Ensuring food safety should not increase food waste

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By Matt Hale, International Sales & Marketing Director, HRS Heat Exchangers

The first duty of any food or drink manufacturer is to supply its consumers with a product that is safe. Due to their organic nature, some of the most wholesome and natural products, such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, fruit and vegetables, and meat products are all subject to spoilage by biological organisms including bacteria and fungi. While maintaining good equipment hygiene through the use of effective protocols, such as Cleaning-in-Place systems, is essential, it is also economically important that perfectly usable product is not discarded as part of routine cleaning operations.

In 2015 there were 8,000 reported cases of food poisoning in Malaysia and academics say that the country needs to improve its record on food safety1. They point out that, ‘public health is achieved through food safety implementation and accentuation,’ and that ‘Food safety is [the] commitment and responsibility of [all] those involved in the food supply chain from farm to fork.’

While many cases of food poisoning in Malaysia are due to poor preparation and hygiene where food is prepared for consumption, there is no doubt that food processors also have an important role to play, not to mention a potential market opportunity to provide safe ‘ready to eat’ meals.

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles have the potential to be widely used in most sectors of Malaysia’s food and beverage industry. This means that many areas of controlling food safety, such as ensuring equipment is sanitary and preventing contamination, can use common approaches across a wide range of sectors. One of these is the use of automated and semi-automated Clean-in-Place (CIP) systems for processing equipment, such as pipework, heat exchangers, pasteurisers, fillers, pumps, etc.

CIP systems offer a number of advantages over manually disassembling, cleaning, checking and then re-assembling plant. Not only are they much quicker and less labour intensive, but they also reduce costs and allow more frequent and therefore more effective routine cleaning of systems to be carried out. This is a big benefit in terms of maintaining food safety and preventing the growth of microorganisms which could spoil products or pose a risk to health. There are many different types of mechanical and automatic cleaners employed in the food industry globally, using everything from plain water or suitable cleaning chemicals, through to ultrasonic and UV cleaning techniques. However, before any CIP can be carried out, as much product as possible must be removed from the equipment to be cleaned.

Traditional flushing and ‘pigging’ systems (which physically push product through the system) have been used for this purpose, but they often result in the loss of product, the value of which can soon add up.

It has been suggested that globally up to one quarter of food produced is lost within the food supply chain, and while South & Southeast Asia has the lowest level of per capita losses 2, due to lower overall levels of food production, the significance of this waste in terms of calorific content and environmental damage means that the impact of food loss in this region is greater per unit of food wasted. In fact, based on figures from other countries, food lost during processing could be worth as much as MYR 540 million a year to the Malaysian economy3, not to mention the environmental and climate costs associated with the land, energy, water and fertiliser used to produce the raw ingredients, and energy and waste costs from food processing.

The challenge for food and drink businesses is therefore to implement effective and rigorous CIP regimes which meet all necessary hygienic standards, but to do so in a way which minimises the loss or degradation of saleable or useful product. This is where two recently developed systems from HRS Heat Exchangers come in.

The first development uses the design of the HRS R Series of scraped surface heat exchangers to physically remove product without the need for additional pigging systems. The R Series is suitable for a range of heat transfer applications and its unique design enables high viscosity products to be pumped with reduced back pressure and lower energy use. The helical spiral which scrapes the surface of the tubes to prevent fouling in normal use, can also be run in reverse; thereby enabling valuable product to be recovered prior to routine cleaning or product changeover. This design feature means that the HRS R Series can be emptied of the majority of product without the need for additional pumps or pressure systems, reducing both capital and running costs.

Furthermore, such monitoring helps to validate the effectiveness of CIP and ensures that following a cleaning cycle, only product that meets specification is allowed to proceed.

The second development is the HRS Product Recovery System. This combines continual monitoring of a set parameter (for example Brix, pH or viscosity) and combines it with the three-way valve technology which is already employed in every HRS pasteuriser or steriliser. Working together, these two systems ensure that all product which meets the set parameters is utilised and only that which falls outside (for example, that diluted prior to or during CIP) is discarded.

As well as the financial benefits associated with recovering more product, further advantages include a reduction in the amount of waste generated, which in turn decreases disposal costs such as storage, transport and treatment. These various savings add up and mean that this type of equipment rapidly pays for itself. Crucially however, the effectiveness of CIP and the requirements of HACCP analysis continue to be met, ensuring food safety remains paramount.