The word “hygiene” is critical in the meat processing industry; mandatory Hazard Analysis and Critical Control point (HACCP) controls were introduced into meat abattoirs in 1996, these requirements are set out in the New South Wales Meat Food Safety Schedule, which the Food Authority and abattoirs jointly manage. Plants are subject to fines, and even plant shut downs for failure to comply with regulations. It is critical that facilities that deal with meat deigned for human consumption not only keep up to these standards but also make sure that everything is in top condition throughout the whole meat processing process.
Meat processing facilities provide some the most challenging and harsh environments for concrete flooring, which are subject to significant thermal recycling.
Key considerations are:
1) cleanable – constant high-pressure washing;
2) chemical resistance – a range of chemicals and PH variations;
3) high compressive strength – flexibility to handle heavy loadsand abrasion; and
4) hygienic conditions – cannot contribute to growth of bacteria, mould or mildew.
Challenging issues for plant floors
The ambient conditions in a meat processing plant are at two ends off the extreme. The “clean” sides of meat processing plants are generally cool during production, while the “dirty” sides are generally warm. Most areas on both sides are constantly wet or immersed in water or water slurries of animal waste, animal blood, fat and other by products. Further processing areas include cooking operations and/or cryogenic processes that can subject flooring to major temperature variations. Cleaning and sanitation operations can also subject the floor to thermal cycling.
Strong alkaline cleaners are used in most meat processing plants due to their effectiveness on grease, oil and organic matter. Some plants use live steam to clean and degrease, which can subject the floor to thermal shock and spalling of concrete – this can be costly for the processor.
Animal fat, sugar, vegetable oil, animal and vegetable proteins, wheat gluten, and countless other foods and flood additives will attack exposed concrete due to their acidic nature. These acidic compounds react with the alkaline cement paste, which is a binder for the concrete. This weakens the concrete and makes it more susceptible to damage from impact, abrasion, thermal cycling and further chemical attack. Over time, all these inputs can lead to degradation of the concrete.
Another consideration is that meat processing floors present constant slip hazards for process workers. They are almost always wet or damp, and combined with animal fats and/or oils, can compromise the safety of the working environment. Plant personnel must have a secure footing, particularly when working around hazardous equipment and/or heavy moving loads.
The floor topping must provide the required anti-slip properties in order to prevent slip and fall accidents. Processing floors are also subject to heavy forklift and pallet-jack traffic. Most damage occurs near isolation joints, construction joints and similar cross-sections of the floor. Heavy traffic will also degrade non-slip performance of a floor system over time due to wearing.
Roxset HACCP Flooring Systems offers a whole range of solutions that can address these issues and has the best coatings to handle all the complex and harsh challenges of dairy and meat processing plants. The specially formulated resin system offers a fast-cure, moisture-tolerant solution with no strong odours or flammability hazards. To top it is all off, these solutions can withstand organic acids and common cleaning and sanitation chemicals.
Until recently, the RB65 wash down gun from Tecpro Australia was available in blue to denote cold water and red to indicate hot water. But customers in the meat and dairy industries were requesting a white version as well. It’s now available with all the comfort and safety features cleaning crews enjoy.
Its built-in swivel inlet means you never have to fight the hose again. With an instantaneous release trigger, the low pressure wash down gun is quick and easy to shut off with just one hand.
All RB65 wash down guns have been ergonomically designed to make them comfortable to use and easy to hold for extended periods. The weight is evenly balanced to reduce stress on the operator’s hand and wrist. While the air gap between the inner body and the outer plastic housing of the Hose Gun means there is no risk of heat transfer to the outer casing.
The RB65 low pressure wash down gun has a maximum temperature range of 90°C with a flow rate of 60 l/min @ 20 bar. It can handle pressure up to 24 bar (350 psi). It’s build to last and has a range of readily available spare parts such as replacement rebound rubbers and plastic outer covers. This makes the RB65 durable, easily renewable and therefore highly economical.
Maintaining hygienic conditions when introducing new equipment plants can be a challenge for food makers. However, as the case of a chicken processing plant which introduced new equipment from SEW-Eurodrive shows, it can be successfully achieved.
Food processing companies set high standards for cleanliness in their production facilities. While they can control their own production environment by implementing strict processes, the installation of externally sourced equipment that keeps the production lines rolling is a different matter.
To guarantee that these standards are met, the food processing industry and its suppliers typically adopt the hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) risk management methodology. The methodology can be applied at any stage of the food manufacturing process.
Many retail food sellers insist on their suppliers being certified by an independent organisation such as HACCP Australia or its international equivalents. It is not only the ingredients and food processing plants that require evaluation and risk analysis. If the equipment within the plants is certified as fit for purpose, this gives suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers alike extra assurance that the food that reaches our tables has been processed in a suitably hygienic manner.
According to John Gattellari, national industry specialist – food and beverage at SEW-Eurodrive, this certification is critical for the motors and gear units driving the equipment in food processing plants.
“SEW-Eurodrive realised this early on, and is endorsed by HACCP Australia in the manufacturing equipment category. Certification demonstrates that the mechatronic drive system Movigear type B variant for wet areas that we supply for these projects can be successfully cleaned by the high-pressure hoses and chemicals without any difficulty or detriment to the units,” he said.
In the wet areas and tightly-controlled clean areas of food-processing facilities, these standards are upheld rigorously.
Food manufacturers conduct their own audits and also bring in external auditors to ensure that their facilities meet their own standards and those required by the organisations they supply.
The auditors typically inspect the whole plant, paying attention to all systems and manufacturing processes, including those that govern use of the conveyors, motors and gear units.
According to Gattellari, the food industry now prefers drive systems that are HACCP certified. This is in addition to being easy to clean, reliable, and being able to meet the necessary technical and performance requirements.
Applying the knowledge
One site where this approach has been put into practice is the Golden Farms chicken processing plant at Geelong, in Victoria. Joe Cammaroto, maintenance supervisor at Golden Farms, now uses the Movigear type B drive system throughout the large facility, which employs around 400 people and processes up to 100,000 chickens a day.
He agrees that the cleaning step is critical, and says that the whole plant is cleaned every night after production ceases. The consequences of hygiene issues arising in the clean areas of a food production plant are substantial. At the very least, they could mean delays in production, with associated financial losses. Even more importantly, if contaminated food were sold to the public, public health could be put at risk.
Cammaroto says that a number of previously-installed drives remain in the plant. These must be covered up prior to high-pressure cleaning and uncovered again afterwards. Without the covers, the chemicals used in the cleaning process eat the paint away, so each unit must be cleaned separately from the rest of the plant. This extra handling of equipment every day is time consuming and inconvenient.
These older drive systems – which are traditionally in two pieces rather than a single sealed unit – also have the potential to cause contamination. Removing the peeled-off paint and rust from the older drive systems is time consuming and costly. The process has to be thorough to overcome the risk of contaminating the food product.
Frequent independent audits assist Cammaroto and his colleagues to check that this risk is minimal. A comprehensive system provides for different audits at three and six-monthly intervals, in addition to annual checks. Auditors verify that processes are being adhered to, and look at the preventative measures that are in place.
To further alleviate the risk, Golden Farms is systematically replacing all the older drive systems as they age and wear out.
“We were looking for an alternative motor and have been introducing the Movigear type B to power our conveyors because it is designed and certified for use in hygienic environments,” said Cammaroto. “With its special coatings, it is washable and the food product can’t stick onto it.”
As well as using them to replace the older style motors, Golden Farms now installs them whenever a new conveyor line is added. Cammaroto says that there are now more than 19 of the HACCP-certified units installed.
Installation has proven to be a simple process and has been carried out by the technicians at Golden Farms. The drive motors are horizontally mounted on the left or right side so they can be placed wherever needed within the conveyor system.
“The long-term upgrade project has been straight forward. Several of the motors have been operating for about three years already, and I’ve been impressed by how long they have lasted. They’ve been excellent. The units we used prior to the upgrade would have lost paint and begun to rust in that time,” said Cammaroto.
No more fiddling in the roof
Hygiene is not the only benefit of the plant’s refurbishment. The controller of the Movigear drive system is attached in a sealed housing and the speed of each drive can be adjusted in situ.
At Golden Farms, the conveyors move a mix of fresh product and boxed product, so the speeds of the conveyors vary according to where they sit in the manufacturing process. The convenience of being able to adjust the speeds of the drives directly at the conveyor was another reason for upgrading.
“We can adjust the speeds of the conveyors and match them up so you can go from slower to faster. It’s more convenient than having a speed controller up in the roof space where you’ve got to get up and change it,” said Cammaroto. “With the Movigear, we just undo a bolt at the back of the unit, adjust the speed and replace the bolt. It’s a lot easier – very simple.”
Designed for the job
Behind the scenes, SEW-Eurodrve’s engineers had been working for many years to perfect the design of the Movigear for use in wet areas and hygienic environments. Gattellari says that the result of this endeavour was the mechatronic drive system Movigear type B, a compact and totally enclosed system, comprising the gear-unit motor and electronics.
The Movigear drive system complies with the international energy standard, IE4 (Super Premium Efficiency), the finless and fanless design eliminates air swirls usually associated with fan cooled motors. There is no distribution of germs and bacteria – a vital requirement in a hygienic environment.
With no fan, there is an added benefit of reduced noise in the production environment. The drive system complies with air cleanliness class 2 according to the international standard ISO 14644-1 and consumes about 50 per cent less energy than conventional drive solutions.
A major issue for gear units and motors in wet areas and hygienic environments is the choice of materials and coatings. While stainless steel components and fixtures are the preferred choice for food-manufacturing facilities, traditional motors and gear units are often supplied with housings made from aluminium or steel. This is due to cost pressures, weight restrictions and component availability.
Traditionally, motors and gear units are coated with a paint system that is prone to premature failure when exposed to the harsh and abrasive cleaning regimes. Exposure to the caustic cleaning agents can also cause corrosion within the drive systems. An alternative approach is to employ surface finishes such as Nickel or Teflon, or use of anodising for Aluminium substrates. This gives the motors and gear units superior corrosion-inhibiting properties and abrasion resistance.
The smooth housing of the Movigear type B is finished with an “HP200” treatment which is burned into the surface during application. Highly resistant to the cleaning chemicals and high-pressure wash-down the surface finish eliminates the possibility of flaking paint.
These inherent anti-stick properties contribute to a reduction of debris build-up, resulting in faster cleaning times and less system downtime. The standard inclusion of stainless steel shafts, fasteners and auxiliary fittings further enhances the Movigear type B anti-corrosive properties.
At facilities like Golden Farms, this means that standard cleaning routines can be continued, without the need to cover the drive units before the wash down and uncover them again afterwards.
It was this approach to design that has made the Movigear type B eminently suitable for the Golden Farms upgrade project. By introducing a program to replace the older drive systems with HACCP-certified units, the facility has improved efficiencies and minimised risk – a move that satisfies the twin goals of reducing costs and ensuring the health and wellbeing of its customers.
Researchers in Singapore say they have developed a new material that can kill 99.7% of E. coli bacteria within 30 seconds.
The team from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR synthesized a chemical compound made up of molecules linked together in a chain. This structure helps to penetrate the cell membrane and destroy the bacteria.
In contrast, antibiotics only kill the bacteria without destroying the cell membrane. Leaving the cell structure intact allows new antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow.
“Our unique material can kill bacteria rapidly and inhibit the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Computational chemistry studies supported our experimental findings that the chain-like compound works by attacking the cell membrane. This material is also safe for use because it carries a positive charge that targets the more negatively charged bacteria, without destroying red blood cells,” said Dr Yugen Zhang (pictured right) who lead the research team.
The imidazolium oligomers come in the form of a white powder that is soluble in water. The researchers also found that once this was dissolved in alcohol, it formed gels spontaneously. This material could be incorporated in alcoholic sprays that are used for sterilization in hospitals or homes.
E. coli is a type of bacteria found in the intestines of humans and animals, and some strains can cause severe diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever. Such infection is contagious and can spread through contaminated food or water, or from contact with people or animals. Good hygiene practices and proper food handling can prevent E. coli infections.
“The global threat of drug-resistant bacteria has given rise to the urgent need for new materials that can kill and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Our new antimicrobial material could be used in consumer and personal care products to support good personal hygiene practices and prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” said IBN Executive Director, Professor Jackie Y. Ying.
Salmonelex is the second phage product for food safety accepted in Australia and New Zealand after an earlier approval of Listex against Listeria monocytogenes. It is produced by Micreos of The Netherlands, leader in phage technology.
“The use of Salmonella phages to treat raw meat and raw poultry meat will reduce the exposure of the community to Salmonella from these foods, resulting in less illness. This will reduce the burden on Government to treat illnesses associated with salmonellosis,” said the FSANZ final approval report for Salmonelex.
Salmonelex is misted onto the surface and kills Salmonella without any sensory effects, and is certified organic. As a processing-aid it does not require labelling. After approvals in the USA it may now be used in Aus/NZ to control Salmonella on meat and poultry products.
Salmonella is one of the most commonly reported causes of foodborne illness, with raw fresh meat and poultry often implicated as a source of infection. Fresh raw meat and poultry can be contaminated with Salmonella, which can cause illness if meat is consumed under-cooked or if cross contamination occurs during handling and preparation.
Phages are the most abundant micro-organisms on our planet. They are harmless to humans, animals and plants and are naturally present in high numbers on our skin, in our gut, in our environment, in our water and many of our foods. We consume high numbers of phages with our food, without any impact on human health or on taste and enjoyment of the food.
Phage technology is set to replace antibiotics and chemicals in many applications, as it can be used for targeted control of only unwanted bacteria. Phages are essential for life on earth, and kill roughly half of all bacteria on the planet every two days.
Betta Maid, an Unanderra bakery which closed last year, has been fined for selling unsafe food and breaching hygiene standards.
Wollongong Local Court fined the company a total of $63,000 plus $20,000 in court costs.
The charges were brought against the company in response to the NSW Food Authority’s investigation into a salmonella outbreak in 10 aged care facilities on the NSW South Coast and ACT between January and March 2015.
Betta Maid supplied meat pies, potato pies, sausage rolls and other baked goods to IRT. Some of these were contaminated with a rare strain of salmonella.
The Local Court Magistrate Beattie, agreed with the Food Authority’s submission that there was a hygiene failure and fined the company accordingly.
The Food Authority said in a statement that it was pleased with a decision
“This court result serves as a reminder to all food businesses why food safety systems are crucial, particularly those businesses serving food to the most vulnerable in our community,” said Lisa Szabo, Chief Executive Officer, NSW Food Authority.
“Food businesses are obliged to ensure their food is safe and suitable for human consumption and comply with the standards in the NSW Food Act 2003,” she said.
Charges brought against Betta Maid director, Udo Boschan, have been adjourned to May 26.
As you sip a cup of coffee, enjoy a rich chocolate treat or savour the aroma of a piece of Roquefort cheese, have you ever considered the extraordinary contribution made by the microscopic creatures that have worked so hard for your pleasure?
As the French chemist Louis Pasteur said: “The role of the infinitely small in nature is infinitely large.” Without microbes, life on this planet would not exist or would be very different to what we see today.
Recent discoveries have revealed the critical roles played by microorganisms in driving ecosystems, changing our environment and influencing the health and well-being of people, plants and animals.
One of the most intriguing aspects of microbiology is the almost endless variety of biological and chemical processes attributed to microbes. There are species that can break down pollutants, happily grow on arsenic and the recently-described bacteria that break down PET plastics.
The wonders of fermentation
Nowhere is this biological activity more apparent – and close to home – than through the process of fermentation. This metabolic process is used by many microbes – mostly bacteria and many yeasts – and exploited by humans in numerous industrial and agricultural applications.
Many of us are aware of respiration. The process is used by living cells to convert chemicals, such as sugar, to energy by breaking them down into smaller constituents and liberating the energy within.
In the most familiar version, known as aerobic respiration, oxygen is the final recipient in a chain of chemical reactions that generates water and carbon dioxide and produces energy.
However, many bacteria are able to perform an alternative form of respiration in the absence of oxygen, called anaerobic respiration, which enables survival despite a lack of oxygen. This is a good trick that allows microbes to thrive in anaerobic conditions, such as our gut. Some bacteria live in constantly anaerobic conditions and, for them, exposure to oxygen is lethal!
But many microbes have another strategy: fermentation. Here, molecules such as sugars are only partly broken down; the energy produced is not as great as in respiration, but the cell still survives.
Luckily for us, many of the end-products of this process are very valuable, including compounds such as ethanol and lactic acid.
Although most people know that bacteria can turn milk into yoghurt and yeasts convert sugars in grape juice into ethanol or make bread dough rise, there are countless examples from around the world where fermentation is used to produce exotic and unique products of cultural importance.
But many people don’t realise the extent to which fermentation enhances our enjoyment of foods and beverages. In some cases, it may provide benefits beyond the senses.
In Colombia, Central America and Hawaii, Arabica coffee is processed by the “wet method”, which involves a fermentation step of 24 to 48 hours. This is primarily used to remove a thin layer of mucilage surrounding the coffee bean.
This process also imparts desirable flavour and aroma attributes. Of course, roasting and brewing are critical steps in the full development of coffee flavours.
Chocolate production begins when the cocoa bean undergoes a similar fermentation step, which involves a complex succession of bacteria and yeasts producing flavour precursors, including ethanol, lactic acid and acetic acid.
The dairy industry relies heavily on fermentation. One example is the simple “starter cultures”, consisting of one or a few bacteria that turn milk into yoghurt via lactic acid fermentation.
There’s also the complex mix of bacteria and fungi that convert the curd into delicious products such as soft cheeses, blue cheeses and various mature cheeses.
And it’s not only cow’s milk; goat, sheep, buffalo and camel milk are also used by cultures across the world to produce their own varieties of speciality fermented milk products.
Apart from sensory advantages, fermentation is a form of food preservation that allows perishable foods to be stored for longer. This was an important aspect of food safety before the introduction of refrigeration in the 19th century.
Along with adding salt (curing meat) or sugar (jams and cordials), the acid produced during fermentation rapidly drops the pH of the starting product. In the case of milk, this rise in acidity causes curdling but is also inhibitory to undesirable (and sometimes deadly) bacteria found in the raw milk.
Similarly, fermentation of meat products – traditionally made from pork, but also beef, chicken and turkey – involves a complex microbiological community of species. These generate lactic acid, acetic acid, diacetyl and produce enzymes that break down protein and fats.
Some of the bacteria produce hydrogen peroxide, which will react with myoglobin in the meat and lead to discolouration. To counter this, other bacteria are present that produce the enzyme catalase, breaking down the hydrogen peroxide and preserving the pink colour of the meat.
Some of the bacteria can also convert nitrates (added as preservatives) to nitrites, further enhancing the colour of the product.
Fermented foods extend to vegetarian products, including the classic sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), various fermented varieties of tofu (bean curd) and Spanish-style olives.
Farm animals also benefit from fermentation. In regions of the world where fresh pasture is not available year round, chopped plant material (corn, sorghum and cereals) is allowed to naturally ferment to produce silage, which is used as fodder.
It’s not only about flavour, aroma and nutrition though. Many of the microbes used in fermentation are considered as “probiotics”. While the jury is still out on the beneficial effects of probiotics, many studies have shown that their consumption is linked to health benefits, including boosting the immune system.
So, next time you enjoy a glass of wine and a fine piece of cheese on a crusty slice of sourdough bread, raise a toast to all the hard-working microscopic good guys!
Enzo Palombo is Professor of Microbiology, Swinburne University of Technology.
Consumers may have to wait until 2017 for new country of origin food labelling regulations to be fully implemented, even though the Government earlier said it wanted them this year.
According to the ABC, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said talks are already taking place. However, it will take time to make any changes.
"Those meetings will go through to around about July, August," Joyce said.
"And then we will hopefully have it back in Cabinet around about August.
"Then we'll have an implementation period which will go over about 12 months, so it'll be starting next year."
As ABC Rural reports, one meeting between government and industry recently took place in the NSW town of Albury.
One attendee, Jodie Goldsworthy from Beechworth Honey told the ABC she was hopeful about the possibility of change but was disappointed that it “seems like the proposed changes are all about adding percentages for imported versus percentages for Australian”.
The labels will show the amount of locally made content in products, including diagrams to help consumers. However they won’t let consumers know where non-Australian content comes from. There will be just an ‘overseas’ designation, not designations for each overseas country.
Goldsworthy pointed out that food grown in New Zealand adheres to the same safety standards as Australian grown food, but food grown in China meets different standards.