Cleaning up their acts

By Dan MalovanyOctober 31, 2023

It’s crunch time for the sanitation crew. To drive revenue and boost throughput, bakeries are extending production runs and sometimes testing the limits on how long they can operate between scheduled downtime. As a result, many sanitation departments are getting the short end of the broomstick.

Remember when direct-store-delivery bakeries regularly shut down their lines on Tuesdays and Saturdays for cleaning and maintenance? As five-day production weeks grow to six and seven, two days a week have become one day or even one shift for sanitation. Often deep cleaning happens overnight or on weekends, which makes it more difficult to attract new high-performing hires to do the work. Such changes in attitudes are also altering the dynamics for bakery support departments.

“Gone are the days of dedicated sanitation crews,” said Karl Thorson, global food safety and sanitation manager, General Mills, Minneapolis. “We have some small crews that are doing environmental, peripheral-type cleaning, but most of the cleaning is being done by the operations team, and that gives us the ultimate flexibility. Gone are the days of a dedicated shift and team to clean. That just doesn’t happen as much. It still does in the big meat plants, but in our plants, we’ve got to be able to stop operations on any shift on any day to clean.”

Artisan bakeries with dozens of changeovers tend to struggle the most with downtime because they must rely on more frequent cleaning actions throughout the day. Bret Zaher, manager at AIB International, suggested that creative scheduling could bolster throughput for these operations.

“There is no easy way to boost production uptime while reducing sanitation time and resources,” he noted.

However, he added, there are several tricks of the trade. Some baking sites set up longer runs first, which leave the changeovers for last. Other plants run organic and other identity-preserved baked goods before conventional ones to reduce downtime caused by changeovers. Scheduling allergen production at the end of the week cuts cleaning time. Some companies have installed smaller lines or satellite sites for shorter production runs that allow larger, more efficient lines to operate longer.

Typically, bakeries that freeze baked goods or manufacture products with an extended shelf life have more options, such as building inventory to extend capacity. Whether the bakery produces artisan bread or melba toast, Mr. Thorson recommended developing a cross-functional team that’s focused on food safety to explore every possible way to safely streamline sanitation.

“We’ve got to have maintenance, engineering, operations, safety and logistics to focus on changeovers,” he said. “The best changeover we do is the one that we don’t have to do, so we need to challenge that matrix and say, ‘What if we scheduled differently? What is the cost of inventory versus the changeover? Instead of running that product every week, could we run it every two weeks?’ The criteria should be food safety as well as cleaning for human safety and for equipment reliability. You’ve got to start with the success criteria, being crystal clear with what those success criteria are, and then you can challenge the way to meet those success criteria.”

 One way to improve efficiency is to share the load when it comes to sanitation.

Cleaning and housekeeping are the responsibility of everyone, and a key piece is having a departmental ‘hand-off’ process, including documentation with clear expectations and accountability.”

Nathan Mirdamadi
Food Safety Manager
Commercial Food Sanitation

“It’s important to stress that only ‘sanitation’ is the responsibility of the sanitation staffing,” said Nathan Mirdamadi, food safety manager, Commercial Food Sanitation, an Intralox company. “Cleaning and housekeeping are the responsibility of everyone, and a key piece is having a departmental ‘hand-off’ process, including documentation with clear expectations and accountability.”

Mr. Zaher pointed out that a bakery operates as an interconnected system.

“Sanitation can’t be properly executed without help from the production team, and maintenance needs the areas and equipment reasonably cleaned so they can do their job,” he said.

Mr. Thorson noted that bakers need to be mindful of how the actions of one department affect another. “What if I’m allowed to run the line longer from a food safety and quality standpoint? How is that going to impact maintenance? Will we still have to take the line down because we’ve got to do preventive maintenance?” he asked. “It’s about bringing all the right parties together and really understanding how to standardize the program.”

Mr. Zaher offered a number of ways that production can help reduce sanitation time. Operators, for instance, can be instructed to remove all the ingredients, packaging and work-in-progress containers from the production area or scrape and remove much of the heavy debris off a production line. They can even assist by cleaning the pans or trays at the end of their shift.

“They could have two sets of utensils, containers and even portable equipment,” he said. “That way, the dirty set can be cleaned during the week and be ready for the switch during the down day. They can also install extra holding and mixing tanks so that they can switch back-and-forth during the week and clean one while the other is in use.”

Mr. Mirdamadi stressed that bakers must remain cognizant of safety risks when extending production runs. “First and foremost, can the facility maintain sanitary conditions, including microbiologically? As part of that process, a risk assessment must be completed to understand if the product can support bacterial toxin development that can survive many kill steps,” he said. “Finally, especially in dry facilities, the control of dust and cleaning frequency can be a very important consideration for pest and combustible dust risks.”

Doing more in less time 

Collaborating with maintenance is a must. Unlike production, Mr. Mirdamadi said, both sanitation and maintenance are indirect costs of manufacturing, and they work hand-in-hand when lines are shut down.

Both are also essential to boosting operational efficiencies, Mr. Zaher pointed out.

“Normally, the downtime needs to be divided up between maintenance and sanitation, which means the site needs to have a good plan in place to reduce unnecessary time waste,” he explained. “It is better if maintenance tasks are completed first, followed by cleaning and sanitizing. After maintenance, a proper cleaning may require staggering cleaning crew start times or even doubling and tripling the number of employees put on equipment to get it cleaned faster so the production process can resume on time.”

Another option involves sectioning off the cleaning area with plastic sheeting or curtains while production remains operating in other parts of the facility — as long as the operating line isn’t directly next to the sanitation or maintenance area.

“Communication is key to ensuring that the mechanic and sanitor are coordinated to be efficient,” Mr. Zaher observed. “If needed, align the sanitor’s start time with the mechanic’s rather than sticking to a shift reporting time.”

With a shorter window of scheduled downtime, the workloads between sanitation and maintenance crews often need to be perfectly sequenced, noted Rowdy Brixey, president of Brixey Engineering Inc.

Sanitation crews may have to initially pre-clean the equipment from heavy debris prior to preventive maintenance and repairs. Afterward, sanitation must thoroughly clean and sanitize the equipment for safe food production. All work must then be documented for food safety, and any delays can throw the process off schedule. Failure to plan can create an unnecessary emergency for another department.

“You can often substitute the word ‘sanitation’ for ‘maintenance’ and vice versa in almost any discussion about either one,” Mr. Brixey said. “They’re often interchangeable since the tasks are so interrelated.”

Mr. Thorson added labor plays a huge role with successful scheduling along with developing processes so that sanitation crews can clean as easily and as quickly as possible. He proposed using the KISS principle — keep it safe and simple — for sanitation and prioritizing when to clean machines by answering key questions.

“How do we minimize aggressive cleaning of equipment, and how often do we need to clean it?” he asked. “Can I extend my production run time and not clean the entire line? What about breaking up the time for cleaning different pieces of equipment? Maybe the slurry system can go two weeks without cleaning and maybe the oven can go months without cleaning. We have to look at each unit individually to justify the frequency and the method of cleaning.”

To reduce cleaning times, Mr. Zaher recommended storing all the cleaning equipment in one place.

“The employees must have access to enough vacuums, ladders and skyjacks to complete their jobs; foamers, chemical proportioners and scrubbers must be checked to make sure they are working prior to the down day,” he said. “Having a clean-out-of-place tank and/or small parts washer also saves time during cleaning.”

The order in which the cleaning is done also plays a huge time factor.

“Avoid cleaning floors and drains prior to the production line being cleaned,” Mr. Zaher advised. “Otherwise, everything will have to be cleaned and sanitized again. Do not clean the production line if you haven’t cleaned the overhead.”

Make a clean break from common mistakes

Don’t create a problem while trying to solve another one. In the world of sanitation, the law of unintended consequences can create a bigger mess that takes longer to clean up or a serious food safety issue that could have been avoided. That’s why sanitation managers remind their employees to avoid making mistakes that do more harm than good.

"The most common ‘no-no’ that I observe are practices that can cause sanitation to become a source of cross-contamination”

“The most common ‘no-no’ that I observe are practices that can cause sanitation to become a source of cross-contamination,” said Nathan Mirdamadi, food safety manager, Commercial Food Sanitation, an Intralox company. Those acts involve using compressed air to relocate — rather than clean or remove — allergens, or taking cleaning tools designated for wet cleaning and using them in dry clean areas. “Floor scrubbers, if not managed properly, can actually be the vector of contamination,” he noted.

Instead of using compressed air to clean, vacuuming and brushing overhead pipes and conveyors are much safer and effective, suggested Bret Zaher, manager at AIB International.

A virtually clean bakery

Mr. Mirdamadi noted that effective training on how to clean correctly is a foundational item that is too often overlooked. “The associates in our facilities are only able to do the best that they know how, which, at times, is not the ideal technique or approach,” he said.

CFS Tip:

Looking for hands-on learning about effective cleaning and environmental monitoring for your team members?

Check out CFS Sanitation Essentials Training

Mr. Thorson is a proponent of video sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs) for teaching the fundamentals of the job to a large workforce. His team at General Mills has produced 17 videos in five different languages that cover the basics of sanitation and are available to anyone, which are available on YouTube. In many ways, he said, the short videos follow the same principles as learning how to repair a car or fix something around the house.

“You go to Google and find a YouTube video on how to do it right,” he explained. “It’s the same thing if I have to clean a mixer or a new depositor. I want to give somebody a video where they can see the best practices, they can pause the video, they can rewind it, they can jump to the chapter that they need to see. It’s a helpful tool for them.”

To develop a video SSOP library that fits a specific bakery operation, he suggested collaborating with original equipment manufacturers, tool vendors, chemical providers and other third-party suppliers to demonstrate the best practices not just for cleaning but for overall lifecycle management of equipment.

“These videos can show how to best shut down my system, dismantle it, clean it and inspect it, provide preventive maintenance and then calibrate it for starting up again,” he explained. “Our videos are very generic. They’re about how to inspect, how to dry clean and how to do foaming or titration.”

Mr. Thorson said the next step involves equipment-specific video SSOPs, such as for a horizontal bar mixer used in many General Mills bakeries. In addition to sharing them on YouTube, they can be put into an MP4 file format and dropped into a bakery’s learning management system as a part of an ongoing training program.

“If I can develop that, there’s no reason to recreate the wheel for all these plants,” he said. “There’s going to have to be some customization because each bakery has different color-coded tools and other procedures.”

CFS Tip:

Check out the CFS Sanitation Savers for quick video guides to train and empower your sanitation teams. 

With only so many hours in a day, longer production runs only mean less time for cleaning and sanitation. Bakeries need to get everyone involved and smartly coordinate scheduling to ensure they can maximize throughput while keeping their houses in order.

Dan Malovany

Dan Malovany is editorial director of Baking & Snack magazine. 

Original Publication

View Site
© Commercial Food Sanitation 2024