The ultimate guide to packaging equipment for handling infant nutrition and other delicate powders
by Patrick Lagarde, Bosch Packaging Technology
Infant baby powder is among the highest risk consumable powders sold worldwide. It’s also a foodstuff that has been - and remains - under the spotlight of both consumers and authorities alike ever since the tainted milk powder outbreak in China during 2008. Every step of the production chain is scrutinized to the highest degree. With strict production regulations to meet, supplier audits to comply with, right through to the way it’s packaged – every part of the process needs to play its part to ensure consumer safety and satisfaction remains of paramount importance.
While a number of regional regulatory agencies, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC), have established standards for packaging equipment design to diminish food contamination risks, there is no global comprehensive legislation or regulatory standard for equipment design.
How can I make sure my packaging system is hygienic enough to handle infant powders?
It’s a big question, right? Throughout my career in the engineering of hygienic packaging machines I’ve worked with infant powder producers across the globe and picked up some important tips and tricks that I would like to share with you.
What should I look out for?
Open and easy-to-access
Easy cleaning must be a standard feature of the packaging equipment you are using. Easier access to machine parts simplifies cleaning process and reduces maintenance times.
Tool-less parts removal
Ideally you want to be able to remove parts with ease, clean the component and replace the part. The result is maximized uptime.
As food manufacturers you require a varying level of hygiene - depending on what process and regional regulations you are trying to meet. Ideal cleaning method for powder applications globally is dry wipedown. Parts in contact with the product might be further cleaned with alcohol applied on a cloth.
Stainless steel is the most hygienic construction material available for packaging machines suppliers worldwide. You need to ensure that every single machine surface that comes into contact with your product is made of stainless steel – it greatly reduces risk of contamination.
What should I avoid?
Crevices, nooks and crannies
These spots are open invitations for bacteria to get trapped in, increasing risk of contamination. The ideal design should be free of parts that create recesses, gaps and areas that are hard to clean or collect product. An open main-frame design makes it easier see potential risk areas and prevent food residues from collecting before they become an issue.
Long cables and complex machine parts
The optimal packaging equipment should have little machine components (mechanical and utility), this will greatly reduce the risk of food becoming trapped. This also includes reducing the number and length of electrical cables, and pneumatic and vacuum lines down to a minimum, which will establish a cleaner routing plan.
Equipment should be designed to leverage the benefits of gravity. Large flat-to-flat contact surfaces should be avoided, along with horizontal surfaces. Sloping surfaces help food residues to flow down and drain off of the machine effectively. Avoiding flat surfaces prevents food from remaining on the equipment and causing cross contamination.
Clean surfaces are a prerequisite for processing foods; all surfaces should be smooth and defect-free.
Finally… When looking to improve hygienic packaging, should I opt to retrofit my existing equipment, or should I purchase something new?
Each situation is unique, but generally speaking, as food producers or manufactures you will find it more practical to choose equipment that is specifically designed — from concept to completion — with hygiene as top priority. In the long run, you’ll be better off and far more secure, compared to retrofitting existing equipment.
In light of regulatory pressures - and combined with increasing consumer demands for food safety - manufacturers need to look more closely at equipment design. A hygienically designed infant powder packaging system (Click here to see such a system designed by Bosch) is one of the best ways to defend against costly threats to your business. One product recall or a negative social media campaign - driven by angry consumers - can pose a serious threat to a company’s bottom line, and to its longevity. Be safe, secure and smart.