To help meet strict cleanliness standards in the food industry, meat and poultry processing facilities are constructed so that they can be easily and regularly cleaned. Whether chemicals are used to clean the floors or pressure washing is used to clean the walls and ceilings, eventually those surfaces will show signs of wear and tear from the regular cleaning. Previously coated substrates in the facility, including metal panels and concrete, will begin to flake and peel.
In 2018, the processing area ceiling of one such facility, a sausage producer in the United States, was beginning to show signs of deterioration on its seams and penetrations. The facility also had several coolers made from insulated metal panels (IMPs) and fire-rated panels (FRPs). The ~8,000-square-foot (743.2 m2) ceiling, which included some of the ~3,000 square feet (278.7 m2) of metal panels in the facility plus ~2,000 square feet (185.8 m2) of cinder block, was corroding and allowing for more and more harborage of bacteria. The ceiling even had some fiberglass boards to contend with. It was time for a coatings solution: a very thick, monolithic coating system from Freedom Chemical Corp. applied to the surfaces to prevent further flaking and bacterial growth.
Brr, It’s Cold!
Kevin Prychun does sales and a variety of other duties for the coatings contractor, IMMCO Inc., that was hired for this job. Regarding the processing plant’s condition, he remarked, “A baked-on system or enamel that normally comes with insulated metal panels, over time and after washing with the use of degreasers and all those harsh chemicals, it actually starts to break down the enamel, and it starts to curl and peel. It starts to corrode. Corrosion is a big no-no in these food processing plants.”
IMMCO brought 8 workers to the jobsite out of 12 total employees in the company, and they transported all of their equipment in a 24-foot (7.3 m) fully enclosed trailer. But major time constraints were necessary to minimize downtime to the facility. Therefore, the IMMCO crew mobilized twice, setting up and tearing down on two separate weekends, for a total of four workdays. “In a food processing plant,” explained Prychun, “painting the ceiling or putting a coating on a ceiling or walls does not make them [the client] money. That’s the way they look at it. But they cannot afford not to have this [coatings] system,”
The environment inside the sausage processing facility was quite cold. Temperatures in the process rooms fluctuated between 36° and 38° F (2.2–3.3 °C), and the temperature in the chillers was around 32° F (0.0 °C). Brr! “It was cold,” Prychun remembered. “We wore sweaters while we were working. And, of course, we masked off any entrances leading outside of that room so as not to allow any more cold coming into that room and waffling through.”
The most time-consuming part of the job, per Prychun, was making sure all of the equipment would be protected from overspray and all of the adjacent clean rooms would be contained. “While we were working, we had to mask everything off because we obviously can’t interfere with what they’re doing,” he said of the facility workers. “You have to create a profile in the ceiling for the material to adhere to,” referring to the 4-mil (101.6 microns) poly sheeting material used to mask the various areas.
“We double-mask any entrance,” Prychun continued. “We completely mask off and seal all the tops, the sides, the bottom, and then we drape another sheet over top of that as well. So it’s really double-masked.” For sanitary reasons, crew members had to wear hair and beard nets until the containment was fully in place.
All Covered Up
The containment process and getting the facility ready for coatings took the crew almost an entire day. The crew had to mask everything — “all the walls, all the floors, all the equipment. Anything that’s coming from the ceiling, 100 percent masked off, protected,” said Prychun. And that didn’t count surface preparation! But the crew got to that next step without delay.
With so many different substrates at play, a variety of surface prep techniques were used. “In some areas, where we were dealing with IMP,” said Prychun, “that’s one sort of surface prep. When you go to a fiberglass panel, that’s a very low abraded preparation on that.” The crew utilized 8-inch (20.3 cm) water grinders with diamond pads wherever grinding was required.
Fortunately for the crew, the primer they were using — Freedom Chemical’s FreedomTuff-6160 epoxy primer — gave them some flexibility. Prychun noted that the primer can be used on multiple surface types, asking, “Who wants to carry around three different types of primers for three different substrates? I don’t want to do that.” So the same primer was used throughout the job, even on the cinder block. Once the primer was down, the crew applied FreedomTuff 1590 HC (hard coat), a 75 Shore D aliphatic polyurea, to various surfaces, including prepared panels.
The coatings were spray applied with a Graco HXP3 plural component pump at 2,650 psi (18.3 MPa), while air scrubbers from Abatement Technologies helped to control overspray, odors, and anything else that could be exposed to the meat in the plant. Overall dry film thickness, which came to ~60 mils (1,524.0 microns), was measured using an Elcometer thickness gage.
While spraying, IMMCO crew members wore proper personal protective equipment. “We use the 3M organic vapor cartridge, the P100 filters on our full-face respirators,” stated Prychun. “You’re covered right up. We use Tyvek suits. Your hands are covered. There’s no part of your body showing at all when you’re applying coatings.”
Return to Processing
The biggest challenges of applying coatings in the sausage processing facility were the cold temperatures and the massive amount of masking that had to be done. Prychun said regarding the temperature, “You have to keep moving and wear the sweater and keep your body temperature warm. But if you’re standing around, you’re going to get cold.” Regarding masking, he said, “The tape was always a challenge, because you have to make darn sure that that tape adheres when you’re holding that plastic up.”
With the Freedom Chemical coating system, a fast cure — between 72 and 96 hours — put the facility back in operation quickly. In fact, two hours after the coating was applied, the sanitation crew was able to come in and start washing. “As soon as we’re done de-masking, tearing down all the poly… sanitation can immediately go to work. They can start washing immediately when we’re done,” Prychun said.
And what did the client think? “They know that we’ve been doing this a long time, and they trust us,” answered Prychun. “They’re just always amazed at the masking. They’re like, ‘My god. It’s a lot of work.’ There is nothing in that plant that is exposed that does not require coating on it. If it is not to be coated, it is getting covered up. There is nothing, absolutely nothing you will find that is exposed while we’re spraying.”
With minimal downtime, IMMCO, along with Freedom Chemical, provided a long-lasting coatings solution to the facility that would help keep it free from bacteria and corrosion and would keep the meat processor up and running — a win-win for any food manufacturing company.