Many factors must work in concert to produce food that’s safe to eat. For example, the ingredients must be free of contamination and the equipment used to process those ingredients must be designed, cleaned, and sanitized to maintain a contamination-free state.
That’s why the food industry has embraced sanitary design, to ensure processing equipment meets those standards. But, even as manufacturers emphasize the sanitary design of processing machines, there’s a category of equipment that’s frequently overlooked: the fittings, hoses, and other parts that connect the machines or parts of machines.
To learn more about compliance and coupling equipment, we spoke with brother and sister team Ludim Vielman and Vivian Aguilar of LGV Coupling, a family-owned business located in Compton, CA. For more than a decade, LGV has been advising the food industry on sanitary coupling solutions for a variety of applications, including brewing and distilling, dairy, and more.
Avoiding food safety risks with 3-A Sanitary Standards
LGV manufactures almost all of their products in the United States. This allows them to control the quality of the products and guarantee that they meet current regulatory standards.
This is not always the case with imported products. “Often, there are risks with cheaper products,” Vielman says. “One of the biggest problems with imports is that the materials aren’t up to standard. For example, we’ve had processors come to us because their fittings or hoses were rusting, which they shouldn’t be doing if they’re made of the right materials and manufactured according to standard.”
Fortunately, there’s a system in place to ensure that the equipment food plants purchase is safe for food applications: 3-A Sanitary Standards.
These standards exist to set design and manufacturing guidelines for equipment that comes into contact with food. In general, all contact surfaces must be easy to take apart for cleaning, maintenance, and inspection to prevent food contamination. Both domestic and foreign companies can receive 3-A certifications and licenses if they meet the requirements.
A crucial part of 3-A certification is traceability — manufacturers must include a code number on all equipment components. “That code tracks back to the company,” Vielman says, “as well as the material’s origin and heat treating specifications. So if there’s a problem at the plant or those parts grow some form of bacteria, we can trace it back.” If a piece begins to rust, for example, it can be linked to the supplier of those materials to diagnose the issue. If there’s a problem with contamination or an employee injury, that code can track down the culprit.
This type of traceability is essential for uncovering the root causes of food safety problems so that they can be prevented in the future. “Everyone wants to find out who’s accountable for what went wrong,” Vielman says. He cites the recent E. coli outbreak in lettuce, which was traced back to sediment in a water reservoir. Thanks to traceability measures, the CDC was able to swiftly pinpoint the cause and avoid additional illnesses.
Unless they’re 3-A certified, imported products don’t have a code number, which means they aren’t traceable. If something goes wrong, food processors are left without answers.
LGV urges processors to purchase only authentic 3-A compliant products, rather than being swayed by the lower prices of inferior products. Before buying anything, Vielman recommends researching the company to make sure they hold a valid 3-A license (some companies in China have been caught using the 3-A symbol fraudulently). “Ask for certifications, material specifications, test reports, and warranty information,” he says. “You want to trust what you’re getting.” You can search the database of current 3-A certificates here.
Selecting the best couplings for the job
Another aspect of guaranteeing food safety is simply making sure you’re using the best couplings for your application. That means choosing the right materials for your products and processes.
Vielman says that this is an area of the industry where knowledge is often lacking, and he spends a lot of time educating customers about how to match materials to applications. For example, stainless steel is widely used for its cleanability and durability. However, not all stainless steel is appropriate for all food applications because the surface finish must meet certain American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) requirements to prevent bacteria build-up.
“Some applications are great for AISI 304, but others would be better for the 316,” Aguilar explains. “There are even some cases where you could go all the way to Duplex 2205. Depending on what’s being run through the application, it eats up the material, so you want longevity without the residue of the material getting into the food product. These are things people don't think about when they're developing their equipment or assembling hoses.”
Temperature and pressure are also important to take into consideration. Under high heat, some materials can peel away and contaminate food products. And if a hose isn’t designed to withstand high pressure, it can leak or explode, risking burns and other injuries.
Doing business in California: Proposition 65
California is the fifth largest economy in the world. It also has some of the strictest food safety regulations. Specifically, any company that sells products in California must comply with Proposition 65, which requires anything (including machine parts) that contains potential carcinogens to be labeled.
Keeping up with Prop 65 isn’t easy, and updates to the list of carcinogenic items can result in processors using non-optimal materials, sometimes without even knowing it. “For example, in the wineries, you have wine passing through hoses, and some processors use questionable types of rubber, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC),” Vielman says. Many PVC products contain Diisononyl phthalate (DINP), a chemical used to soften plastics that was added to the Prop 65 list in 2013.
Using these materials sets companies up for potentially expensive legal problems. New Prop 65 rules came into effect last August, and experts expect a sharp rise in litigation as a result. Partnering with a supplier that knows the rules can help you avoid litigation by keeping your processes compliant.
At the end of the day, it’s the family-owned philosophy that drives LGV’s work. “We're all in this together,” Vielman says. “We understand the struggles of other businesses and their employees, and that's why we address our customers’ concerns beyond business matters. You're buying more than just our product — you're buying the commitment that if there's a problem, we will be there.”
LGV Coupling is exhibiting at PROCESS EXPO for the first time this year. For more information on how to ensure you have the perfect coupling products for your processes, visit Booth #343.