Food safety drives high performance plastics demand

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Safeguarding safety and hygiene is a priority for the food, beverage and agribusiness industries

Safeguarding safety and hygiene is a priority for the food, beverage and agribusiness industries

Higher safety demands faced by food, beverage and agribusiness processors and packagers are driving demand for advanced engineering plastics to withstand the demands of the latest cleaning and hygiene systems.

Clean in Place (CIP) systems, enzyme systems and aseptic packaging are important areas where such plastics can offer high performance in terms of resistance to temperatures, radiation, chemicals and water.

Efficient food packaging equipment no longer has to be disassembled for cleaning, being fitted instead with a built-in “flush” (or CIP Clean in Place) system, says Pat Flood, NSW manager of the national and international engineered plastics specialist Cut To Size Plastics.

Acid-based cleaning solutions are automatically routed through CIP machines’ plumbing so the tear-down and set-up cycles that previously took many hours can be reduced to a matter of minutes.

Better hygiene and equipment utilisation outcomes are also produced by advanced agribusiness systems where enzymes are used for cleaning tanks and equipment such as ultrafiltration membranes or heat exchangers in the dairy industry.

Both CIP and enzyme systems make demands on the materials with which they come in contact. CIP systems are generally acid-based or, more commonly, chlorine-based. Depending upon the concentration, these cleaners can be moderately to extremely caustic. Plastics such as our Wearlyte PET (polyethylene terephthalate) are highly resistant to acid and chlorine. At the same time, its non-porous surface resists staining, clearly outperforming widely used alternatives,” says Mr Flood.

Wearlyte PET’s dimensional stability, excellent wear resistance, high strength and its ability to be used continuously at higher temperatures also make it an ideal candidate for replacing stainless steel components. For example, coupled with its stiffness and ease of fabrication, Wearlyte is commonly used in food presses. Here too, the material resists the highly-chlorinated sanitising solutions.

For packaging food in plastic containers under sterile, or aseptic, conditions, a variety of engineering plastics can be selected to operate in the higher operating temperatures required to kill bacteria. Under these conditions, traditional materials like polyethylene may not provide adequate physical strength, says Mr Flood. Cut to Size products such as Peek (Polyether ether ketone) High Temperature, on the other hand, retains its high mechanical and impact strength, stiffness and dimensional stability at elevated temperatures. It is one of the few plastics compatible with ultra-high vacuum applications.

In addition, Peek thermoplastics offer an excellent wear resistance over a wide range of working conditions. As a result, for example, distribution valves made of such materials are increasingly replacing stainless steel parts, which cause valve housings to wear easily and result in high maintenance costs.

Materials such as Wearlyte PET are also preferred over stainless steel in order to minimise wear of the expensive mating part in vacuum shoes on high-speed, high-volume food packaging lines.

Cut to Size’s general-purpose Wearace grade, meanwhile, is especially suited to create durable wear components because of its excellent versatility, dimensional stability and good wear properties. Easier to machine than stainless steel, Wearace is a superior material because of its limited expansion and low moisture absorption during process and cleaning applications.

Cut To Size Plastics manufactures components for applications across Australasia and the Asia-Pacific from its Head Office in Sydney, where facilities include CNC machining facilities coupled with GibbsCAM and Solid Works software.

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