Pick and mix – the cleaning chemical challenge

Being able to deliver and guarantee a safe end product is crucial in the food and beverage production industry.  However, it is not an easy task.

Carrying out effective cleaning and disinfecting starts with understanding the various soiling or residue challenges that need to be addressed. These could be organic or inorganic in nature.

At Christeyns Food Hygiene this is an essential starting point with any customer.  In terms of finding the right cleaning solution, one size does not fit all.  It is very much a case of tailoring solutions to meet each individual case.

Good customer research is essential and a site visit is the best way to achieve this.  Information can be attained on the type of equipment and how it is cleaned, what facilities are available and what happens to the spent detergent.

Also important is the type of materials in-situ, plastic, soft metals or stainless steel. Even the hardness of the water makes a difference to the choice of alkaline detergent.

There are four variables within the cleaning process that can impact on soil removal:

  1. Detergent/Concentration
  2. Time
  3. Temperature
  4. Physical Action

The correct chemicals needed to clean and disinfect depend very much on the type of food or drink industry, i.e. dairy or meat or brewing and the production environment.

Cleaning and disinfecting are also two separate things.  Effective cleaning is the complete removal of soils and residues from surfaces, leaving them visibly clean so that a second stage, that of disinfection, will be effective.

Surfaces may be free from soil but microorganisms remain. Using validated disinfectants on surfaces, and following instructions and contact times, reduces microorganisms to levels acceptable for food production so they are no longer a threat to health.

The modern cleaning regime is therefore rinse away debris, clean using detergents, rinse again and then disinfect the “clean” surface using a specialised, approved disinfectant.

Detergents are used to remove soil, a mixture of food waste and bacteria, from the surface of processing equipment, floors or walls. The action of the detergent solution is to suspend this soil and bacteria mixture away from the surface and allow for it to be rinsed off into the drain.

As there are many types of soil, the cleaning procedure and detergent is different for each one. The most common soils – carbohydrates, like sugar, starch and cellulose, are the easiest to remove.

Proteins, meat, milk and eggs, are probably the most difficult because changes in heat and pH value alter the structure of the protein and bind it to other molecules, increasing their tenacity and often leaving them insoluble.

Fatty soils are not water-soluble and pose a greater challenge than carbohydrates. It’s necessary to use alkaline cleaners in this instance with high temperatures that are above the melting point. Mineral salts, the inorganic food soil, lead to scale formation on equipment. Acidic cleaners are required to efficiently remove these.

For the disinfectant stage, it is important to also look at the toxicity of the disinfectant, leftover residues and the impact of water hardness.  Again temperature is important because some disinfectant may not be as effective in cold environments.

It is really important to know your customer and their business so as to get the chemical mix right.  If the chemical balance is not correct the outcome is a poor clean with a risk of cross-contamination.

Time, money and resources are easily wasted in these circumstances and there is the risk of allergens being left behind with potentially serious consequences.  Alternatively, other residues can lead to issues such as reduced shelf life for the next product on the line.”

Use too much detergent and your product costs increase.  There can also be potential effluent issues as cleaning chemicals have to be neutralised to meet trade effluent consent agreements with the local wastewater authority.

Having got the right process in place it must then be validated to ensure consistent results. This has become a topic of high priority in the food processing industry. A surface is chemically clean if there are no microscopic residues of soil remaining and no residual detergents or disinfectant chemicals to contaminate the food product.

Determination of chemical cleanliness requires tools and not just the human eye.  A range of tests are available, most recently FreshCheck, a surface checking spray. This monitoring is crucial for optimum outcomes and to tweak the chemical mix when necessary.

And finally, as with all industries, there are the environmental and resource usages to consider.  Getting the chemical mix right means less water and power being used in the cleaning process.

Water is a natural resource and an increasingly costly item and has to be paid for, heated, cooled, treated and then paid for again in disposal. Companies also need to be mindful of the quality of the effluent and how using eco-friendly chemicals can help reduce their impact on the environment.

For further information contact

T: 01925 234696  E: UK-foodinfo@christeyns.com