By Scott Potter, Vice President at Able Electropolishing

All it takes is a single outbreak of a foodborne illness for a food producer’s reputation and sales to plummet. Often caused by mishandling or unsanitary equipment, foodborne illnesses can make consumers extremely ill, and in some unfortunate cases, result in death. Proper sanitation standards are of extreme importance in the meat and poultry industry, where illness-causing bacteria such as salmonella can quickly accumulate and spread.

A smooth surface on all metal equipment used in the processing of meat and poultry products makes it harder for pathogens to take hold, so finishing processes are always of great concern. Electropolishing metal parts can be an integral part of a multifaceted approach to improving sanitation and preventing foodborne illnesses.

Contamination During Equipment Manufacturing

Stainless steel is the most common metal used to fabricate the components in food processing equipment, in part because it is naturally passive, or corrosion resistant. When the metal becomes contaminated, however, food safety is at risk. Several factors in the manufacturing of metal equipment can result in surface contamination:

  • Contamination From Tooling. While the part being fabricated is typically stainless steel, the tooling in the equipment used to stamp, form or machine it is made of carbon steel. This metal can contaminate stainless steel parts with free iron, compromising its resistance to corrosion.  In addition, during these manufacturing processes, the part may come in contact with lubricants, grease, and shop dirt.  
  • Secondary Operations. When parts are ground, blasted, tumbled, or mechanically polished, foreign particles from the compounds and media may be introduced, contaminating the surface.
  • Burrs. Burrs are excess bits of metal that protrude out from what was intended to be a smooth metal surface.  The burrs commonly appear on edges when using stamping equipment that has worn dies or tooling that is not properly cleaned. If these burrs aren’t removed prior to using the equipment, there is a risk that small bits of metal will break off into the food being processed.

Electropolishing is one of several processes that can be used to finish parts before they are ready for use.

A Smoother Surface Makes Cleaning Easier

Metal blades, racks, and other pieces of equipment in meat and poultry processing facilities are constantly being reused.  These pieces of equipment need not only to be sanitary for the first use, but also to resist the accumulation of contaminants over time. A smooth, passive, surface allows for easier cleaning and is naturally more resistant to food particle and bacteria accumulation.

Rougher surfaces consist of tiny peaks and valleys, with lower points creating a space where particles can easily accumulate, and are very difficult to effectively clean. As the process of electropolishing targets the highest points first, bringing them down to an even level, it effectively eliminates these hiding spots for dangerous pathogens, making it much easier to avoid an outbreak of foodborne illness.

Staying FDA and USDA Compliant with Electropolishing

Ensuring all metal parts used in meat and poultry processing plants are produced with smooth, easy-to-clean surfaces that resist food adhesion, bacteria and corrosion is not just a best practice – it’s required under USDA and FDA standards. As both agencies establish rules to protect consumer safety, they recommend and in some cases even require electropolishing for metal parts to be used in the processing of meat or poultry products. 

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