Just as the food products we eat must be manufactured in hygienic conditions, so should the animal feed for fish, chicken and other animals raised for the meat processing segment. Satyajit Bera, Plant Head, Godrej Agrovet Ltd explains the cleaning and hygiene practices followed in such a facility, and the challenges they continue to face.
In the feed processing industry, housekeeping and hygiene are the topmost priorities. Floors need to be cleaned and swept on a regular basis, and food-grade disinfectants need to be sprayed on an alternate-day, weekly or fortnightly basis, depending upon the effective period of the disinfectant. Disinfectant is sprayed on the floors as well as the walkways alongside the material handling equipment.
Most of the feed processing machinery and equipment is lined by SS 304 grade metal which prevents rusting, and adhesion of foreign materials. However, there may still be occasional instances where a bit of the product is found sticking to the machine surface. Different disinfecting chemicals are used according to the different targeted surfaces; they essentially need to be of food-grade to ensure food safety norms.
Cleaning at heights
In the past, I’ve worked in meat processing units where the cold storage rooms have a height of around 8 feet, making them easily accessible from the ground for cleaning. On the other hand, roof cleaning in animal feed units is very challenging.
Most units have sheds with corrugated sheets, which are prone to cobweb formation. The height of the roof can reach up to 40 feet; reaching that height for cleaning from the inside is very difficult. Even if access ladders are available and mobile, material stored at the ground level makes manoeuvring and storing them difficult.
We have tried using lightweight broom extenders, but didn’t find them very effective. A hydraulically operated ladder is a feasible solution; having it on-site for maintenance may not be economically feasible. Besides, these need to be staffed with a properly trained person with fall-safe harness and is certified to work at heights.
I have not found any systematic solution for this problem in India.
Weevils are a major problem in the agro-commodity industry. They cause a loss in both volume and nutritional value of grain. With grain silos that have capacity to store thousands of tons each, liquid spraying is not an option. Fumigation is the solution.
The fumigant is introduced at specific points in the silo, after which the latter is kept locked for days. After the seal is opened, an aeration fan is run to drive out remaining fumes. This can be a challenging, costly procedure.
During the production process, grain size gradually reduces until it becomes a fine powder, and moisture is progressively lost. Raw material is procured at a particular price according to the weight/volume; loss of moisture reduces both. Our target is to keep moisture content intact.
Steam treatment fulfils three purposes: it restores moisture content, partially cooks the feed while gelatinising it and also acts as a sterilising agent.
The finished product is in the form of pellets which need to be cooled down to ambient temperature. For this, we use a cooler – a reverse fan of sorts – which draws hot air from inside the production equipment and blows it outside. In a humid climate, the moisture content of the pellets is least affected, but in drier conditions, the pellets lose moisture considerably; this too is a challenge.
In other cold zones of the process, steam is not used, and there is no natural disinfection by virtue of steam treatment. In these parts, equipment needs to be opened up, cleaned and sprayed with disinfecting chemicals to prevent mould formation and microbial growth.
The size of animal feed manufacturing units, and the amount of dust generated in them, is massive. Conventional cleaning machines such as a vacuum cleaner may not be able to cope with this much burden.
Thus, most of the material conveying equipment is fitted with aspiration units. These are equipped with powerful ID fans, bag filters and air-jet purging systems which helps in recycling the generated dust within the process itself.
However, maintaining production and warehouse floor hygiene is of utmost importance. The floors need to be kept spick and span throughout each production shift; systematic housekeeping SOP, schedule and charters need to be maintained on the production floor along with vigorous supervision to ensure correct housekeeping practices and their effectiveness.