On 9 March at The Warwickshire Hotel, the British Stainless Steel Association, the Nickel Institute and the European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group are jointly holding a conference entitled Stainless Steel in the Food and Beverage Industry with a wide-ranging and impressive list of presentations. But what occasioned this?
For over thirty years, the UK has had in place legislation that governs what materials can be put into contact with a food product. It must be demonstrable that they do not release harmful levels of their constituents into the food (think of pewter beer tankards which used to contain 4% of lead!). But the implications of these regulations are not widely understood, and often those who have to select food contact materials do not know where to go for advice nor where they can have candidate materials tested.
Also, parallel regulations require that food-processing equipment be designed for hygiene – that is, deliberately engineered so that contamination such as bio-films does not easily build up inside the machinery, and designed so that the equipment is easy to clean between production runs. Again, the whole science of hygienic engineering is less well understood than it might be, and instances of cross-infection between consecutive production batches still occur even amongst the major food producers.
Every food business operator in the UK – from a factory to a pub – is now required to have a documented Food Safety Management System, based on the principles of HACCP (Hazard and Critical Control Point) analysis, a technique which looks for everything which might go wrong, determines how it’s having done so will be recognised and lays out a procedure for rectifying the problem. Contamination of a food product either from the materials with which it is in contact or from ineffective cleaning of the plant are certainly hazards to food safety.
Indeed, meeting both contact materials and design legislation is so important that the new Issue 9 of the British Retail Consortium’s Brand Reputation Compliance Global Standards (BRCGS) auditing procedure now includes the requirement that a food supplier provides evidence that his equipment complies with both regulations before the supply of food products may commence.
But then arises the question of how, in practice, to ensure that materials and design both work to enhance food safety. Certainly, it is not enough for a food business operator to tell his equipment supplier that the item he wishes to purchase “will be for food use”. The selection of materials will depend upon the nature of the food being processed, the operating environment (particularly temperature) and the proposed cleaning procedures. Only when these are defined in sufficiently detailed technical terms can the right choice be made.
Many specifiers do not appreciate, for instance, that there is a ‘family’ of at least twenty stainless steels in everyday use in the food and beverage sector, each with its own combination of attributes, and the skill comes in choosing the one which offers the required strength, corrosion resistance and ease of fabrication but no more ─ there is no need to pay for performance which simply is not necessary.
So, is the correct selection of food contact materials down to the raw material supplier? Or the equipment designer? Or the fabricator? And to whom can he-who-is-responsible turn if he needs specialist help? The conference will offer answers – and many specialists will be present to provide one-to-one advice.
The Stainless Steel in the Food and Beverage Industry conference programme is both comprehensive and exciting. It starts by asking which components of a piece of food-processing equipment we need to consider from a food contact materials point-of-view. It then discusses the suitability and the range of stainless steels. What is involved in designing for hygiene is the next topic and this is followed by a presentation on fabrication techniques. After a lunch and networking break comes advice on the analysis of failures in service. Then the importance of controlling surface finish – critical to hygiene and a specific requirement of the Machinery Directive – is followed by a discussion of operating and cleaning regimes. Finally, there will be a look at the relevant regulations and what they mean, what guidelines are easily available, where to go for more information and help and, critically, just where the legislation places the responsibility for making sure that materials and design come together to ensure the highest levels of food safety.
And the programme has built-in opportunities to ask burning questions and to establish contact with those who may be able to help you in the future.
An event not to be missed!
Tickets for the Stainless Steel in the Food and Beverage Industry conference are available via the BSSA website, with a 10% discount for groups of 5 or more: https://bssa.org.uk/event/stainless-steel-in-the-food-and-beverage-industry/