Why epoxy flooring is a great fit for the food industry
When it comes to health and safety in the food and beverage industry, there’s no room for error or complacency.
Unsafe food can have far-reaching ramifications for public health and can also negatively impact the offending organisation’s bottom line in terms of financial penalties, costly downtime and reputational damage. Strict standards are necessary and food processing plants are under constant scrutiny to ensure regulatory compliance from the ground up — starting with the floor.
Why is the choice of floor in a food processing plant so important?
Given the strict regulatory requirements and the robust operating conditions of many food processing plants, the floor has to stand up in terms of both compliance and performance.
In Australia, the food industry is governed by a Food Standards Code known as hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) food safe requirements and these include specific requirements in terms of flooring in food preparation areas.
Uncoated concrete or other flooring materials are suitable for some industrial applications, but for manufacturing environments where consumables are involved such as in commercial kitchens, cool rooms and food production facilities, proper protective floor coatings are required.
The coatings need to meet industry guidelines for good hygiene practice and have to be sufficiently robust to withstand the tough operating conditions in many food processing facilities.
Extreme temperatures, damage from spills, corrosion from acidic by-products and additives, wear and tear from rotating equipment, heavy foot traffic, rigorous cleaning regimes — these are just some examples of the rough treatment that the floor could be subjected to.
On an unsealed concrete floor or on a coated floor which has even the tiniest crack or chip, contaminants can permeate the surface, bacteria can build up and food contamination can occur. Therefore, the coating specified needs to be sufficiently durable as well as impermeable to maintain its hygiene levels regardless of the conditions.
So, the big question is, what type of floor coating is best for the food industry?
Depending on the application, several different floor coating options can be used but epoxy floors are widely considered the gold standard.
Why is epoxy flooring a great fit for the food industry?
Epoxy floors can provide the ultimate in food-safe flooring. They meet HACCP requirements and deliver outstanding levels of durability, hygiene, safety and longevity. Their seamless, impermeable surface provides a protective barrier against all types of contaminants and can be cleaned easily to ensure the highest standards of hygiene and food safety.
Epoxy is a resin compound made up of two or three components, depending on the application. Coatings come in a variety of options including self-levelling compounds, roll on and epoxy screed — all of which provide a seamless and totally impermeable surface. Epoxy also allows seamless coving between walls and floors, which enables even greater protection from the possibility of food contamination from an accumulation of bacteria, mould, dirt and dust.
Another benefit is that epoxies can be blended with aggregates such as marble or silica to create a textured slip- and skid-resistant surface. This can be a particular advantage in wet environments.
100% solid epoxy resin floors are a good choice because they provide strong resistance to thermal and mechanical shock, plus they can withstand frequent rigorous cleaning regimes, such as high-pressure hosing with hot water and aggressive, corrosive cleaning products. These solid floors are also a good option in facilities where highly acidic products are processed (eg, citrus fruits).
These are some examples where epoxy flooring is typically used:
- Bottling and canning operations
- Meat, poultry and seafood processing
- Dry food processing plants
- Cold storage and freezer rooms
- Fresh produce processing facilities
- Distilleries, wineries, cideries and breweries
Other advantages of epoxy flooring for the food industry
Food safety is, of course, a primary consideration when considering flooring options. But there are plenty of other things to think about too, such as the volume and type of traffic, both foot traffic and mechanised transport, the cleaning regime, maintenance and repairs, and downtime required for the installation of the new floor. Aesthetics is another factor to consider.
Epoxy floors tick all the boxes in terms of the above, delivering good performance, durability and longevity while maintaining their good looks despite sustained rough treatment. Their forgiving surface belies their strength and despite seeming more ‘forgiving’ than other flooring types, epoxy coatings deliver unyielding strength even in the face of relentless, heavy traffic.
Typically, a food processing environment requires the floors to be cleaned several times a day and conditions are often damp and hot. Epoxy floors provide protection against vigorous cleaning with corrosive substances as well as remaining impervious to any fluctuations in temperature.
Floors also need to drain effectively in order to prevent water, cleaning fluids, oil or food waste from pooling and becoming a slip hazard or bacterial breeding ground. A professionally installed epoxy floor will ensure optimal drainage, and therefore optimal safety and hygiene.
From an aesthetic perspective, epoxy floors look good plus they can be customised to include line markings or individual colours to demarcate specific areas such as pedestrian, production or restricted areas. Epoxy floors can also be customised to match an organisation’s corporate identity, helping to present a strong, clean and positive brand image.
Alternative flooring choices
Other flooring choices for the food and beverage industry include polyurethane coatings, methyl methacrylates (MMA) coatings and polyurea coatings. Urethanes offer good longevity and resistance to thermal cycling and have a low odour when they’re being installed, but they come at a higher cost. Rapid-curing MMA coatings are also low in odour so the risk of food or beverage products being tainted with an unpleasant smell or taste is minimised. They are often used in freezer rooms and cold-storage areas.
Polyureas are often used as a coating for concrete because they are unaffected by extremes in temperature. Their elasticity enables a flexible, seamless barrier against any contraction, expansion or cracking of the substrate and they’re popular in applications which require a tough, impact-resistant and flexible surface. They also have no odour.
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