Beware the export and compliance minefields of process materials selection for food and beverage

Negotiating the minefield of national and international compliance and materials verification standards required for food and beverage manufacturing can be a daunting task for processors, operations staff, their engineering and machinery suppliers and their compliance consultants.

“All components in the manufacturing and processing chain today have to pass increasingly stringent food compatibility, hygiene and performance standards and traceability criteria,” says seals and gasket technology specialist Mr Vinh Lam of CSGtech.

CSGtech’s problem solving capabilities include mixing, processing, production, reticulation and automation

“This is particularly so if companies are trying to break into export markets, either for food products or food processing machinery. Even the smallest rubber or plastic components, for example, can trip you up, because there may be scores of these involved in a process. But if producers unknowingly design a non-compliant product into their process for particular markets, they might have to go right back to the drawing board and reconfigure the entire process at large cost of money and time.

“Material selection isn’t just a matter of reading a compatibility chart or accepting a component manufacturers’ headline “food-compatible” statement at face value. Sometimes such statements are perfectly true in relation to one particular part of a range, but may not be intended to apply to the entire range”.

Even experienced consultants have to learn the difference, to avoid the compliance minefield,” says Mr Lam, who is General Manager of CSGtech, a company which is dedicated to solving complex challenges involving seals and interfacing surfaces in production, process, reticulation, automation and dispensing technology. The company draws on a network of quality, trusted national and international suppliers of materials used for its custom-engineered products and compliance solutions, which are arrived at in partnership with clients seeking time-efficient and cost-efficient outcomes. 

Export market compliance

One recent example of CSGtech’s work involved a manufacturer of a food and beverage hot water process product which was seeking to achieve export market certification of a product subject to restrictions on the use of rubber componentry that had traces of a standard chemical found in food grade rubber manufacturing (sulphur used for curing). Use of this chemical was permitted in some markets, but not in others, where its use would result in products or machinery being failed – sometimes at great expense.

“This very responsible company asked us to partner with them to verify compliant materials, based on our experience of suitable material used for drinking water standards. We suggested cost-efficient alternative rubber materials that use non-sulphur and complying curing processes, so we were able to agree on one that set the product smoothly on the path to production.

“The client found we helped save them up-front time by using our previous experience of relevant standards, such as the UK’s WRAS product approval for valves, boilers and showers, which are required to undergo mechanical and water quality testing to qualify, said Mr Lam, who heads an expanded CSGtech Sales and Technology team, which brings together, under one roof, decades of experience in process engineering, problem solving, product development, proving and production.

Verify materials early

Mr Lam says it is important in producing compliant products and processes not to get the material selection process back to front, by designing in a flawed component, then attempting to rectify it in retrospect.

“We do see the expensive results of back-to-front design and material selection. So instead of a company doing all the detective work later to ensure compliance – or, worst case, having to junk a process or machine area because they designed-in a flawed component – it is far more cost-effective and sensible approach to involve an experienced partner in the product and material verification process at an early stage. This helps ensures correct compliance and verification right from the outset of design, where is where it should happen for cost-efficiency and getting the product to market quickly.”

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