In recent years, food processing companies have incurred serious damages, including loss of sales and brand reputation, related to food recalls. Some individuals working for these companies with knowledge of potential contamination have been convicted of criminal liability, which can come with stiff fines or serious jail time. The reason is simple: food safety is a matter of life or death.
The primary driver of the increase in food recalls is not relaxed operational controls by food processing plants. Instead, it is higher safety standards and new legislation, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), designed to improve food safety through prevention. Signed into law on January 4, 2011, the FSMA empowers the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to monitor the U.S. food supply through prevention, inspection and compliance. More importantly, this law gives the FDA the authority to shut down a food processing facility or invoke mandatory recalls of any product deemed a threat to the food supply.
Food Industry Standards
Identifying what makes equipment a threat to food safety has led to the creation of food industry equipment standards, or principles that outline food-safe characteristics when designing products for food processing equipment. The North American Meat Institute outlines two sanitary design principles. First, equipment should be cleanable to a microbiological level and made of compatible materials. Second, equipment must be constructed for effective cleaning over the life cycle of use, and the materials comprising the equipment must be compatible with required sanitation materials. Adhering to these principles means that equipment in areas that require strict washdown must also maintain its integrity. Equipment that meets IP69K for water meets these requirements.
IP69K is an ingress protection designation indicating protection against dust particles as well as water ingress from high temperature, high pressure sprays at close proximity. Originally established as a standard for road vehicles that faced the spray of dust, dirt and water during travel, the IP69K rating has quickly become a standard for washdown environments in the food and beverage industry.
In the early years of the industry, manufacturers of equipment and the products used on that equipment developed components that were designed for longevity. As time went on, specifying engineers that provide direction on projects, as well as those in maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) looked for ways to determine the best suitability of a product. While processing facilities can see a vast array of cleaning methods and chemicals, it is hard to know which product will work best.
The closest designation to guide them in the right direction is the ingress protection (IP) code. This is a system developed by the International Electrotechnical Commision (IEC) and is a simple coding system that identifies the ability of a product to withstand varying levels of solid objects, as well as its ability to withstand a variety of exposures to water. IP69K is the highest level of protection.
For a product to meet IP69K—the highest sanitized cleaning method—the product must pass an extreme test of being sprayed at close proximity with high pressure, high temperature water. As the product is rotated on a turntable at a rate of 5 rpm, spray nozzles induce water at a pressure of 1,160 to 1,450 pounds per square inch (psi) and a temperature of 176 F, within 4 to 6 inches of the product at a flow rate of 4 gallons per minute. Once the test is done on the horizontal for 30 seconds, it is then repeated at 30, 60 and 90 degree angles for 30 seconds each. Upon completion of the test, the product must be opened up to demonstrate that no water entered the enclosure.
While IP69K is an important measure to get the highest sanitation components in the areas of the plant that most need it, a number of other types of motors and gearing are available specifically designed for the different zones of a typical food processing facility.
The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) define these as Zones 1, 2 and 3. Zone 3, the non-food zone, would include areas of the plant that are essentially dry and do not have any direct contact with food. Zone 2 is called the splash zone in which products may have incidental food contact or may not come into direct contact with food, but are expected to be able to handle a reasonable amount of light washdown or splashing. The most stringent area, Zone 1, is where product may come into direct contact with food and require heavy sanitation. Zone 1 would be synonymous with products that meet IP69K.
In addition to the food sanitation benefits of motors and gearing meeting IP69K, facilities can remove a number of obstacles that impair their ability to produce food. Water inside of mechanical equipment leads to rusty bearings or grease washout, and water intrusion in motors that are not properly sealed can lead to winding failure. Because IP69K-rated components do not see water intrusion that can cause premature equipment failure, these components can prevent costly downtime that inhibit a facility’s productivity.
With productivity at risk and the potential liability and litigation of a food recall, food facility managers should be on the forefront applying the safest products available in the marketplace where they are most needed, including IP69K-rated components.