Costly and reputation-damaging recalls of food producers

What are the causes and how to better prevent them

 Teaserpicture Blog Food Producer

Numerous well-known food producers have had to launch major recalls in recent months. Often, this has resulted in plant shutdowns lasting months and billions of euros in damages, not to mention the damage to the company's image.

In one case, the Ferrero plant in Arlom (Belgium) was affected and closed by the Belgian Food Safety Authority (AFSCA) at the beginning of April 2022. It was not until mid-June 2022 that the reopening process could begin.

More than 1,000 employees were busy for weeks cleaning, or even replacing, equipment and piping contaminated by salmonella, with no revenue for the plant.

The 1992 advertising slogan, 'take the bullet', takes on its original meaning again (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Taue_UiEoKE ).

Foreign substances, such as plastic parts in the sausage, can also lead to tons of food not being sold but having to be destroyed because of a poorly fixed cover.

Hygiene is therefore extremely important here in the food industry, but also in the pharmaceutical sector, i.e. in particular the cleaning and sterilization systems of the plants and their components must function perfectly.

Not only the customer must be protected. The safety of employees, e.g. in the area of high-pressure equipment and high temperatures, must also be ensured at all times.

Ultimately, of course, it is not in the last place that economic efficiency should be maintained in the face of extremely rising raw material prices at the moment. The faster a plant can run and the shorter the downtimes for a product change or a cleaning cycle, the more efficiently and economically a plant can be operated.

However, shorter cleaning cycles also have a downside. The stress on the machines increases due to higher pressures and higher temperatures, and the time available for thorough cleaning decreases. A tricky task for which Merkle CAE Solutions can provide you with valuable answers by means of engineering simulations.

So how can complex plants be cleaned? From the processing of the delivered milk to the finished packaged yogurt is a complex matter. You can't do it with the tools you use at home in your own kitchen, especially not under time pressure. This is where the big brother of the high-pressure cleaner from the garage comes into play.

With the so-called CIP process (Cleaning in Place), entire plants are cleaned without significant disassembly on the surfaces in contact with the product. A reproducible process is established through exact definition of cleaning agents, pressures, temperatures and times.

As cycle times become shorter and shorter and temperature jumps from 140°C to 4°C are not uncommon, the material is thermomechanically stressed to its limits.

For all these areas, state-of-the-art numerical methods for simulating fluid mechanics CFD and structural mechanics FEM with Merkle CAE Solutions make a decisive contribution.

Over the past few years, we have identified two main hot topics among our customers, where problems can occur in clusters:

Thermomechanical problems and cleaning problems!

Place a stone in a fire and then pour cold water over it. The result is a shattering stone. You can achieve the same effect if you put the stone in the freezer and pour boiling hot water over the frozen stone.

his is called thermal shock, i.e. due to the strong temperature differences and the different thermomechanical strains between the stone surface and the inside of the stone, such high stresses occur that the stone breaks apart.

The same happens with stainless steel, which is exposed to strong temperature fluctuations. Cracks and fractures occur in the material.

However, strength and durability are classic domains of structural mechanics and FEM. Merkle CAE Solutions offers valuable insights here by means of engineering simulations.

When cleaning pressure vessels, tanks, filling systems or pipelines, the cleaning medium often does not reach all corners. Poorly cleaned areas, e.g. in corners or in crevices, remain a found food for germs.

In the flow area, one also speaks of so-called dead water areas (also with air).

Here, CFD simulation helps further to identify critical zones, to design and position nozzles correctly, and to optimize processes.

Merkle CAE Solutions will be happy to support you in this.

You want to know more details? Let us inspire you or make an individual and non-binding appointment with us directly.

Then the only ball you have to give yourself is chocolate 😊.

Your Stefan Merkle

PS: We can also support you in efficient mixing and stirring processes with insightful simulations. After all, you also want raisins in your piece of cake.