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Article:  Cooking to Clean

(from Meat Processing Magazine, June 2004, page 80)

Land O'Frost steam-cleans equipment to improve plant sanitation and product safety.

By Steve Bjerklie.

Question: What does a cup of cappuccino have in common with production equipment in the packing plant? Answer: The same dry steam vapor that makes the frothy milk topping for the popular coffee drink is also an excellent vehicle for cleaning dirt and bacteria from difficult-to-access areas of processing machinery.

The cleaning connection was made several years ago when an inventive Italian bartender got the idea to use the steam-producing mechanism on his espresso maker as a quick and easy way to remove lipstick stains from dirty wine glasses. Ultimately, the concept was refined and translated into a line of specialized portable equipment that uses chemical-free, superheated dry steam to rapidly dissolve grease, bacteria, molds, and other microscopic particles in a wide range of industrial and household applications. Now, an American company, AmeriVap Systems of Atlanta, Ga., is marketing these machines to food processors as a tool for essential deep cleaning and sanitizing.

The dry steam system proved to be a boon for meat processor Land O'Frost when it launched a recent initiative to solve a microbial problem.  "We needed to get at the hard-to-clean machine points which over time collect meat debris. Some areas of our processing equipment are difficult to disassemble and clean," says John Hilker, plant manager at Land O'Frost's Searcy, Ark., facility, which produces sliced beef, pork, chicken, and turkey for prepackaged lunch­meat.  Stripping off top panels, side covers, guards, chains, and die mechanisms wasn't suf­ficient to reach the innermost seams and frame joints that can trap meat particles. Dismantling can proceed only up to a certain point before it incurs excessive downtime. For example, on a slicing machine, the head that allows a blade to rotate and spin to perform the slicing action takes about 10 hours to rebuild valuable production time that the company can ill afford to lose, notes Hilker.

So he and his colleagues came up with a creative variation on the steam-cleaning theme: using the AmeriVap unit as a localized heat source to kill bacteria. Applying the supercharged vapor released by the AmeriVap wand to a machine's internal components, like seams or points on the slicer head, plant sanitation personnel can heat up hard­to-reach surfaces to temperatures that are lethal to micro­bial organisms.

"We've determined that we can literally cook the equipment clean," Hilker remarks. "The target temperature is 160°F at the metal at a hold time of one minute. We take the temperature with a surface probe, and once we've hit it we move the nozzle further along the seam until the en­tire area has been sanitized."

Roughly three feet tall by two feet wide by three feet long and mounted on wheels, the AmeriVap easily rolls from machine to machine on the production floor. Its compact size allows it to fit handily even in parts of the plant where equipment is packed close together to capitalize on space.

The unit's mobility makes it very convenient for an­other challenging sanitation practice, cleaning out the long, narrow tubes and side rails on packaging equipment. Although the ends of a machine's tubular or rectangular frames are typically capped with plastic or metal covers, the hollow innards are particularly susceptible to debris accumulations. "Anywhere you have a seam, meat and water will enter," states Hilker. While most new packaging equipment is now designed with permanently sealed ends and welds instead of seams, Land O'Frost still has older versions that require interior cleaning.

"We pop the caps off and insert the AmeriVap nozzle as far down as it can reach to scrub the inside of the tube," says Hilker. "Then we do the same at the opposite end to clean the entire 20-to-30-foot stretch."

Land O'Frost looked at several other cleaning machines before determining that the AmeriVap system was the per­fect match for its needs. While the other products were effective at cleaning grease and grime, "I can do that with a scrub pad and a person," says Hilker. "Our sole focus was finding a method to heat up metal that can't be moved or accessed manually. The AmeriVap system allows us to do that," he concludes. MP

 
 
 
 
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