Industry Working Hard to Clean Up Its Act; Neil Brown of Leading Contract Cleaner Hygiene Group Asks - Just How Sustainable Can Cleaning in the Food Industry Be?

The Birmingham Post (England), January 28, 2010 | Go to article overview

Industry Working Hard to Clean Up Its Act; Neil Brown of Leading Contract Cleaner Hygiene Group Asks - Just How Sustainable Can Cleaning in the Food Industry Be?


Totally sustainable, environmentally friendly cleaning in the food production industry is currently not achievable - as no matter how 'green' the substances used, the material removed remains a potential pollutant.

While dust from packaging, for example, is simple to remove using a brush or vacuum cleaner, the nature of soiling within food handling and production is almost invariably more complex - with various fats, proteins, firming agents, sugars and metals all needing different reactants to be broken down and removed.

Cleaning anything more than a small smear therefore usually requires a chemical - as there are still very few truly 'green' cleaning products.

Proteins in food will oxidise and denature, forming an 'open matrix' which is highly adherent to surfaces, while fats are not only very difficult to shift, but effectively 'conceal' other food ingredients from the detergent, reducing its effectiveness.

The established way to remove inorganic scales is with an acidic product, while fats usually require an alkaline cleaning agent; in addition to wetting and suspending fat particles, this can produce a soap that can be rinsed and removed more easily.

For other types of matter, a surfactant is generally needed to reduce surface tension; this allows it to be wetted then suspended and dispersed by the detergent.

As an example, a facility handling raw meat generally needs to use a strongly alkaline chemical containing chlorine and a surfactant to break up protein, saponify and suspend fats, and dissolve salts and sugars present in the meat.

Neil Chemical use, therefore, is hard to avoid in any environment handling chemically complex products - and it simply isn't realistic to reduce chemical use by using hotter water or more physical energy - i.e. manpower - due to the additional cleaning time, facility downtime and therefore cost involved. Whatever the cleaning medium, everything removed will enter the environment, whether washed down a sink or placed into a bin. These are organic pollutants, with significant chemical and biological oxygen demands.

Reusable microfibre cloths are often suggested as a solution, but these must be washed before reuse, with debris entering the wastewater system, while a totally biodegradable microfibre cloth, with a process which allows recovery of all materials held within, has yet to be invented.

Cleaning with eco-chemicals is achievable on a small scale - but will require the use of locally produced crops to generate the components of cleaning materials, which must be produced without using chemical energy while being fully biodegradable. …

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