The importance of hygienically designed equipment and food factories was emphasized during the recent EHEDG Online Congress 2023.

The first day of the European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group (EHEDG) conference this past week focused on hygienic design and its contribution to food safety and quality. The second day linked hygienic design to productivity and sustainability benefits.

In a panel debate, Matilda Freund, EHEDG treasurer; Georg Kalss from Bühler; Peter Overbosch and Patrick de Wilde of Cargill spoke about preventing food safety and quality incidents.

De Wilde said it was important to capture issues when they occur fully.

“List your lessons learned, have an investigation, and bring that forward with all the different functions in an organization to learn from that so everyone understands what went wrong. In industry, you see fewer experts and more generalists. How long are people in a function? A couple of years, and then they move onto something different. This is important, but a side effect is people don’t always know the details anymore or see the risks.”  

Changing hazards and pressures
Overbosch said hygienic design is about the prevention of ingress, accumulation, and growth.

“If we expect more microorganisms and hotter temperatures, the need for hygienic design will increase. In terms of cleanability, can we efficiently clean with less water, less energy, and fewer chemicals? The whole focus may also change. It is probably more urgent than ever to look at will the nature of the hazards stay the same or will it shift to things coming in our direction?”

Kalss said there was an issue finding new, well-qualified people for technical jobs.

“We see cases where there is room for lessons learned on the side of the equipment producer and of the equipment user. This takes time and resources. It was always important but will grow because we are losing experience.”

Freund said sometimes hygienic design is overlooked, or it had been in the past.

“When we talk about design, we have to consider the product, the packaging, the equipment, the process, and the environment where we produce. We are trying to develop a robust product and package that delivers safety for the consumer for the shelf life, before and after opening. We’re looking for a controllable process that consistently eliminates hazards and a production environment that prevents recontamination. Hygienically designed equipment and facilities can manage potential hazards and ensure effective cleaning and disinfection,” she said. 

“A critical control point (CCP) cannot work if you don’t have all the programs that support it. You cannot have CCPs if you don’t have the proper prerequisites. That’s why it is so important that we focus on hygienic design because it really is the foundation to food safety.

“The economic pressures that will result from global warming are one of the biggest threats to food safety in many years. Our food safety systems are based on people trying to do the right thing. When you get that economic pressure, you are potentially faced with people not trying to do the right thing, and it’s a different way to manage.” 

Productivity and sustainability aspects
Peter Overbosch presented a book he wrote with Yasmine Motarjemi and Huub Lelieveld.

Food Safety Short Stories: A Collection of Real-Life Experiences includes situations experienced or witnessed by food professionals. The stories are all anonymized but focus on an important event, mishap, management practice, or ethical question. The book provides an analysis of incidents or near misses. It was published in late 2022.

The objective is to help better understand food safety management, how to mitigate risks, and improve decision-making around food safety. Stories cover different types of risks, such as microbial, chemical, and physical, associated with each supply chain step. 

On the event’s second day, hygienic design and productivity benefits were highlighted. A panel discussion featured Ana Soares of Kraft Foods, James Hartley at Mondelez International, Patrick Wouters from Cargill, and Olivier Couraud of Commercial Food Sanitation.

Another panel focused on hygienic design and sustainability benefits. Speakers were Adam Ruskin of Ecolab, John Donaghy from Nestlé, Jürgen Hofmann, a consultant, and José Mellenbergh from Tetra Pak.

Experts covered a range of issues from water and energy use, production downtime, cleaning costs in terms of chemicals and resources, equipment design, zoning, and cleaning validation.

The next EHEDG congress is a physical event planned for Nantes, France, in early October 2024.

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