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One of the best weapons in the arsenal against foodborne illness is equipment designed with hygiene in mind. Many food safety programmes increasingly require food handling and processing equipment to be “hygienic,” but rarely offer practical guidelines for carrying out this requirement.

To help clear up the concept of hygienic design, GFSI launched a Technical Working Group devoted to the hygienic design of food facilities and equipment in 2018. The group, composed of subject experts from across the food industry, have spent the past year developing guidelines for the construction and selection of hygienic equipment. Their work will eventually be incorporated into the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements.

Today on the GFSI Experts Series, GFSI’s Marie-Claude Quentin speaks with two members of the Technical Working Group, who offer an update on the group’s latest developments. Watch their conversation on GFSI Youtube, or read the transcript below.

Marie-Claude: Could you please introduce yourself, John?

John Holah: Hi. My name’s John Holah. I’m the Technical Director of Holchem Laboratories in the UK, and I’m also a visiting professor at Cardiff Metropolitan University in Food Safety.

Marie-Claude: Could you please introduce yourself, Joe?

Joe Stout: My name is Joe Stout. I am the President of Commercial Food Sanitation. I have a long history in the food industry with hygienic design. I was responsible for hygienic design product protection at Kraft Foods, and I did that for about 10 years. And it’s something that’s really important to the industry, and really important to me personally, after investing all these years in hygienic design.

Marie-Claude: John, you are the Chair of the GFSI Technical Working Group on Hygienic Design. Why is the topic of hygienic design so important for the industry?

John: Hygienic design as a subject has been around for many years. It started between 1910 and 1920 and was primarily used to maintain food quality. Factories were designed, and equipment was designed, such that the quality of the food that was produced was the same. Then [hygienic design] became more important in the 1980s because of its recognition in food safety, and indeed many of the major food safety incidents we’ve had with microbiological pathogens have been caused by poor design of hygienic equipment. And lastly, it’s important because of efficiency.

If we use hygienic design for equipment and facilities, they’re easy to clean, they’re easy to maintain, and we maximize our production efficiency. It has been well established in some major food companies, like Unilever and Nestlé, but otherwise it’s had little attention. The basics of hygienic design have been established in terms of the science. In Europe, we have the European Hygienic Engineering Design Group, and in America, the 3-A Organisation have set standards for a number of years.

The problem we have is whether, to develop hygienic design, we have to push it from the equipment manufacturers and the facility manufacturers, or whether the pull has got to be from the industry. Hygienic design is required, but how do we get there? GFSI is now in an excellent position to create a pull from the food manufacturers to try and ensure that the equipment that they use and the facilities that they manufacture food in are of the best hygienic design. So it’s perfectly timely now to consider this for GFSI.

Marie-Claude: Joe, you are Vice-Chair of the group. Why do you think hygienic design is so important to industry?

Joe: Oh my goodness, let me count the ways. I spent a lot of time on the plant floor, observing sanitation; how difficult it is to clean and disassemble equipment. With a better hygienic design, we will be more effective in our cleaning process, and it will be much more efficient. So it really is important to food safety. It’s the fundamental thing, in my opinion. And it’s great that GFSI is taking this initiative to be more broadly-focused, to include hygienic design at this point.

Marie-Claude: What are the projected outcomes of the Technical Working Group on Hygienic Design?

John: The working group is looking at two things. It’s looking at trying to put guidance together for the equipment manufacturer and the facility constructor to create something hygienic, and it’s also trying to provide guidance to the end user — the food manufacturer, the retailer, all across the food chain — on the selection of something that’s hygienic. So we’re helping to develop benchmark standards for both sides of the industry; the manufacturers and constructors of equipment, but also, on the other hand, the end users across the whole of the food chain.

That will be in the form of benchmark requirements, which will go on the GFSI benchmark standards, but also as a general guidance [document] to try and introduce people to the concept of hygienic design: what it means, how make a risk assessment, what hazards you’re trying to control, how you might control those hazards by appropriate design and facilities.

Marie-Claude: What is the Technical Working Group currently doing, and how will their output be used in the industry?

Joe: What we’re trying to do is take the benchmarks and better understand and apply benchmarking to hygienic design standards for equipment. There are benchmarks from A to N. This one is Scope K. What that means is that we will be able to talk about standards and common expectations across the industry, from the farm all the way to the fork.

Now the challenge with that is that it takes a huge scope to include equipment design, which typically is out of the scope of what a food processor considers their responsibility. We’re going to take this from the manufacturer of the equipment to not only the processor, but also to the farm. So we’re trying to pull all of that information together, and have it understood globally within the Global Food Safety Initiative.

How it’s going to work; I’m not sure yet. But it’s a huge task, and I think it’s one thing that can drive improvement. The reason I think it’s going to drive improvement is because the customer demands certain things, and if something is demanded by a customer, then the processor will do it. That’s the power in this process.

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To learn more about GFSI’s Technical Working Groups and how industry can apply their outputs, watch our previous episode with the Technical Working Group on Chemicals in Food Hygiene. Follow #GFSIexperts on TwitterFacebook or LinkedIn and subscribe to GFSI News to make sure you do not miss an episode!

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