Learn the critical components to a solid sanitation program.
Cleaning and sanitation are two of the most important aspects of brewing.
In the world of beverage production, brewing has the unique characteristic of requiring meticulous sanitation procedures to produce a high quality, drinkable beverage. This fact has pushed both home and commercial brewers alike to become well-versed when it comes to cleaning in the brewery. The most critical components to a solid sanitation program at any facility are time and temperature of cleaning agents, and selecting the proper chemicals at the appropriate stages of cleaning. If you are newer to the program, or just want to brush up on your skills, here is a best practice guide for ensuring a contamination-free process.
Before we begin, let us quickly review a few important definitions: clean, sanitized, sterile.
Clean: visibly free of dirt, debris or unwanted matter.
Sanitized: reduction of microorganisms on a clean surface to a safe level, generally by 99.99%, by the use of chemicals or heat.
Sterile: completely free of living organisms, including spores.
These are important distinctions, as it helps in making decisions on how clean a surface needs to be for specific steps of the beer-making process.
The first step to any cleaning and sanitization program is to clean. Without a proper clean surface, we lose the effectiveness of anything else that comes after. Begin by pre-rinsing your surfaces with cold water to remove as much organic soil as possible. Depending on the vessel being cleaned, you may need to employ something more robust than just a water rinse. Most fermentation tanks come equipped with a spray ball, which delivers a high-powered stream of water in a uniform fashion across the inner surface of the tank. A powdered brewery detergent can also be used to aid in debris removal. No matter which method you use, it is always good practice to visually inspect the tanks to ensure there are no dead zones where the spray ball or cleaning did not reach.Sanitize
Once vessels or surfaces are physically clean, a multi-step approach should be used to sanitize those surfaces, either by use of the spray ball or a physical soak in chemical solution. Typically you want to start the sanitizing process with an alkaline solution such as caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) or a quartenary ammonium in order to hydrolyze any organic materials that are not visible. These function optimally at a concentration of 4% and at 150°F (65°C) for about 20 minutes, then rinsed with cool water. The second step of this process would be to proceed with an acid based solution at 0.5% solution at 100°F (38°C). There are a range of acid solutions that can be used, but the most effective ones are a phosphoric acid or a blend of phosphoric and nitric acids. This should be immediately followed by a second water rinse and immersion with a food-grade, no-rinse sanitizer. This could be anything from iodophore or iodafect to products like StarSan, used at ambient temperature. Contact time for the sanitizer is dependent on the specific product and manufacturer recommendations, but you can expect a range of 5-15 minutes. In all cases, these are no-rinse products and surfaces need time to “air dry” prior to use.
The other consideration with cleaning is not just what you will use, but how you will use it. You can perform all of these steps as easily as just mixing the chemicals to the proper concentration and temperatures and doing a simple soak of the vessels to be sanitized, for the proper times. If you want to take a step further, you would want to implement a brewery clean-in-place (CIP) system, that makes use of pre-concentrated chemicals on a skid that would be pumped through your process piping or hoses, valves, tanks, and down the drain. The benefit to using a dedicated CIP system is the active, moving contact of the chemicals with your surfaces, resulting in a more effective overall cleaning system.Sterlize
To achieve the highest level of cleanliness, you need sterilization, which in the brewery means you will require steam. In this case, steam means clean steam so if you are sourcing heat from a boiler, there needs to be a point-of-use filter on the output at 0.5micron in order to prevent unwanted organisms from entering the system. The steam also needs to follow specific temperature and time practices: 170°F (76°C) for 15 minutes OR 200°F (93°C) for 5 minutes. With fermenters and bright tanks, going as far as sanitization is a good practice but for yeast propagation vessels or yeast brinks, sterilization is critical to keeping yeast contaminant-free.
When most brewers become brewers, they do no usually consider that they will be microbiologists as well, but the nature of beer and brewing really requires them to wear both of those hats. A cleaning routine does not need to be complicated, as long as it is well thought out and becomes part of the daily activities of the brewery. In all cases, its important to remember this mantra when it comes to cleanliness in the brewery: keep it simple, keep it clean, keep making great beer.
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