5 Ways to Identify Potential Water Savings in Your Facility

You Could Be Wasting Water, Time, and Money Without Knowing It

Man in full yellow protective gear, including a hood, face mask, and gloves, using a hose to spray water on the underside of a ThermoDrive conveyor belt and its conveyor

Whether it’s a critical sustainability initiative at your facility or an issue that hasn’t risen to priority status, practicing water efficiency offers significant benefits to food manufacturers.

From a cost-savings perspective, water may seem cheap. But considering the energy required to heat it, the chemicals needed for treatment, and disposal costs, water can become an expensive resource to waste in your plant.

Of course, there are many other benefits to saving water. Reducing your facility’s environmental impact; conserving the energy required to extract, treat, and distribute it; and demonstrating corporate social responsibility are a few more reasons to use water efficiently.

To understand what processors can do to reduce water usage, we turned to Kevin Guernsey with Intralox and Roger Scheffler with Commercial Food Sanitation. They’ve visited hundreds of food processing plants to consult with customers about improving operational efficiencies. In this article, we focus on how to reduce water usage during sanitation in wet cleaning environments.

Here are five questions to ask about your facility that can help you uncover opportunities to save water.

#1: Do Your Conveyors Have Good Hygienic Design?

Cleaning a conveyor involves more than just the belt. Conveyors with an open design and integrated belt lifters, for instance, can be cleaned easier and faster, which conserves water.

“With a poorly designed conveyor, the crew is usually removing the belts just to clean the systems,” says Kevin Guernsey, Global R&D Director of Intralox FoodSafe Modular Plastic Products. “I’ve seen sanitation crews fill these massive containers to soak the belts, which use a ton of water. But with conveyors that offer better accessibility, your belts and systems can be cleaned effectively on the line.”

If this process—or something like it—routinely plays out in your facility, consider upgrading to hygienically designed conveyors when possible.

#2: Are the Right Belts Installed on Your Conveyors?

When an expert from Commercial Food Sanitation (CFS), an Intralox company, together with an Intralox Account Manager introduced ThermoDrive belting to a meat processor in Ireland, a light went off for the customer. Its homogeneous thermoplastic material meant it had a better hygienic design, was hingeless, and was easier to clean. Understanding that ThermoDrive technology was a good fit for his application plus would save time and water during sanitation, the processor installed the new belts.

“He reported they were able to cut cleaning time for the entire conveyor by 50%,” explains Roger Scheffler, Food Safety Specialist–Horizontal Services at CFS.

Though other belt materials retain visible fat buildup after hours of production in a beef-processing plant, Intralox PK—the last belt section—shows very little residue.

Guernsey recalls early tests done on a new belt material Intralox was introducing, PK (Polyketone). Where acetal and other modular plastic belting (MPB) materials showed significant product buildup, PK resisted sticky sauces and fats. “Belts and materials with better product release require less water to clean,” he says. “It gives the sanitation crew a head start.”

#3: Is Your Sanitation Team Working Efficiently?

When Scheffler visits a plant to conduct an assessment, one of the many things he looks at is the people. How are they organized? Are they spread out? Are they working in the direction of the food product stream? What tools do they have?

“With the high-pressure, mechanical-action water jets often used, it’s easy to spray and splash other lines, repolluting conveyors that were just cleaned if the crew isn’t well organized,” says Scheffler. The result? Recleaning is needed, which adds unnecessary water usage.

The right belts and materials resist buildup, release more product, and stay cleaner during manufacturing, allowing your sanitation crew to save time and water.

Kevin Guernsey
Kevin Guernsey
Global R&D Director of FoodSafe Modular Plastic Products at Intralox

#4: Are Fixed Spray Bar Systems Properly Monitored, Maintained, and Controlled?

“In the last year or two,” says Guernsey, “I’ve been asked more questions about CIPs than I have over the last decade.” That growing interest is typically associated with the goal of automating more cleaning processes because of labor shortages.

The misuse of fixed spray bar (also called clean-in-place [CIP]) systems, however, is another area where water is often wasted in food manufacturing facilities.

Used properly, these systems help remove product residue by rinsing the belts while they’re running, allowing sanitors to do other cleaning tasks. But our experts have seen crew members turn and leave them on far longer than necessary, wasting considerable amounts of water.

“The best scenario is when these systems are controlled in an automated way,” says Guernsey. “For instance, by putting timers into the system so they don’t have to be so closely monitored.”

Intralox Team Tip: Empower your sanitors to take a systematic approach by recommending they follow The Seven Steps of Sanitation for wet and dry cleaning.

To those using CIP systems in spiral conveyors, Scheffler urges you not to assume they’re working correctly. “From what I’ve seen, the higher the level of automation there is in a spiral, the higher the risk that people solely rely on the CIP systems. When that happens, the likelihood of water being wasted is huge.”

He once watched as a customer in Poland switch on their spiral’s CIP system and move on to something else. Skeptical that it was functioning properly, Scheffler investigated and found several problems. Not only was the CIP system in the wrong location, but there was no foam detergent coming through the nozzles because most of them were blocked. As a result, the spiral’s belts were getting partially wet, but not cleaned.

“This is something we see when customers rely too much on their OEM’s installations,” says Scheffler. “While OEMs know their own machines very well, they aren’t necessarily specialized in cleaning systems.”

#5: Is Your Operation Taking a Systematic Approach to Cleaning?

After following Scheffler’s advice on properly cleaning their triple-deck conveyor, a poultry processor in Turkey reported noticeably reduced cleaning time and water usage. How? By following the seven steps of sanitation.

“We still see many people not following the right sequenced approach during the cleaning process,” says Scheffler. “But those who follow the guidelines—which include steps for proper debris removal, working from the top down, where to inspect, etc.—are giving their plants the best possible chance to reduce cleaning time and save water.”

Female worker wearing glasses, hairnet, and other protective gear using flashlight to inspect underside of ThermoDrive conveyor belt

Resource HubSeven Steps of Sanitation

Download, print, and post these flyers in your plant to help your team better understand our recommendations for dry and wet sanitation.

Modular Plastic Belting (PDF, 2 pages)

ThermoDrive Technology (PDF, 2 pages)

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