Looking at Coatings for Food and Beverage Plants
The Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all have regulations in place for food and beverage plants, including which coatings are used in facilities.
“Regulations mean everything that enters the facilities must meet certain requirements and/or standards, from the coatings used on the ceilings, walls and floors to the linings in the process tanks,” wrote Dan O’Toole, Director of Sales, Food, Beverage and Specialty Markets at Tnemec Company Inc. in an article in Food Engineering Magazine.
While these agencies do not have an approved list of linings and coatings, they still maintain certain standards for facilities to meet compliance.
One of the FDA’s primary responsibilities is protecting the public heath by ensuring the safety of the nation’s food supply and products. They focus on direct food contact when it comes to coatings and linings, including inside tanks and other vessels.
According to the FDA’s CFR 175.300, which outlines substances for use as components of coatings, resinous and polymeric coatings may be safely used for food contact surfaces in the under the condition that the coating is applied as a continuous film or enamel over a metal substrate, or the coating is intended for repeated food-contact use and is applied to any suitable substrate as a continuous film or enamel that serves as a functional barrier between the food and the substrate.
The coating is characterized by one or more of the following descriptions:
The coatings are formulated from optional substances that may include:
Coating manufacturers must also meet guidelines to ensure compliancy, including passing extraction testing to ensure the coatings remain intact in the conditions in which they’ll be used and providing a signed letter of guarantee on company letterhead stating that all requirements have been met.
The USDA provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition and related issues based on public policy, the best available science and effective management. In terms of the food and beverage market, the agency focuses on indirect contaminants that may come into contact with food, such as such as bacteria and pathogens.
In 1981, the USDA created the Food and Safety Inspection Services, which oversees plant inspections. According O’Toole, inspectors look for FDA Food Code 6-201.11, ensuring “the floors, walls and ceilings… (are) smooth and easily cleanable.”
The USDA also does not require a letter of guarantee or testing, but inspectors make sure materials meet its Sanitation Performance Standards.
Selecting a Coatings System
Surfaces in food and beverage plants can deal with extreme temperatures and exposure to moisture and chemicals. When looking at coatings systems, its important to keep regulations in mind as well as what materials they come into contact with on a day-to-day basis.
Walls, which often are constructed with porous concrete block and mortar, can potentially bread bacteria. Applying a coating system will make them less porous and smooth, providing easier clean-up.
“When selecting a wall coating, specifiers should keep in mind how the plant will change over time. It may be a storage room now but could be a space that requires deeper cleaning in the future,” wrote O’Toole. “Any coating selected should be at the very minimum USDA compliant. Ultimately it should be smooth, seamless and tightly adhere to the substrate.”
Ceiling coatings should also be easy to clean, as these areas can face spraying food products or steam and heat. The ability to adhere to metals, plastics and factory coatings on the underside of decking should also be considered.
Flooring will typically see the most wear of plant surfaces, and inspectors reportedly look at the floors first when entering a plant.
“A robust polyurethane cement with an appropriate factory added antimicrobial can be a great option for flooring as it goes down easy and fast and has great thermal shock resistance,” wrote O’Toole.
Steel equipment and pipes, which often generate heat and condensation, are recommended to be coated with direct to metal insulative coating. This will provide heat retention, mitigate condensation provide worker safe touch protection (ATSM C1055).
According to Carboline Company, technically speaking, all FDA-approved coatings are also USDA-approved coatings. However, the opposite is not accurate, and USDA-approved coatings cannot come into direct contact with food.
In general, it is recommended to contact coatings manufacturers as a resource for the appropriate coatings systems in these settings.