Ice cream production and hygiene

Hygiene and food safety are paramount in commercial ice cream production and must be secured at each stage of the manufacturing process. We speak to one of Tetra Pak’s food hygiene specialists about how to optimise food safety in the production of these frozen, ready-to-eat products, including the role of automation and traceability.

man eating ice cream

According to research published in the Tetra Pak Index 2020, consumers are becoming more concerned about food safety on a global scale, a jump from 30% to 40% on 2019 figures. Heightened worries regarding food safety are hardly surprising in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Tetra Pak Index found that 68% of consumers believe food safety is a major concern for society, while 50% see improving food safety as the responsibility of manufacturers. Other research (conducted by Mintel in 2018* but which has become even more relevant in the post-Covid era) suggests that neater or less messy ice cream products can address multiple consumer concerns, like convenience, hygiene, and general cleanliness.

Stefan Åkesson, Company Specialist for Food Safety at Tetra Pak, says that awareness of hygiene in commercial ice cream production has increased greatly over the years. “Food Safety Management Systems, including HACCP, are in place at customer sites and today we also have a greater focus on the material used in food contact. However, it is more important today than historically – food products previously were more local or regional, but today are in general distributed more widely. So food safety must be secured to a much higher degree today.”

Hygiene designed in

The line solutions used for commercial ice cream manufacturing must be built for optimal hygiene, using expert knowledge and intelligently designed equipment to secure the best standards for food safety. To comply with recognised standards for equipment design – such as EN 1672-2, ISO 14159 or 3-A SSI – all parts that come into contact with food are constructed of stainless steel and/or food-approved plastic or rubber.

“Hygienic design is highly important for equipment as well as for lines – where several machines are integrated – to secure safe food production,” says Åkesson. “It must always consider how the components are put together into a production line, where integrated components collaborate with the control system to function safely and correctly.”

Hygienic equipment design also makes cleaning equipment simple and easy, providing few or no areas in which bacteria can grow. Furthermore, a separation between the drive and production areas, or “hygienic zoning”, should be maintained to minimise the risk of microbiological or chemical contamination.

One important area in ice cream production concerns high quality ingredients and the preparation of the ice cream mix. This is a potential risk area and hygienically designed equipment is key to preventing microbiological contamination.

This is also crucial during the final wrapping stage, when the product is covered in paper and readied for shipping. Ice cream products should be safely and effectively wrapped without human contact.

Advanced automation and digitalisation technologies can help optimise food safety during all stages of production, limiting microbial contamination while sharing useful data throughout the operation. Operator safety and ergonomics are also considered in equipment design through incorporating safety shields and automatic stop functions, as well as easy access on the line.

Traceability in ice cream manufacturing

Another important aspect of food safety during production is traceability. Ensuring all ingredients fulfil specifications and keeping close track of the production process enables ice cream manufacturers to comply with ever-stricter laws on food safety. Automation and digitalisation can again come into play here, using advanced software modules for close monitoring of material flow, process parameters and equipment performance during each step of production.

“From hygienically designed equipment and intelligent production with safety in focus to traceability and innovative solutions, we strive to ensure optimal safety and hygiene,” says Åkesson. “This incorporates going beyond the production process to provide a cleaner ice cream eating experience.”

The future of hygiene in ice cream covers a wide spectrum, looking beyond traditional food safety issues to include consumer concerns after purchasing. Covid-19 has focused attention on hygiene and food safety – raising consumer concerns and linking them with more general health considerations.

The Tetra Pak Index 2020 showed that 50% of consumers believe the improvement of food safety to be the number-one issue companies need to tackle now and in the future. By partnering with recognised food safety experts and implementing complete solutions that optimise hygiene, ice cream producers can ensure those concerns are being responded to and met in the most effective ways.

* Mintel Insight 9 October 2018

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