But help is at hand, at least for the simpler bits of cleaning kit such as mops and squeegees. Danish company Vikan, supplier of manual cleaning equipment, has set up a new global research and development unit. Its aim is to ensure that even the simplest broom or squeegee is designed to clean as hygienically as possible and to be cleaned properly after use. No more food debris trapped in the bristles of a brush, sweeping bacteria all over the factory.
Developments in pressure washers and cleaning chemicals also mean that the high-pressure water jet washer may be on its way out. New designs of low-pressure washers are cheaper to operate, use fewer chemicals and water, and are more hygienic. Also, they don't create fine aerosols that spray bugs and germs all over the place.
Tools of the future
And research at Birmingham University is leading to a better understanding of how to clean off a range of foodstuffs. Already, a benchmarking tool developed under the £3.6M Zeal research programme (Zero Emissions by Advanced Cleaning) is helping food firms optimise their cleaning regimes and cut costs.
Debbie Smith is global research and development manager at Vikan. Based in Swindon, her job is to develop effective and hygienically designed cleaning equipment. "What we propose to do is look at the efficiency and durability of a product and then to have third-party verification of those results. The programme is just starting."
Will a different formation of bristles in a broom head, for instance, perform a better cleaning task than existing designs? Smith will also be looking at the design of the equipment to make sure that not only does it clean but that it also can be cleaned itself. "Cleaning equipment can very rapidly become a source contamination. You need to design equipment so that you can actually remove from it the debris that you are removing from the factory."
Smith has proposed setting up a new subgroup on the hygienic design of cleaning equipment to the Brussels-based European Hygienic Engineering & Design Group (EHEDG). "We want to get together with other manufacturers of cleaning equipment for the food industry. We think there should be some control over equipment designs to ensure that they are hygienically designed and cleanable. We want a new sub-group so that we can all get together and put some guidelines together."
Food factories are doing the best they can, according to Smith. The problem is that some of the equipment they are using is poorly designed, he says, with moulding defects and areas where food debris can lodge. Take a simple squeegee, for example. A single-blade construction is better than a two- blade construction, says Smith, because where the two blades meet there will be a gap, which means bacteria can become trapped in that gap.
Another example is twin-bladed foam squeegees. They are very good at removing the water from floor but they are not hygienic, says Smith. "The foam blades cannot be decontaminated. The bacteria can get inside the foam and you can't get at them with disinfectant."
Food research organisation Campden BRI is holding a conference on the selection, use and maintenance of cleaning equipment from June 19 to June 20, at which Smith will be speaking about the effectiveness, durability, hygienic and ergonomic design, use of construction materials.
Stuart Collins is general manager of the food division of ISS Facility Services, which provides cleaning services to food factories. ISS is investing heavily in new cleaning technology such as low-pressure water cleaning systems. The main benefit over high-pressure washers, he says, is that you get better labour usage.
"There is a misconception that high-pressure cleaning consumes less water. If you put high-pressure and low-pressure next to each other, then, yes, in any one minute, say, the high-pressure cleaner will use less water. But you actually clean less in that time." The reason, he says, is that the water droplets leaving a low-pressure nozzle are larger and keep their energy, whereas high-pressure droplets dissipate their energy very quickly. As a result, low-pressure systems can clean a larger area at any one time and you use less water.
Also, low-pressure systems use peristaltic pumps, which don't vibrate and so reduce incidences of work-related upper limb disorder. And the hoses are lighter to handle, too. Also, says Collins, high-pressure systems are a lot more expensive to maintain than low-pressure ones. The pumps and pipes and nozzles and hoses are a lot more expensive. And with low-pressure systems you get less water ingress and less water damage so there is a potential cost saving on damage to equipment.
There are also some new chemical systems on the market that aid factory cleaning, he says. With one type, you spray foam onto a surface and inject it with peracetic acid (produced by a reaction between acetic acid and hydrogen peroxide). The chemical reaction within the foam matrix aids the cleaning and speeds the process up, he says.
"One of the things you often see on food factory walls are blue marks left by Chep rental pallets. They are not the easiest things to remove and you need quite a bit of elbow grease. But this sort of foam will remove the dye without any effort. Peracetic acid is also a sanitiser. So you end up with a single-stage application of cleaner and sanitiser rather than two stages."
Zeal, the three-year cleaning research project, finished in 2010. It had 11 partners, including the department of chemical engineering at Birmingham University, equipment suppliers, and end-users Heineken (Scottish & Newcastle Breweries as was), Cadbury, GSK (GlaxoSmith Kline), and Unilever, which represented a range of different food products. Kylee Goode, providing engineering research support at Birmingham University, worked on the project.
Optimisation of cleaning
"The main aim was to minimise CIP (cleaning-in-place) effluent the waste coming out of cleaning by understanding the cleaning better. What we found from our industry partners was that food firms do their cleaning the way they have always done. They don't actually measure things during cleaning. It's more time based.
"So the idea was to use a range of measurement techniques for a range of products to provide a data-based way to decide when cleaning was complete. The idea was to reduce cleaning times and reduce water and chemical use. Then you would have more time to produce more product."
One of the first outcomes from the work was the Zeal benchmarking tool. Food manufacturers obviously want to optimise their cleaning, says Goode, but they usually don't have any real idea of the cost of their cleaning. "Zeal developed a questionnaire that we could use to find out the cost of cleaning. Cadbury used it. Heineken used it. GSK used it. And supplier Alfa Laval is still working with Heineken to use it to do some CIP optimisation down at its Bulmers site in Hereford. Ecolab has now taken on the benchmarking tool and it is commercially available for any firm to benchmark its CIP. Ecolab is trying to populate it with more and more case studies so that you can find out where you are in terms of CIP efficiency."
Zeal also looked at developing new systems for measuring surface cleanliness and Birmingham researchers are working on a measurement technique that, if you put it in the worst-fouled place in your plant and measure the cleanliness there, you can actually say that the whole system is clean, says Goode.
The results of Zeal are specific to the companies that were involved, she says. "But we have got a couple of PhDs at the moment at Birmingham who are looking to broaden the work, a sort of Zeal 2. One is looking at a range of materials that have similar rheology to toothpaste, such as apple sauce, that you could remove with water. And the other is working on burnt-on food soils in heat exchangers such as glucose, whey protein, caramel and sweetened condensed milk."
Key inspection points
But the biggest cleaning issue for Don Meredith, technical director, food, at Santia Consulting, is the failure by food factories to establish the key inspection points. "You look at a piece of kit and try to establish where the main problems are from a cleaning point of view and how easy it is to get into that machine and clean it properly." It is all about access, he says. How can cleaners get into machines to clean them properly? Can you get under the machine? Can you get the bits stripped down properly? Have you got the ability and the appropriate tools to do that job?
"One of the problems is that in many food factories the equipment isn't brand new. Quite a lot of the equipment is 'well established' it's old. And many cleaning issues are inherited from the equipment that was bought in the past."
The answer, Meredith says, is better training and recognition of where the key inspection points are on the equipment; monitoring the cleaning on those key inspection points to ensure that it's effective; and ensuring that cleaners can properly strip down the equipment. There is nothing worse than having a piece of equipment in front of you that you can't get into to strip down, he says.
At the moment one of the biggest issues for cleaning staff is actually stripping down a piece of equipment properly and safely, says Meredith. His ideal for the future the ultimate would be a piece of equipment that is easily stripped down by the cleaner and which requires minimum input from anybody else.
"I'd like to hope that in five years' time, I can walk up to a piece of equipment and have it stripped down within five minutes, rather than having to get engineers in to strip it down. It's all about better design."