Food manufacturers face all of the usual challenges when designing a new facility or expanding an existing one: market uncertainty, return on investment hurdles, and capital constraints, to name a few. But in addition, food manufacturers must meet very high standards for food safety and sanitary design.
While it may seem that approaches to ensuring food safety and sanitary design would not change significantly over time, there are several recent factors impacting decision-makers. Consumers’ preferences for minimally processed foods with nontraditional savory and exotic ingredients influence facility and process design. Non-GMO, allergen-free, local, and other trends impact recipes and ingredient supply chains. After preparation and cooking, material flow paths, room separations, and HVAC must be carefully addressed to ensure no recontamination or adulteration is possible. Redundant dedicated processing equipment, restrictions on production schedules, and more complicated sanitation procedures may be required. It is now very common for food manufacturers to conclude that existing equipment cannot be adequately sanitized and must be replaced. Furthermore, after a certain point, the hurdles to ensuring food safety and implementing best practices in sanitary design are so great that a decision is made to retire a plant and build a new facility.
Sanitary Design: A Brief History
During the Reagan years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stopped approving construction drawings. Sanitary design responsibilities shifted to owners and operators. The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) cGMPs (current good manufacturing practices) were not as prescriptive or detailed as the USDA’s had been at that time. Kraft had the best standards for sanitary design of equipment and ran training courses for vendors and design firms. Buyers could specify “The Kraft Standards” as an option on many pieces of food processing equipment.
Around 2002–2004, the AMI (now the North American Meat Institute (NAMI)) led two task forces which built on the designs promoted by Kraft and expanded the discussion to bring in best practices from the leading manufacturing and plant design firms. Updated in 2014, the equipment checklists are available on the NAMI website. The facility design guidelines are available from consultants and design firms as well as from Commercial Food Sanitation. Building on these efforts, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the American Institute of Baking (ABI International), and other groups adjusted the approaches for low-moisture, produce, dairy, nut processing, and other sectors.
Standards, checklists, guidance documents, and certifications are also promoted by other groups. 3A and Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) standards are well established for the dairy industry. And 3A, American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) develop standards for meat and poultry equipment. The European Hygienic Design Group (EHEDG) certifies equipment. ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is also active.