The food industry is highly regulated in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Every stage of food production, from the growing of vegetables to how the final product is handled has high standards of cleanliness in order to protect both food handlers and consumers. This means that food safety standards also apply to food filling equipment. Equipment operators expect their packaging machines to be fast, efficient, sanitary, and safe. This article is here to demystify food-grade packaging equipment, covering some types of equipment and the materials they use as well as industry practices.
What Defines Good Sanitation in Packaging Equipment?
Authorities have laid down very strict laws mandating that food be manufactured in a way that promotes safety in terms of sanitation. Often the main goals of packaging safety are to prevent clean foods from becoming contaminated by introducing new, harmful bacteria when the food comes into contact with packaging equipment. In general, food product contact surfaces should be:
- Corrosion resistant
In addition, contact surfaces should be free of cracks, pitting, flaking, blistering, chipping, or any other similar form of damage.
Materials for Food-Grade Packaging Equipment
Stainless steel is the most widely used material for food-grade equipment because it is durable, corrosion resistant, and highly available. Some alloys are better than others, and the ones most commonly used for food applications are 18/8 (18% chromium and 8% nickel) and 18/10. Contact surfaces may have to be routinely coated to maintain a nonreactive surface.
Titanium is sometimes used, although its expense is prohibitive. Instead, it is sometimes included in stainless steel alloys for use with particularly acidic foods. Aluminum is valued in design for its lighter weight; however, special care must be taken with it because it is more prone to corrosion than stainless steel.
Other materials include plastics, rubbers, and ceramics. Paper is sometimes used as a disposable, single-use material, and break resistant, heat-resistant glass is also used in limited applications.
How Food Safety Standards are Applied
Thorough cleaning of all production equipment before and after each run, and frequent inspections to ensure there is no broken tubing along the production line is all important. Good sanitation practice is defined, after all, by a clean, durable production line with as few avoidable flaws as possible.
The bottling of liquids is another area of concern, because bacteria in general tend to thrive in liquid environments. Particularly hazardous are slightly acidic liquids like juices, which harbor even more rapid growth. Even in water, if organic material is able to get inside, mold will start to form. This is why bottling production lines are kept in the best possible condition at all times.
Induction seal caps are a common industry practice for these reasons. These specific types of caps result in a strong seal, ensuring against the introduction of dangerous organisms to beverages and foods, even after they have left the packaging facility. It’s easier to provide a quality, safe product when the proper precautions are taken, and such caps do an excellent job at keeping dirt and bacteria out of a finished bottle.