Building a Foundation for Food Safety

Sanitary Building Design and Construction

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, May 16, 2019

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It is without question that the food production processes — primary production, processing, storage and distribution — require adequate infrastructure that will provide a sanitary environment to ensure food is handled safely. I would recommend that a food safety professional be consulted prior to designing a new facility or renovating an older one. This will ensure that the infrastructural design strategy is based on the product being handled, the production stage and product risks. Here are some key areas to consider when designing facilities for food processing and handling.

The perimeter/property line is said to be a processing plant's first line of defence in food safety. As a result, one must ensure that security, personnel safety, site lighting, grading and water-management systems are established to facilitate safe, secure and sanitary site conditions.

All areas must be designed so that workers, visitors, products, ingredients and packaging material are carefully managed as they move from one area to another to avoid cross-contamination. One can separate the facility into easily identifiable hygienic zones which can be colour-coded based on level of risk.

Interior design must facilitate sanitary conditions, which can be achieved by selecting building materials and equipment that are suitable for the products being handled, along with being able to withstand the level of cleaning and detergents used. For example, the use of stainless steel equipment and avoiding the use of toxic paints and painted surfaces. Porous materials must be avoided in any food and beverage plant, as bacteria can grow in hard-to-clean pockets. Wall finishes used must be smooth and cleanable, while also using design items such as walk-on ceilings and seal-tight gaskets around wall-penetrating pipes. Roofing and windows used must prevent intrusion of pests and leakage. Additionally, walls and doors must be sealed on all four sides with rubber sweeps at the bottom of exterior doors.

Antimicrobial resinous flooring systems such as epoxy or polyurethane must be used dependent on the type of product you're manufacturing and what chemicals and temperatures will be hitting the floor during cleaning. These coatings provide barriers against bacterial colonies along with the formation of biofilms which may be resistant to chemicals and inadequate sanitation practices.

When designing your facility, the interior spatial design must promote adequate sanitation of all production lines and equipment. Construction must also avoid the creation of angles, construction gaps and flat surfaces that may result in standing water and bacterial growth. Construction design for preventing standing water includes sloping and angling floors down to drains, which will eliminate water settlement.

Temperature and moisture play a significant role in bacterial growth. Consequently, temperature and humidity control systems must be built into the design strategy of your processing facility. Additionally, to control the quality of air and air flow in production and storage areas windows and ventilation systems must be properly constructed in high-risk sections. Air from raw-product zones must travel in the opposite direction and exit directly from the plant in order to not contaminate finished goods.

Of course, there are existing facilities that meet little or none of the above requirements and will need structural rehabilitation and equipment upgrades. While this can be expensive, I suggest that you plan for upgrades and implement in stages. Having trained employees and a well-documented food safety system will not equate to safe food production if you have a facility that is not constructed in a sanitary manner. For this reason you will need to ensure that an assessment is conducted of your current facility, or have a food safety professional review your designs for a new building. This will ensure that food safety principles are built in your processes.

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