At the beginning of March 2023, the British Stainless Steel Association, the Nickel Institute and the European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group jointly offered a seminar on Stainless Steel in the Food & Beverage Industry and offered a very full day at the Warwickshire Hotel at Leek Wootton.
Presentations ranged from an explanation of what constitutes a food contact material, why stainless steels are ideally suited to the demands of food safety, how to fabricate and to treat the surfaces of stainless steels, the regulations applicable to food contact materials and the new BRCGS supplier-auditing procedures.
And, to wrap it all up, there was a discussion as to which link in the raw material supplier / equipment designer / equipment manufacturer / food business operator chain is actually responsible for ensuring compliance with those regulations.
On what was an unexpectedly bleak and snow-blasted day, 14% of those who braved the elements and who completed the post-seminar survey were food business operators, but three times as many delegates were from equipment manufacturing companies.
Why did they come ─ what were they looking for?
Common reasons were that they wished to improve their understanding of the uses and treatments of stainless steels and to learn more about just how fundamental the hygienic design of food-processing equipment is to Food Safety.
It was pleasing to hear main ‘take-aways’ such as “Product contact surfaces encompass a lot more than most people would intuitively think ─ this needs to be considered in the design stage and in maintenance procedures” and “I now appreciate the importance of choosing the correct grade and finish [of stainless steel] for each different product” and that “Hygienic design has more nuances than previously understood!” But the most frequent comment after the seminar was that “I didn’t know just what I didn’t know”!
One attendee even said that he had “learned more today than I have in 30 years in industry!”
There was clearly a real desire to understand the challenges faced by all parties concerned about food contact materials and to be able to work more closely and advisedly with them ─ and from as early a stage in the design-fabricate-install process as possible.
Stainless steels certainly did seem to have a quiver full of invaluable food safety arrows ─ not just the obvious resistance to corrosion but also the hardness to withstand abrasion without being scratched to the point where micro-organisms could adhere to the roughened surface and be difficult for CIP to remove. Then they are formable, weldable and dimensionally-stable such that they can facilitate the engineering precision required to construct hygienic equipment (resistant to the build-up of process soils and easy-to-clean). And they offer 100% recyclability at the end of their (very long) lives.
Plans are already on the table to offer similar seminars at other major food-production locations, as many of these are currently poorly served in this respect. Perhaps this is because they are less central and so it is thought that the audiences might be hard to attract, but I don’t believe so!
If the BSSA / Nickel Institute / EHEDG seminar in March proved anything at all, it was that there is a real interest in the UK food and beverage industry in learning more about food contact materials and hygienic design and how to benefit from the range and attributes of stainless steels.
Seminars like this can only serve to meet that demand for information and expert advice.