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The cleaning & maintenance crossover

27 October 2014

Cleaning and maintenance programmes within food manufacturing facilities are too often seen as distinct and separate disciplines. Steve Bailey, managing director of contract cleaning specialists Hygiene Group, looks at the crossover that exists between the two and how a well-managed cleaning regime can contribute to effective maintenance – and vice versa.

Performing an effective clean in line with food hygiene legislation requires cleaning operatives to inspect machinery in minute detail, searching for and removing even the smallest particles of food to prevent contamination, bacteria growth and pests. Cleaning operatives are therefore ideally placed to flag up any potential problems before they reach danger point. 


Different approaches to cleaning

The sequential approach to cleaning, which is ideally suited to factories that shut down processes consecutively as the product moves through the system, allows lines to be cleaned in stages from start to end. This system allows cleaners to monitor areas of concern and note deterioration over time – for example a worn conveyor belt might not initially pose a risk to food products, but rapid fraying could lead to contaminated batches. A cleaning operative working on equipment every day could easily prevent such an occurrence by flagging this up with the maintenance team, allowing the belt to be repaired or replaced before it poses a risk. 

Sequential cleaning is not, however, suitable for all facilities. A production plant operating progressive processes will benefit more from a cluster cleaning approach, where each area is cleaned as soon as it falls idle for a short period. Not only is this efficient, as food particles have less chance of solidifying onto equipment, it also gives a smaller window of opportunity for bacteria to breed. The cluster approach also allows cleaning to be planned around scheduled maintenance, reducing the cost impact by combining maintenance with the type of deep cleaning that requires a machine to be stripped down.

A final approach, event cleaning, addresses the concern that unnecessarily frequent cleans can sometimes pose a hindrance to maintenance engineers. In some facilities, not all areas will be in constant use and therefore will not need regular cleaning – so the event cleaning approach is based on detailed risk assessments and the judgement of skilled operatives, cutting down on unnecessary cleaning. This is of particular benefit to lubrication engineers, who may be called to re-grease a particular piece of equipment which has been washed down despite it not having been active since the last top-up. 

While cleaning operatives are on the front line and able to flag up maintenance issues early, effective cleaning is also essential in maintaining the mechanical integrity of machinery. Removing all traces of previous production, particularly food baked hard onto surfaces or dusty particles which can work their way into moving parts, eliminates the risk of food products themselves damaging equipment. Deep cleans, performed when machinery is partly dismantled, can be specifically scheduled to disrupt the life cycles of any pests that may be present – aiming to prevent infestations which can damage equipment and contaminate products. 


In turn, properly maintaining equipment will also help reduce cleaning times. Corrosion of components can cause cracks or splits where particles of food can collect and spawn bacteria, adding considerably to the cleaning time. Damaged valves or gearboxes can cause used lubrication fluid to leak into production processes, which can pose an additional challenge to cleaning operatives as the most appropriate detergent for the production line may not be the best solution for dealing with lubricant spillages, adding extra processes to the scheduled cleaning procedure and leading to increased downtime. 

Working together to identify potential causes for concern, cleaning operatives and maintenance engineers can help contribute to the efficiency and safety of a production facility, preventing unnecessary downtime and maintaining the mechanical integrity of equipment. When looking to establish a new cleaning schedule, the expertise of a specialist cleaning company is invaluable in developing the most suitable programme for the facility and complementing the work of maintenance teams by identifying issues earlier – uncovering cost saving opportunities without compromising on eliminating contaminants and adhering to food safety standards.