When equipment within the food industry breaks down or develops faults, the consequences can be horrendous and may be even fatal, which is why the role of a maintenance engineer is vital. Food safety is crucial, and with the ever increasing amount of processed and/or pre-packaged food being created, It is the responsibility of the maintenance engineer to ensure that production is 100% safe and efficient.
Within any food production process there are countless ways in which food can become contaminated or the health of employees is potentially put at risk. The most well known examples of this are outbreaks of legionnaires disease. 100 people were affected by an outbreak of Legionnaires disease in Edinburgh in 2012. 4 people died as a result of that outbreak. Two years later, there was an outbreak in Grimsby. People catch the disease by breathing in droplets of contaminated water. The bacteria can be found in poorly maintained air conditioning systems, water services and cooling towers – all of which are commonly used within the food production sector. To take another example there was a Type E botulism outbreak in the early 1980’s which affected many people. This outbreak was due to badly maintained can reformers.
The Food Standards Agency states that there are more than 500,000 cases of Food Poisoning each year, with salmonella being one of the biggest problems. There are also allergy alerts following cross contamination on the production line. Recent alerts in June 2016 including Marks & Spencer having to recall tuna fishcakes due to the undeclared presence of egg creating a problem for anyone with allergy or intolerance of egg, and the recall of Waitrose Duchy Organic Spiced Carrot and Parsnip Soup due to the fact that a small number of packs had been filled incorrectly. Such recalls can be expensive.
Low standards of equipment management can result in foreign materials entering the food chain. Over the years, there have been instances of materials from the processing and handling of food being added to the final product. These include materials such as bone, glass, metal, wood, nuts, bolts, cloth, grease, paint chips and rust! The use of metal detection systems within the production process has decreased this risk – but if the machines are not maintained then problems can quickly occur. The damage to a company’s reputation is incalculable. It can take a long time for consumer and business confidence to recover.
Machine breakdowns can be costly. Other companies and retailers are waiting for the products and if the goods are not available for any length of time, they will simply go elsewhere. The result is loss of sales, which potentially damages a company’s viability. Consequently, food manufacturers have to make sure that all equipment runs smoothly, creating a consistent product with no expensive down time. Efficient production is crucial and this can only be ensured through the work of a highly skilled production engineer.
It is not only maintenance that is required. Many food production lines are over 20 years old and manufacturers have to keep up with changes in technology and production methods. New food lines are constantly being devised and it becomes essential to change, modify and alter production equipment in order to cope with those varying product lines. Not surprisingly, investment in capital equipment is higher in the food production sector than in any other industry.
Consequently, maintenance engineers within the food production sector play a crucial role. Just like taking your car to the garage for a service, the maintenance and servicing of the food production machinery provides peace of mind for consumers and food processors. Unless a maintenance engineer is on site, then food production could be severely affected. They have to protect and extend the lifespan of equipment, amend it and be prepared to deal with any issues that relate to it – they are responsible not just for the equipment but for the safety and health of other employees and consumers.
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