Pet food processing pandemic

Collins and Coronel featured in Pet Food Processing

Jan 29, 2021

CRB’s Dennis Collins, AIA and Pablo Coronel, Ph.D. are featured in Pet Food Processing’s, “From the ground up,” discussing greenfield pet food facility design in the wake of a pandemic. What can food processors learn from the global COVID-response and how can pandemic planning be incorporated into facility design?

Focus on safety in pet food processing

“The current climate has increased considerations of communicable diseases in general, not just COVID-19 but any future virus,” said Dennis Collins, AIA.

“Processors are thinking about how to avoid and/or be better prepared to maintain operations and minimize operational distributions.” - Collins

“Consider such things as one-way traffic flows for personnel in and out of the facility, hands-free devices including door operators, plumbing fixtures, soap and towel dispensers, and increasing spacing in shared spaces like locker rooms and break areas to decrease the density of people,” adds Collins. “Many of these we had already been incorporating into our building designs to increase food safety in general.”

The focus on safety goes beyond food, with the pandemic increasing the emphasis on protecting pet food manufacturers’ workforce.

“Heightened hygiene protocols, increased handwashing, PPE and social distancing requirements are only a few of the design considerations that need to be taken for existing and new processing facilities,” said Pablo Coronel, Ph.D. “This requirement is also pushing to an increase in automated control systems that will help keep the number of personnel down and could assist in keeping the operators healthy.”

Pet food manufacturers are leveraging new technologies in response to the heightened focus on sanitation protocols. Ultraviolet (UV) light has proven a useful tool for disinfection and sanitation.

“Facilities may want to consider the use of UV devices as an emerging technology for disinfecting surfaces,” says Collins.

The UV-C range is capable of eliminating viruses, bacteria, mold and spores. This technology is being used in manufacturing, food processing, large-scale wastewater treatment, laboratories, hospitals and medical facilities.

FSMA built a foundation

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) necessitated changes for food processors. As a response to FSMA, manufacturers made modifications to their plant, process and procedure, better positioning them to maintain operations during the pandemic.

“FSMA increased awareness in some areas for design and operation which could help with communicable diseases.” - Coronel

“Among those, the segregation of process lines, environmental monitoring, automation and control which allows for social distancing and prevents spread of diseases,” explains Coronel.

“Segregation of process lines not only facilitates better food safety during regular processing and cleaning operations, but it naturally reduces the number of operators in any given area as well,” adds Collins. “Controlled plant entrances and elevated hygiene protocols were already being improved in existing plants and in the designs of new facilities. All of these lead to a safer workplace for employees as well as promoting food safety in the manufacturing environment.”

FSMA requires a Preventive Control program for every factory, which includes environmental monitoring preventive controls.

“Environmental monitoring and prevention could help in maintaining the environment in each process line, ensuring each is segregated and clean, and preventing the spread of any disease within the factory,” said Coronel.

Impact on facility design and layout

COVID-19 had an immediate and lasting impact on many aspects of facility layout and design. Many facility designs were already underway when the pandemic hit in 2020 and had to adjust for a “new” normal.

“We have taken a step back to evaluate plant designs currently underway with a focus on communicable diseases in general.” - Collins

“We have modified some plant entrances to incorporate the need for better controlled entrances and carefully verified the planned traffic flows,” explains Collins. “Segregating work groups and work areas where possible will avoid unnecessary cross-contamination.”

Employees and product can also be protected by careful consideration of airflow.

“Look for opportunities to increase airflows and provide increased air filtration in your facility,” says Collins. “We are confirming the use of MERV 14 air filters and increasing airflow where possible.”

“Existing plants have accommodated several of their production lines to allow for segregation and social distancing,” adds Coronel. “Some factories, in which employees can’t social distance, have incorporated air handling units to ensure the rooms have enough changes of air to help prevent the spread of the virus and keep employees comfortable.”

Designing for the future in pet food processing

Modern design elements are advancing pet food processing amid the pandemic and into the future. Careful attention to aspects like plant layout, segregation, airflow and sanitation protocols will go far in protecting people and product.

Whether renovating an existing plant or kicking-off a greenfield facility, CRB can guide pet food manufacturers through the complexities of designing for a “new” normal. We are here to help.