Industrial Cleaning Meets New Challenges As Wet Pet Food Demand Increases

Industrial cleaning in food processing plants has always presented a challenge, and the field is about face new changes posted by the latest pet food market forecast. As we step into Q4, Fortune Business Insights brought a market forecast for pet food manufacturers, where it was pointed out that demand for wet pet foods “are expected to grow considerably in the forecast period” due to the “the escalating demand for high-energy pet foods.”

This is mostly due to the increasing awareness of pet food nutrition and balance. As the pet ownership continues to increase, and more people join the pet-parenting model to “foster” animals taken in by rescue organizations, the demand for high quality, high-nutrition food expanded correspondingly.

Wet pet food products help to build the energy and muscles among pets. These foods are especially given to those animals who don’t consume enough water during the day.
— Fortune Business Insights

As the wet food process differs from dry food process, their cleaning methods differ as well. Simply put, plant maintenance and equipment cleaning in a wet food environment is more complicated and faces more challenges compared to that in a dry environment. Generally, dry ice cleaning is one of the latest, newest cleaning methods that have been changing the cleaning process for many pet food manufacturing factories, while testified, verified traditional cleaning method still holding its space in the industrial cleaning world.

The Wet Pet Food Manufacturing Process

General process of wet pet-food manufacturing. Credit: Blast It Clean

General process of wet pet-food manufacturing. Credit: Blast It Clean

To understand the new challenges posted by wet pet food processing, one must first understand the wet pet food manufacturing process. The most common major product formats for wet pet food in the market are CIL (chunk-in-loaf) and CIG/CIJ (chunk-in-gravy/jelly).

The general workflow of both methods begins with raw material storage, material preparation to product sterilization, packaging, storage and distribution, whereas the difference lies in the main section of the process.

As shown in the infographic below: compared to CIJ/CIG methods, CIL method works with fewer liquid materials. After meat preparation, the wet ingredients are mixed and filled into the containers(as shown in the red rectangular box below). In the meantime, CIJ/CIG methods begin with gravy preparation and meat preparation, where meat products were manufactured into chunks and added into the gravy/jelly. The mixture is then filled into containers and sealed.

In comparison, dry pet food was typically manufactured by mixing dry and wet ingredients into a “dough”: the dry materials are ground, sieved and mixed according to requirement, followed by adding in water ingredients, water and steam to form the dough. The dough is then cooked/heated and produced into small pellets or kibbles.

Industrial Cleaning Challenges In Wet Food Manufacturing Process

Working with wet ingredients, especially liquid materials such as the prepared gravy naturally poses new challenges towards plant cleaning and machinery maintenance. It also poses more risks for spilling and slipping hazard.

According to the current GMP requirements for human and animal food production, a plant “must be suitable...to facilitate cleaning, maintenance, and pest control to reduce the potential for contamination of animal food, animal food-contact surfaces, and animal food-packaging materials.”

Frozen meat materials are stored in cold storage, while powder materials are often stored using bulk silos. Meat preparation machinery usually has a rotating claw-bearing against a stator. For gravy production, raw materials are broken up before entering the coarse grinder, or partially thawed before entering dicers. In the meantime, gravy is prepared in a high-speed rotor, mixing powder into a vessel containing water.

During the raw material process, it is common that meat particles, grease or other food residues remain on the process machinery, especially during the thawing process. On the other hand, liquid gravy almost always poses cleaning challenges against all surfaces the gravy interacted with.

After raw material preparation, the process enters either the CIL or the CIJ/CIG preparation procedures. The primary step in both CIL and CIJ/CIG processes is mixing. For meat product mixing, prepared meats are added into a mixer that often utilizes single/twin shafts with different rotor designs, which requires regular cleaning and maintenance to keep the machinery functioning and compliant to regulations, as mixture residues can easily get caught up in the machine during the mixing process. While in the CIJ/CIG process, chunk products are directly filled into container then submerged in gravy or jelly. Both procedures then proceed to closing the container and the product transported to the storage stage.

Before the products are ready to hit the market, one crucial final stage in wet pet food manufacturing is sterilizing. Conventional cans are usually sterilized using the classic steaming process, whereas other types of containers, such as aluminum cans, utilizes technologies from over-pressure air-retorts to raining water systems. 

Industrial Cleaning Methods That Work

As it is globally acknowledged, industrial cleaning is not only a maintenance procedure, but also a crucial risk management method. By outsourcing your plant cleaning needs to a trustworthy contract who is compliant and knowledgeable with the current GMP standards reduces the risk of violating industry regulations, and therefore reduces risks of a food recall, legal disputes and ultimately profit loss.

Traditionally, the food industry utilizes both the dry cleaning and wet cleaning methods. For dry cleaning, manufacturing plants traditionally use vacuum cleaning (with HEPA filtration), scraping, brushing and floor mopping, and dry or low moisture steam. On the other hand, the use of wet cleaning methods (especially methods using water) has been significantly decreased as the presence of moisture, steam or water (such as a result of powerwashing) is always a risk factor in a food processing facility. However, wet/water-cleaning is still applied in the situations where machinery parts are transported to a secure room that eliminates cross-contamination risks.

However, at the end of the day, it all comes down to one thing: compliance.

The biggest challenge manufacturing facilities face when considering industrial cleaning and maintenance is how to stay compliant to FDA and GMP requirements. This includes using non-toxic cleaning chemicals, and sanitizing cleaning tools used in the process to avoid any potential cross-contamination risks.

That is the main reason why dry ice blasting is so popular in the food and beverage industry. Dry ice is the solid form of CO2. Upon impact, the dry ice pellets immediately turn into carbon dioxide gas. This eliminates the possibility for cleaning materials to become a contaminant and the risk of chemical contamination is also eliminated.

Remember: always ask your contractor if they are familiar with the regulations in the food industry. A contractor who is unfamiliar with GMP and other cleaning and sanitary regulations could cost you anywhere from fines and legal issues or even severe contamination incidents which can lead to severe profit loss (such as a recall).