or baked hard onto surfaces.

Cluster approach

With cluster cleaning each area of production is cleaned as soon as it falls idle, minimising the window of opportunity for contamination and also making each individual clean quicker as part of a free-flowing work programme. The end result is that as soon as the production process is completed, only the surfaces in the final stage (usually wrap) require cleaning, thus reducing plant downtime and increasing profitable production time.

The staff involved in cluster cleaning have clearly defined roles, each waiting for the right time to complete their part of the process quickly and efficiently, and without impeding any other cleaner. As a result of the effective staff training required to run clusters proficiently, operatives become expert in that area and so a process that may look slightly disordered at first glance delivers the right standard of clean, on time, every time.

Some cleaning can also be scheduled around planned down-times, such as for engineering or maintenance, reducing the cost impact of cleaning still further. Scheduling and planning cluster cleaning is not easy and requires close integration with the production staff, but delivers many benefits.

Cluster cleaning can be built in to replace some elements of existing sequential cleaning programmes, delivering improvement in costs, standards and downtime while using the most efficient method for each area of production. Though this needs an effective assessment and feasibility study before implementation, there is the further potential benefit of delivering labour savings which in some cases has been as high as 10 and even 15 per cent.

With the clear benefits offered by cluster cleaning, it appears to be an all-around solution suited to driving improved efficiencies regardless of the factory setting. However, in some applications time and money can be wasted on cleaning an area or surface not to prevent contamination, but simply to tick a box when in truth the cleaning was unnecessary. Where sequential or cluster cleaning is not the most suitable option a third method, event cleaning, may be preferred.

Event cleaning

In sequential cleaning programmes, which are frequently concerned with daily or shift cleaning, it can often be easier to clean all surfaces at the same time than to assess if cleaning is actually required; absorbing time and materials unnecessarily. In contrast, event cleaning is simply cleaning something when it needs cleaning, and leaving it alone when it does not.

The frequency of cleaning is determined exactly as normal, requiring a detailed risk assessment of the surfaces. The difference is that the surface is also examined frequently by an experienced operative, in order to assess the scheduled clean time. Using pre-set criteria, if the surface is judged to need cleaning, a trained crew is despatched to the job whether planned in or not. If it does not, then it is not cleaned until the next scheduled clean.

Event cleaning is based on the principle that not all areas need cleaning all of the time and places responsibility on the expertise of the cleaning team and the supervisor to make a judgement as to when and where it is required. It works particularly well when applied to ancillary surfaces which may include guard rails, packing and wrapping machinery, air conditioning units, and corridors including floors and door or wall touch-points.

A small number of trained staff can act as a rapid response team, responding to spillages, leaks or walked-in contaminants as they occur. This does not replace the planned post-run cleaning, but augments and makes more efficient the cleaning of the ancillary surfaces. Looking after the factory environment in this way also looks after the wider environment, using chemicals only where and when necessary.

Not all managements have been immediately receptive when exposed to the concept of event cleaning. Being used to planning and monitoring fixed events on a schedule, there have been concerns that something might be missed. But with experience, event cleaning has been accepted as a pro-active approach to maintaining and even improving the overall standards. Correctly setting the frequency of scheduled cleans and combining this with a flexible system of clean-on-need, allows more effective and efficient cleaning when required, as well as ironing out the ‘peaks and troughs’ of periodic cleaning, giving a more consistent result overall.

The key approach is to match the plan of cleaning to the needs of the site. Sequential cleaning has its place, and is the logical approach in some circumstances. But it is necessary to think outside of that particular box to see if the same results can be achieved with less time, reduced costs, and fewer materials.

Careful planning

Cluster cleaning requires careful planning but delivers advantages in cost and time and, as noted earlier, can reduce production down-time significantly.

Event cleaning offers an approach that targets time and effort where it is needed. As it is based on effective risk assessments, it not only establishes the correct cleaning frequency and standard but can enhance that still further by inserting additional cleans; focused on the areas needed, at the time they are needed.

Both approaches offer savings in time and costs. Compared to legacy systems of sequential cleaning, savings of between 10 and 15 per cent have been achieved – no small advantage.
When looking to establish a new cleaning schedule, or to update and improve current methods, the expertise of a specialist company is invaluable in finding the most straightforward and suitable programme for the manufacturing facility – delivering increased efficiencies and uncovering cost saving opportunities, without compromising on eliminating contaminants and adhering to standards.

Cleaning is a science, but planning and delivering effective and cost effective cleaning is an art.


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