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Sound Sanitation Plans for Meat Packaging Machinery

packaged meat
Minimize contamination risks by considering everything from the cylinders and valves to the compressed air that powers them

Meat and poultry processing facilities are held to some of the most stringent hygienic and sanitation standards of all food processing facilities when it comes to controlling pathogens and preventing foodborne illness.

Most meat and poultry processing facilities fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are inspected by the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service. These facilities are required to employ and document prescriptive sanitation plans that can be far more stringent than those found in other food categories such as fruit and vegetables or snack foods. As such, food sanitation practices for meat and poultry plants are likely to be more frequent and may involve the use of steam, caustic agents, chlorinated chemicals, and high pressure washdowns. All can be corrosive or damaging to packaging machinery.

OEMs designing packaging equipment for these facilities often turn to pneumatically driven systems for the machines they build. The fact that pneumatic equipment is generally easier to washdown and sanitize than its electromechanical and hydraulic counterparts makes it a system of choice here. What’s more, pneumatic systems also can be used to power modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) to enhance food safety. However OEMs still have to consider that compressed air, and the associated pneumatic components, call for specific food safety measures and sanitary practices.

OEMs designing packaging systems for meat and poultry processing facilities need to address these harsh environments when configuring pneumatically powered equipment. A wise multi-pronged approach puts a great deal of attention on the pneumatic components selected. Everything from the cylinders and valves to the compressed air that feeds them should be part of the sanitation plan. For enhanced product protection, OEMs also can leverage their compressed air systems to power MAP systems.

A Focus on Moving Parts
Additional food safety and sanitation practices are to start with the valves and actuators driving specific packaging movements. These moving parts are likely to touch foods as well as packaging. They’re also likely to be susceptible to damage or corrosion from harsh washdown environments.

OEMs therefore, need to choose directional control valves and actuators that can withstand aggressive washdowns. That means specifying actuators constructed with stainless steel components and fasteners, food-grade lubricants, and corrosion-resistant sealing bands. Valves, too, should be made to withstand caustic chemicals and corrosion, and to operate in extreme temperatures. Both electromechanical and pneumatic actuators and solenoid valves available with IP65, IP67, or IP69K washdown options are particularly ideal for meat and poultry packaging machinery, allowing for high-pressure washdowns.

Along with their construction, it’s just as important that actuators and valves feature hygienic design characteristics too. Look for actuators with easy to clean geometries and surfaces promoting fluid run-off, regardless of how they’re installed. Sealed cylinder constructions are key; there should be few or no cavities where dirt and bacteria could collect. In these ways, the shape, design, and non-lubricated operation of pneumatic actuators make them ideally suited for use in the food packaging machinery industry.

Focus on Compressed Air
Equally critical in meat and poultry processing facilities, yet sometimes overlooked, is the need for clean, dry compressed air to power pneumatic movements. Compressed air has to be both clean and dry, not only to protect the integrity of the moving pneumatic components, but also to safeguard the foods being packaged.

While there isn’t a specific standard dictating compressed air quality in meat packaging processes, a growing number of U.S. food companies have adopted quality schemes calling for compressed air in these facilities to be clean and to present no risk to food safety. One example is the 3-A Standard 604-05-3A from standards organization 3-A Sanitary Standards, Inc. in McLean, Virginia. This standard specifies accepted practice for supplying air under pressure in contact with milk, milk products, and product contact surfaces.

Untreated compressed air generally contains a number of contaminants, including moisture, bacteria, oil, and particulate matter. There’s no question that compressed air containing particles of dirt, rust, and oil will compromise product safety. Moisture is another serious concern. Besides the fact that moisture breeds bacteria, the compression process itself can make moisture issues worse.

A good foundation to address these contaminants is a global air preparation system. Suitable air prep systems include numerous filtration steps to remove moisture, particulates, and oil vapors from compressed air.

Beyond this global approach, it may also be necessary to add compressed air filtration at the point of use of pneumatic equipment, where compressed air comes in contact with meats and packaging. Here, OEMs should consider stainless steel filters specifically designed for use in food facilities that are frequently exposed to aggressive washdown chemicals. To maximize risk protection in this environment, OEMs should also consider filter systems that will remove as much as 99.9999+% 0.01 microns of oil, water, rust, bacteria, and other viable organisms from compressed air (or other gases used in the process) which can affect the taste, appearance, and shelf life of the product. For this application, look for FDA-approved products that can stand up to the harshest environments in food and beverage industries.

Next-Level Packaging
Meat and poultry processing facilities with clean, dry compressed air should not overlook another packaging tool at their disposal: The use of nitrogen generators powered by their compressed air to provide MAP.

These systems will eliminate the inconvenience and high costs associated with supplied nitrogen cylinders, dewars, and bulk delivery for MAP. Besides producing a clean supply of nitrogen via semi-permeable membranes, nitrogen generators within MAP systems also can incorporate coalescing prefiltration to remove liquids and particulate matter from the incoming air supply to produce high purity nitrogen that will extend the purity of packaged meats.

For More Information
Ensuring sanitary and high performing pneumatic equipment in meat and poultry packaging operations may be a multi-pronged proposition, but it’s also one that will make a difference in how these systems perform and in the safety of the packaging they produce.

Because component selection and configuration is such an integral part of system optimization when it comes to building packaging machinery for meat and poultry processors, OEMs should connect with their components supplier to assess the options and customize pneumatic systems ideal for these stringent environments.


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