Clean-in-place technology allows for both efficiency and safety.

Equipment cleaning is such a fact of life in meat processing that it is almost a given. However, not all equipment can be taken to a sanitation area to get washed. Add in the labor required, and options such as clean-in-place (CIP) equipment become an attractive option for processors.

Clean-in-place means that pieces do not have to be moved away from the line and taken to a special area to remove soils and pathogens, or do not require major disassembly. It can be cleaned during downtime while saving labor from moving. But its function is not something that can be taken for granted.

According to Donald F. Myers, technical services director at turkey producer Butterball LLC in Mount Olive, N.C., there are four critical aspects that define a CIP system: ease of use, as well as safety for personnel, effective cleaning of the equipment, reduced cost of chemical and labor as opposed to traditional cleaning, and reduced time beginning to end to clean.

John Russell, senior food safety engineer for Downers Grove, Ill.-based Sara Lee Corp., says that CIP is better stated as “circulate in place.” The best CIP systems are closed systems where water and chemicals can be used in higher concentrations and at higher temperatures than can be used by employees directly.

Russell says that one of the biggest advantages of a CIP system is the consistency. With a contained amount of water, rather than a sink or spray, a much higher temperature and more aggressive chemicals can be used. With these capabilities, a company can do a more efficient and effective job of cleaning than by doing it manually. A processor can set all of the variables to ensure that the equipment will be clean and ready for the next product run. However, Russell points out, it’s not a flip-it-on-and-forget-it system. Maintenance is as importantas, if not more so.

“I compare it to an automatic sprinkler system,” he says. “You can set the time, how long it’s going to run. You can even specify an amount of water for your grass. But if you don’t maintain the sprinkler head, you can wind up with a puddle in your yard.”

The need for CIP

Some foodservice equipment is required to be cleaned in place, such as a beverage dispenser, and needs to have the process tested to ensure efficacy. Such verification testing is overseen by the team managed by Joe Phillips, general manager for the foodservice-verification program at NSF International Inc., formerly the National Sanitation Foundation. NSF, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is a not-for-profit independent organization that helps set standards for certification of food, water and consumer products.

“To use a clean-in-place process on foodservice equipment usually requires a closed system, versus food-processing equipment which may not,” Phillips says.

NSF will challenge the product to make sure that manufacturers’ recommended cleaning and sanitizing instructions are adequate for the product being challenged. These recommended cleaning procedures are used since that is what the end user should use. Phillips’ division focuses on the foodservice sector, which has some differences in food-processing equipment. However, there are some things that apply regardless of the sector.

“You always have to maintain the equipment,” Phillips says. “If a gasket or seal starts to deteriorate, you’re not going to see that.” It will take regular inspections to recognize there’s an issue.

Design of the equipment can help in maintenance and sanitation.

Myers says that by designing equipment that is easily disassembled, reassembled, open and accessible from all angles, sanitation is made much easier. Machines should have simple designs, such as no flat surfaces so water runs off easily, and smooth sanitary welds can go a long way. Over the past few years, says Myers, customer and governmental expectations and performance standards have lead to advances in equipment designed to facilitate cleaning.

Russell adds that the American Meat Institute has guidelines available to members on sanitary design principles and checklists. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service also includes CIP equipment in its Food Defense Self-Assessment Checklist for slaughterhouses and processing plants.

Changing tech

The use of CIP systems has become more popular in the past decade. Russell says that it has become more common for equipment to be advertised as CIP.

“What had been a special design, is now standard,” he says.

Just “how” the CIP system’s design has changed is another matter. Russell says that modern systems are much more sophisticated, using flow meters, temperature sensors and quality controls. Many also give the user the ability to log into the system to troubleshoot any problems that may arise.

“In today’s world, you get very elaborate charts or screens that tell you what the system is actually doing,” he says.

Taking for granted

There are some negatives to using a clean-in-place system that must be weighed by any processor looking to adopt this system. At the top of the list is cost.

Russell says that there are times where the cost of designing and building a piece of CIP equipment is high enough that it makes more economical sense to simply clean the old-fashioned way, by hand.

A bigger danger is taking it for granted. Myers of Butterball says that if used improperly, CIP systems can lead to a false sense of security and wasteful chemical, time and energy usage.

“Sometimes we get lax or comfortable,” agrees Russell. “If you don’t mind the parameters, you can be lulled in to a false sense of security. You don’t notice that the system isn’t working.”

By not paying attention to the maintenance schedule and taking care of the machine, problems can occur that will take months to show up, long after the product has gone to market.

Myers also points out that not every system can utilize CIP equipment. Equipment can be too large, too exposed or too spread out. Others processes may be too complex to allow the machines to handle the cleaning and must be done manually.

“To overcome these challenges, we challenge equipment manufacturers to offer CIP options with new designs, where applicable, and we set up verification and redundant monitoring systems to ensure peak performance,” says Myers.

Russell says that Sara Lee also works with its suppliers to design equipment to help it work as CIP, taking into account water flow and chemical usage during cleanup. It also works with suppliers on how to best use the CIP pieces it already has.

Processors should use their resources when considering clean-in-place applications or using the systems already in place, Russell says.

When using CIP, says Russell, it’s necessary to identify a few key factors. First and most important, the kind of soil you’re targeting while cleaning. Different processes will have different needs and create different residues. Myers of Butterball says, for example, processing fatty material would require the use of an alkaline cleanser.

Another aspect Russell says very rarely gets consideration is the type of water that will be used. Some areas of the country will have harder water, or water with more dissolved minerals such as calcium or bicarbonates. Hard water doesn’t affect the safety of the product, but it can affect how effective a cleanser can be.

The type of organism that a processor targets is also an important factor. Russell says that processors must be sure that the sanitizers used will focus on the organisms that are the most concern. For example, an injection system user may want to focus on Listeria, while grinders might be more concerned about E. coli or Salmonella.

How those same sanitizers will affect the CIP system is something that can’t be overlooked. For many years, chlorine was used as the sanitizer of choice by many companies. However, Russell says, the chemical is corrosive with many materials. In many modern machines, the most common sanitizer is quaternary ammonia. Any chemicals used in a CIP system must be compatible with the equipment itself to avoid corrosion or other damage.

Enjoying the perks

But even with caveats, CIP systems do have many benefits. The leading one is the safety of those in the plant.

“When equipment is exposed, you expose the personnel to uncontained chemical concentrations,” Russell says. “So you have to be very careful and let the personnel know when it is going to come on.”

There are a lot of applications where disassembling and reassembling equipment is not convenient or even safe for employees to do.

Russell says using clean-in-place technology has allowed Sara Lee to address more of the personnel safety issues in cleaning, adding that any equipment that uses piping can be thought of as CIP. The pipes allow an employee to keep the water and cleansers contained and use the technology to the fullest advantage.

In fact, CIP has been a part of plant hygiene for many years. The focus on specifically designed equipment is the newest aspect of it. And even then, companies such as Butterball have been using the technology since at least the 1990s.

Russell says that an old quote sums it up best: “If you don’t have CIP, you just have a pot and a pump.”

Anything that allows water and cleansers to be run through the machine without major disassembly can be considered clean-in-place. Russell adds that for many years, people in the industry didn’t consider many simple systems as CIP.

“The biggest difference now is that newer systems have features that allow for diagnostics and data collection,” he says.

Seeing savings

Myers says that technology has made the biggest difference in labor savings in cleaning the equipment, freeing up employees to do other more productive work. One of those duties may be ensuring food safety.

“When using CIP, food safety is ensured by a system of verification checks,” he says. “This is done through inspection and microbiological sampling.” Myers says that technology is part of a multihurdle process for food safety. The basic idea is to start clean, and maintain that cleanliness throughout the processing day.

Phillips of NSF says to ensure food safety all parties have responsibilities: the manufacturer to design and build a product that can be cleaned and sanitized; the operator to clean, sanitize and maintain the product; and the authority having jurisdiction to ensure that the operator is doing what should be done with the product.

“All of our facilities have a master list of CIP, whether it’s high-tech or low-tech,” says Russell. “We identify the system, what is cleaned, the parameters that are documented and should be maintained. And we verify that it did what it’s supposed to do.”

Training often needs to change when introducing or expanding CIP equipment. For some companies, CIP is considered part of sanitation. Butterball, for example, includes training on clean-in-place for its sanitation personnel in intensive programs.

For Sara Lee, it has meant using the resources of its chemical supplier. Russell says that all sanitation management for the corporation goes to the supplier training facility, even if they manage the sanitation at plants that don’t use that supplier.