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Guest article

Chemical Washdown: Trends and visual communications in the food industry

By Jack Rubinger , 13-Jun-2014
Last updated on 13-Jun-2014 at 11:24 GMT

Photo: Graphic Products
Photo: Graphic Products

From production to processing, food industry managers rely on chemical washdown processes to eliminate bacteria.

Using a pressure washer, workers spray down disintegrators, emulsifiers, mixers and other machines from a distance of 6-8 inches at about 1000 gallons a minute with a variety of chemicals to sanitize equipment. Some of these chemicals are harsh.

“The majority of our processes use low hazard chemicals for cleaning. Where we do have to use higher risk products, we assess them for the specific task and place robust procedures and control measures for our operators,” said Jo-Anne Baptie, group HSE manager for Greenvale Potatoes in the UK

Difficult to maintain

Washdown areas in the food industry are among the most difficult areas to maintain OSHA compliance for food handling (1910.141(h)) because bacteria can be found in almost any food handling scenario.

The standard specifies that: “In all places of employment where all or part of the food service is provided, the food dispensed shall be wholesome, free from spoilage, and shall be processed, prepared, handled, and stored in such a manner as to be protected against contamination.”

Signs and labels communicate instructions, show which parts of the machine need which chemical, and the correct temperature for each solution. But because of these harsh environments, standard safety signs have a tendency to bleed or simply peel right off. You don’t want the printed image to run like mascara at a wedding.

Any place chemicals are used—the chemicals are labeled and any hazard potential is identified along with what to do if skin/direct contact is made,” said Carolyn Ruck, Ruck-Shockey Associates, Inc. 

Chemical washdowns are conducted throughout most plants and breweries, from production to packaging,” said Dana Johnson, Birko.

Unless the plant is automating the wash down process, there are a lot of similarities when it comes to wash down stations,” he added.

Matching the proper label supply to the application takes skill and an understanding of the hundreds of chemicals used at facilities.

Self-foaming general purpose cleaners, foaming acids and self-foaming chlorinated caustic cleaners and sanitizers such as chlorine are common chemicals used in chemical washdowns,” said Johnson.

According to Caterpillar, caustic soda and lye are both common names for the chemical sodium hydroxide. Sodium hydroxide is a strong caustic agent available in pure form as pellets or granules.

Because sodium hydroxide is such a common caustic agent, it is used in food processing. The following are some safety tips when working around sodium hydroxide:

 If it’s the dry form, keep it dry (and state this on a label).

  • When combined with water, the reaction is exothermic, meaning it gives off a great deal of heat which could burst the container or cause burns.
  • Always wear safety glasses and gloves (neoprene, nitrile or natural rubber) when working with it (put that message on a sign or a label).

Stainless Steel – a practical surface for food processing equipment

Stainless steel containers, vessels, pumps and scales are commonly used in the food industry.

“Stainless steel leaches very little or no metal components into the food product and is easily cleaned and sanitized,” said Dr James D. Fritz, TMR Stainless. 

“These properties combined with the ease of fabrication make stainless steel well suited for food processing applications. Other materials such as aluminum, copper alloys and coated carbon steels do not have the same resistance for food processing and cleaning environments.”

“At temperatures below 95C (203F) types 304 and 316 stainless steel are resistant to highly concentrated sodium hydroxide – a commonly used chemical used in food processing chemical washdowns,” said Jim Coady, P. Eng., Atlantic Systems Manufacturing, a food production equipment manufacturer.

How to prepare the stainless steel surface for labeling

Stainless steel shouldn’t warrant any different treatment than other surfaces in terms of application of the label. Avoid using cleaners for prepping the surface that have halogen content. Avoid using cloths that are abrasive.

  • Jack Rubinger contributes to industrial publications and blogs worldwide. Graphic Products is a producer of workplace labeling and signage. For more information about testing supplies and labeling systems contact jarubinger@graphicproducts.com or @GraphicProducts on Twitter.