Ultimate Guide to Sanitary Drains for Food Manufacturers

Drains are often home to some of the nastiest bacteria imaginable.

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As a food manufacturer, cleanliness and sanitation should be your top priority. In a food processing plant, failure to maintain proper sanitation can literally mean death for dozens of people if bacteria gets into the food handled in your plant. Unfortunately, deadly bacteria is extremely common in food processing plants and needs to be constantly wiped out with chemicals and good practices.

One of the biggest aspects of maintaining the cleanest food production facility possible is your drainage. Sanitary drains need to be put in place all around your facility to ensure that liquids can quickly drain into them when the need arises. 

Spills are common in these types of facilities and other liquids are intentionally being sent down the drain on a daily basis as well. Because these drains are always having the liquid runoff from food and other contaminated liquids running through them, they are often home to some of the nastiest bacteria imaginable. 

Almost half of all Listeria (a deadly bacteria) is found in the drains of meat processing plants. As such, sanitary drains in food processing plants need to have a special set of characteristics that allow them to most effectively serve you in your effort to keep your facility safe and bacteria-free. 

So, in case you’re building a food processing plant, let’s go through a comprehensive breakdown of everything you need to know about sanitary drains. This will allow you to make the best choice for your plant and minimize your risk of causing an outbreak or having employees suffer injuries on the job. 

Considerations When Selecting Drains

1. Ease of Cleaning

Ease of cleaning is a huge consideration to keep in mind when choosing a type of drain for your food processing facility. Drain cleaning should be done frequently at these plants and the easier your drains are to clean, the less time and effort you can spend on cleaning. There are a couple of factors that determine how easy a drain is to clean, like the way it’s designed and what material it’s made of. 

Drains with small entry points can be hard to clean if they’re connected to piping that runs deep below your food processing floor. Heavy grates are also a major hassle to clean and can be dangerous to maneuver. Sharp angles within the drains are notoriously hard to clean and a favorite gathering place for the deadly, aforementioned Listeria. 

The type of material a drain is made out of has a big effect on how easy it is to clean as well. Drains made out of cast iron can rust over time and make it easier for bacteria to stick to the sides as they lose their slickness. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is incredibly slick and resistant to rust, which makes it the perfect material for a food processing drain. 

2. Codes and Regulations

You must use good manufacturing practices in food industry floor drains if you want to stay in line with the strict codes and regulations for such facilities. The main regulations you need to be in line with are the NSF/ANSI/3-A standard, the set of guidelines and regulations surrounding materials used in a food production facility that processes meat and/or poultry. 

These regulations state that the drains in a food processing floor should be cleanable and durable. They also need to be able to be sanitized with chipping, delaminating, cracking, flaking, eroding, breaking, or suffering abrasions. They also have to resist being penetrated by unwanted matter during intended use. 

Sanitary drains in food processing facilities must be made from materials that can withstand extremely hot water, high water pressure, chemicals, and humidity. They need to be able to handle both heat and freezing sterilization.

Another requirement for the drains in a food processing floor is that they not contaminate the product nor be toxic. They cannot have an adverse effect on your product in any way and cannot be absorbent except where it’s functionally and technically unavoidable. It should be noted that stainless steel meets each and every one of these requirements.

Some examples of materials we would consider unacceptable to build sanitary drains with are wood, leather, porcelain, enamelware, aluminum alloys, uncoated aluminum, and uncoated anodized aluminum. Your drain also cannot have any lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, antimony, teratogens, mutagens, or carcinogens. 

3. SQF Standards

SQF is an acronym that stands for safe quality foods. It’s the standard set of regulations for a food processing facility to adhere to and most clients will only work with a facility that has been SQF certified. The SQF standards have a certain set of criteria for food processing floor drains.

These standards posit that a certified facility should have drains that are easy to clean, not too close to the food production lines, and made from dense, smooth, impact-resistant materials. Spot drains should have the floors around them sufficiently sloped so that liquid can be easily drained into them during normal working conditions.

4. Usage Needs

The type of materials and liquids going down your drain will factor into what kind of drainage system is best for your food production facility. Depending on what’s going in your drain, you may need to use different chemicals and cleaning agents which will also factor into what type of drainage system is best.

For example, while cast iron might be able to handle things like regular water, coffee, or baking soda without corroding, other liquids are a different story. Liquids like hydrochloric acid, tomato juice, bleach, liquid drain cleaner, soapy water, ammonia solution, soda, vinegar, lemon juice, and battery acid require stainless steel. 

Stainless steel is one of the only types of material for sanitary drains that is both durable and slick enough to facilitate easy cleaning and resist damage from highly corrosive agents. Fiberglass and galvanized steel are also a couple of options you could consider but they aren’t as all-around resistant and easy to clean as stainless steel is. 

5. Safety

Good manufacturing practices in food industry drain cleaning would also see your drains as presenting no hazard to your employees. They should not be able to easily trip or get stuck in your drains during normal working conditions. If you have a waste trap system it should be situated away from the food production area and the entrance to the building. 

Neither your drain location nor construction should pose a safety risk if you want to meet SQF standards. You also need your sanitary drains separated from your normal process facility drainage. 

Types of Drains to Consider

You have three main types of sanitary drains to consider for a food processing plant. Spot drains, trench drains, and slot drains. Spot drains are small holes with the surrounding floors sloped towards them, creating a dip in the floor. They are hard to clean because their piping usually extends very far below the floor. They also only have a singular, small access point.

Trench drains are larger drains set right into the level surface of the floor. They require no sloping and usually have a heavy grate covering their opening, unlike the smaller, lighter grate on spot drains. 

Trench drains are hard to clean because the grates covering them are heavy, sometimes locked, and can trap mud and grime within themselves. These grates require intense scrubbing every day and can even break over time if subject to heavy equipment traffic. Trench drains also have a lot of sharp angles where bacteria can hide and fester.

Slot drains are the best choice for food processing facilities, by far. They are typically made from stainless steel which is the best material to use in such a facility. Slot drains run the entire length of the floor and their opening is usually about as wide as a quarter or so. This allows them to easily drain liquids much faster than spot drains or trench drains because the access point is so much larger. 

Their stainless steel construction makes them easy to clean and they don’t have grates or sharp corners and angles like trench drains. Slot drains are also much safer because they aren’t big enough to trip in and cannot be compromised by any amount of heavy equipment traffic, thanks to their construction. 

Additional Things to Consider

1. Catch Basins and Cleaning

If you have a trench drain with a catch basin, it’s going to be much harder to clean than other types of drains. These basins have big grates over them that trap a ton of mud and debris within the bars on the grates. You need to perform heavy-duty scrubbing on these gates and inside the basins themselves if you want to stay up to code on cleaning procedures. 

2. Maintenance

Every type of drain has a certain amount of maintenance that needs to be performed on it. Trench drains may need new grates after some time, and the below-ground piping will also need to be replaced eventually. Spot drains require the same maintenance, and even slot drains may require some amount of maintenance within the piping they’re connected to. 

Proper Drainage Practices Can Save Lives

As a food processing facility owner, it’s your job to prevent the contamination of food so that countless people aren’t rendered ill from your product. Drainage is a huge part of that, so adhering to the rules and regulations within place for your industry is critical to staying safe and staying in business. 

You can get the job done with trench drains and/or spot drains, but they’re dirtier, harder to clean, and more dangerous. By implementing slot drains in your food processing floor, however, you can make the workplace that much safer and easier to clean. 

You can also save money on maintenance and lower the likelihood of contamination with drains that are more effective, cleaner, and less likely to fail when coming in contact with extreme temperatures, corrosive chemicals, and heavy vehicle traffic.

Kirby Gompf is a partner of Global Drain Technologies and FoodSafe Drains.

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