Flooring is the general term for a permanent covering of a floor, or for the work of installing such a floor covering. The food industry is one of the most challenging ones when it comes to the field of flooring. Many factors are to be considered in the selection of flooring materials and their finish. Floors in food manufacturing or food preparation premises must be able to be cleaned effectively and thoroughly, must not absorb grease, food substances, or water, harbor pests or bacteria, and should be laid to a safe design so as not to cause the pooling or ponding of the water. Different grades of flooring are needed for the different areas found within the food environment. For example, production areas often need a hard-wearing, chemical-resistant floor finish, which can stand up to heavy machinery and general wear and tear.
Pre-requisite for flooring
The floor finish has several different functions in a factory. The main parameters to be considered in the selection of flooring material is:
- Hygienic and easy to clean surface
As part of its HACCP quality system, a producer must assure himself that a floor will not compromise food safety. The easiest way to do this is to use a flooring system that has appropriate third-party certification for use in food handling facilities. Also, a floor should be dense, impervious, and with bacterial cleanability comparable to stainless steel
- Safe working environment
The floor must provide a safe working environment for operatives so it must have an appropriate level of slip resistance. The correct level of slip resistance, for any given area, will depend upon activities taking place.
Durability comes from a combination of physical and chemical properties. It requires resistance to chemicals and thermal shock, as well as mechanical abrasion and impact.
A zoning plan on the surface of the floor is a good idea if a food plant has identified any areas at risk of cross-contamination or other hazards and is looking to segregate areas or zones by different processes or procedures or to designate different levels of hygiene through a simple color-coded system.
Although there is no universal system or language in place, pigmented flooring materials can be used to designate walkways or hazard risks in line with individual company policies and practices. The zoning helps to identify the high-risk and low-risk areas. Sensitive wet and dry processing areas need floors that deliver the ultimate in hygiene performance. In these environments, steam cleanable products are often sought. For sensitive areas, such as tray washrooms, antimicrobial floors are often chosen.
There are many different food processing floor options available in the marketplace. Epoxy and urethane systems are readily available. However, cementitious urethane floors are considered the modern, high-performance, standard for food and beverage safe flooring in processing facilities. The ceramic tiles, Dairy tiles, and hard non-reactive stones were the most used ones in the previous decades.
The flooring options can be classified into two main categories Tiles/Stones, and floor coatings.
- Tiles/ Stones
When looking at food processing floor options, dairy brick, and quarry tile quickly come to mind. These are products that have widely been used in the food processing industry. At one time, these products were the only systems available (before the advent of seamless polymeric floors). These systems are only a viable choice for new construction or long production shutdowns. Drawbacks include the added thickness of these systems, along with a prolonged installation duration. These issues make brick and tile difficult or impossible for renovation and fast turnaround projects.
Mandanna Stone Tiles are the most commonly used tiles in the dairy industry in India. Mandana Sandstone is a chocolate-colored sandstone with colors ranging from dark red-brown to plum. This is hard-wearing & frost-resistant sandstone.
- Floor Coatings
Floor coatings are tough, protective layers used in applications where heavy surface wear or corrosion is expected. Food processing plant flooring options are different types of coating, which go onto something like concrete flooring.
There are numerous types of food-grade epoxy flooring available in the market. They are a fantastic option and are incredibly durable, with many benefits. They can withstand exposure to agents like acids and alkalis, which have the potential to damage other kinds of flooring.
There is also the option to include additives—like anti-skid additives—to the epoxy mix to create an even better product. Certain types of food-safe epoxy coating options, like novolacs, also offer greater chemical and heat resistance. Epoxy coatings cure quickly, which means less downtime within the facility, unlike other options on the market. Epoxy coatings are also a visually appealing option, with the ability to add aggregates like quartz or marble into the mixture.
A polyurethane coating (or urethane floor coating), is a highly flexible, highly abrasion-resistant floor coating that is known for its shine and longevity. These can have a more considerable upfront cost but will last much longer than other flooring options.
Additives in the urethane mixture provide these floors with superior resistance to thermal cycling, which helps add to its long-lasting nature. This helps to make them a popular choice in food processing plants that work with meat and poultry products+++. Like epoxies, urethane can have decorative touches added to it to make the flooring more visually appealing.
- Methyl Methacrylate(MMA) Coatings
Methyl methacrylate (MMA) systems offer food manufacturing and processing environments certain performance advantages compared to alternative resin materials, most notably their ability to cure at an incredible speed and be installed at extremely low temperatures.
MMA resin can fully cure in just one to two hours, making it an ideal choice for operational facilities looking to minimize downtime and disruption as well as fast-track new-build construction projects. MMA resin material demonstrates a high level of resistance to a range of acids and alkalis. Although MMAs have a unique odour during installation, the odour is harmless and can be minimised during installation with proper ventilation.
For a flooring option that does well in demanding environments, there are polyureas coatings. These coatings are impact resistant. They are the quickest to cure and give off virtually no odor. Because polyureas coatings are flexible flooring, they are also better able to withstand extreme temperatures found in various facilities.
Cleaning and Maintenance
An effective cleaning and maintenance routine should be in place to preserve the aesthetic and performance of the floor finish but more importantly to reduce the risk of microbial contamination. Between wash cycles, resin-based flooring materials should, where possible, be maintained in a dry state and at low relative humidity conditions.
Flooring must be sloped at around 1.5-2% to allow water to drain correctly. Resin flooring will not be affected by most special-purpose cleaning materials when these are used in accordance with the Chemical Cleaning Manufacturers’ instructions. Specific cleaning instructions should also be sought from the resin flooring manufacturer.
With so many options to choose from, selecting a fit-for-purpose flooring solution that can withstand the operational demands of food manufacturing, processing, and packaging environments can be challenging. On top of this, stringent health, safety, and hygiene standards, as well as budget constraints, must be considered.