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Portable Industrial Vacuums Improve Sanitation and Plant Safety

January 17, 2016  

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With a plethora of news stories about food recalls, and scores of magazine articles on plant safety and cleanliness, one would think that the topic of plant housekeeping would need no additional chatter. Unfortunately, that is just not the case.

According to an Eastern Research Group study, poor plant and equipment sanitation is among the top four food safety issues in food manufacturing and according to a report by Swiss Re, the number of recalls have doubled since 2002 and that number shows no sign of decreasing.

Some assert the increase is due to tighter regulations and others tout the growing number of food products on the shelves today as well as global expansion. Perhaps it is a combination of factors, but what cannot be disputed is the number of citations issued under 21 CFR 110- Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packing, or Holding Human Food. In 2012, the most recent dataset of Form 483 citations (reported electronically) issued by the FDA, 27 percent of the 23,847 citations fell under 21 CFR 110.

Case study
In food processing facilities, sanitation must become a way of life, and at Kankakee, IL-based J.R. Short Milling, sanitation has become just that, says Vice President of Operations, Nick Ladin, “we have worked very hard to train people to understand that.”

In business since 1910 and extruding everything from small pellets to unique shapes, and brand-based custom shapes for over 30 years, J. R. Short is a global supplier of grain-based intermediate foods that its customers further process by air popping, pressure popping or frying.

Last year the food product extruder purchased two additional VAC-U-MAX portable industrial vacuums for its housekeeping arsenal. The fleet of five portable units are now strategically located throughout the facility for quick access and used for a combination of tasks including rapid spill cleanup, removing fugitive dust from floors, walls and machine surfaces as well as process changeovers. VAC-U-MAX manufactures industrial vacuum cleaners for manufacturing and municipal facilities as well as government installations and environmental sites to improve cleanliness, working conditions and safety.

A few years before Ladin arrived on the scene; J.R. Short decided to move away from manual sweeping and investigated its options to step up its housekeeping routine and decided to try an industrial vacuum that could handle fine powders.

With multiple production lines running constantly, the snack extruder processes hundreds of thousands of pounds of raw materials per week including flour, corn, chia, kale, fiber and proteins. “We do a lot of non-GMO, gluten-free and organic products as well. Our process allows us to incorporate healthy ingredients to meet market demands for healthy snacks,” says Ladin.

J. R. Short uses pneumatic conveyors to transfer raw materials to its extruding machines that mix and cook its extruded pellet products.

Pneumatic conveyors gently and quickly transfer bulk materials from point to point, with nothing in the way to impede efficiency. Because these systems are completely enclosed, there is no risk of product loss or contamination.

“When moving flour around, you can be a 100% sealed system, and you still get a little bit of leakage here and there,” says Ladin. “If you sweep a pile of flour you are definitely not capturing everything you sweep. Sweeping creates airborne dust, moving that dust somewhere else. When you vacuum, you suck it all up.”

Because the extrusion plant is not under one footprint, “portable vacuums were an ideal solution for testing,” he says.

The portable MDL110 is easy to maneuver and can support one operator up to 50’ feet away from the vacuum and also provides excellent suction for overhead cleaning. Equipped with a Teflon-coated leaf type filter, the unit is rated 99.9 percent efficient at 1-micron particle size.

The addition of vacuum cleaners to the housekeeping routine was well received by the sanitation team and Ladin says, “they liked that it was much easier and faster than sweeping.”

Another option would have been to install a central vacuum system at the facility, “but because our facility is spread out it would have been more challenging,” says Ladin. “Since the portable units were such a success with our staff, the decision was made to continue in this direction.”

Stationary central vacuum systems are ideal for environments requiring continuous 24/7 operation and the simultaneous use of up to 20 pickup points. These systems employ powerful stationary industrial vacuum cleaners that have strategically placed piping throughout a facility connecting hoses to a common line.

Break Away Central Vacuum Systems
One of the newer options in industrial vacuum cleaning, Break Away Central Vacuum Systems, lie somewhere between portable industrial vacuums and powerful central vacuum systems. These systems use powerful portable vacuum units in concert with several small tubing networks. For instance if a user is working in a 100 x 200 sq foot area and there are two more areas in another building, individual tubing networks are created and the portable unit moved from one tubing network, rolling to the next network, and so on and so forth, providing the convenience of a multi-inlet central vac, with the energy efficiency and flexibility of a portable vacuum.

Ideal for use in Class II Div 2 areas, Break Away Central Vacuum systems utilize a portable vacuum with a dirty-side volume less than 8 cu ft and therefore, per NFPA standards and OSHA regulations, does not need an explosion vent to use in Class II, Div 1 & 2 areas.

“The VAC-U-MAX units add to keeping our plant very clean,” says Ladin. “Whenever we have small spills or leakage, it is very easy to grab the vacuum, turn it on and clean it up right away so it doesn’t get tracked around at all.”

In addition to using the units for general housekeeping, they are also used in the dry phase of clean up during changeovers. “It is a lot cleaner, easier and faster to manage it that way.”

The new units were purchased to enhance stringent sanitation protocols set up by the company by increasing the availability of units throughout the plant. “We do have units that are dedicated to the non-Gluten portion of our plant but the others move around from place to place as needed,” he says.

With 25 years of experience in the food industry, Ladin has an immense amount of experience dealing with food and plant safety. “I’ve seen where it is standard in some flour milling plants to use an air wand for cleaning surfaces—taking it from one area and transferring it somewhere else. If you vacuum it, you eliminate it. I know that sound like a no brainer, but it is amazing how people don’t always understand that,” he says.

“The units themselves are pretty simple to use,” says Ladin. “Basically, they are plugged in; you turn on the switch and clean up the mess. The challenge lies in getting people to understand the whole concept that if you sweep, it goes somewhere and you aren’t getting it all—if you vacuum it you got it!”

“A good sanitation program can be either an offensive or defensive measure. Used offensively it can result in better quality products, with corresponding economic benefits. If used only defensively, it becomes simply another costly part of the company’s overhead.”