Sanitation and routine cleaning are arguably the biggest jobs brewing staff face, but a good clean-in-place system can help.
It may not be the most exciting topic, but cleaning is as integral to making good beer as hops, water, or grain. Sanitation is a key element to any food or beverage operation, but methods and equipment are quite specific to the product. This article focuses on the cleaning challenges faced by beer makers. To do it best, and to do it at the lowest cost, the solution is a clean-in-place (CIP) system. As Uinta Brewery brewmaster Kevin Ely says, “It’s been said that we’re glorified janitors, and that may or may not be true, but we do a lot of cleaning, and you’ve got to keep things clean.”
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There are almost as many variations of CIP systems as there are brewery variants. A complete CIP solution is essentially cleaning equipment integrated into the production line that enables staff to run a cleaning cycle between batches or whenever a cleaning is scheduled. Detergents, rinses, and sanitizers are run through the system and sprayed from internal nozzles under pressure, typically in an automatic, timed process. It is possible to implement many CIP systems modularly, with perhaps the most easy to clean equipment done manually. Furthermore, some systems allow cleaning to occur on one section of the line, while other sections remain in production.
Many small breweries forego the cost of a clean-in-place system initially, opting to manually disassemble and clean the production line. Obviously, the capital expense is saved, but manual cleaning requires the production line to be taken out of service, requires hands-on labor, and can be inconsistent from one cleaning to the next depending on your employees—are they feeling rushed, tired, or are they just having a bad day? Beyond those important aspects is one even more critical element: safety.
The safety issue is, of course, tied into the consistency problem. It’s one thing to produce a beer with compromised taste because residue from a previous batch remained in the system; it is a whole other matter if a batch becomes contaminated with something noxious. In the worst case scenario, improper cleaning could spell the end of your business. Another critical safety issue is with your employees. Cleaning a brew system involves some powerful detergents and sanitizing agents, and isolating your workers as much as possible from these chemicals is perhaps the biggest step you can take to protect them.
Although you can’t totally do away with downtime for cleaning, most clean-in-place systems will be considerably faster than a manual tear-down and cleaning. More importantly, it will free up your people to do other things while the cleaning is happening. With appropriate employee supervision, an automated cleaning system can also deliver more consistent results with less chance of cross contamination.
Most clean-in-place systems are also friendlier to the environment and to your expensive equipment. Unlike manual cleaning, most clean-in-place systems can recycle many of the chemicals for reuse, which obviously minimizes disposal issues, and also saves money. In addition, automated systems are more precise, so there is less chance of overexposure to or the use of incorrectly diluted cleaning agents that can damage equipment and threaten employees.
Once you’ve decided that the time is right, the next step is to decide what system will work best for you and what the benefits are of the various chemical types used. All cleaning systems for breweries use a two-step cleaning process that alternates between caustic and acid. Alkaline (caustic) is excellent for cleaning organic elements (yeast messes, etc.) but ineffective on inorganic elements (beer stones), which is where acids excel. A third step, sanitizing, is often used, but only works if your equipment is clean before the process.
Even if you decide that adding CIP technology to your line isn’t right for you, there are automated systems for cleaning your disassembled equipment. Sometimes termed clean out of place (COP) systems, these typically involve a large sink-like station where you can place components to be cleaned—think of it as sort of an industrial dishwasher. You still save some labor time, your employees have less exposure (than manual) to chemicals, and the cleaning is more consistent than purely manual cleaning.
Most brewers will agree, there is an awful lot of cleaning involved in the process. Spending less time AND doing it better is what CIP systems are all about. You’ll still probably need to clean some small valves, seals, lines, and other various parts by hand, occasionally or regularly. But there is literally nothing you can do dollar-for-dollar that will increase your production, make your brewmaster happier, and raise your beer quality and consistency more than adding a CIP system.