Being armed with an understanding of these coatings and their capabilities is one part of selecting the right coating for the job, but there are other considerations as well, ranging from government regulations to food taste and odor considerations.
USDA and NSF Probably the most important factor in floor coating selection is the need to comply with governmental requirements for the food industry in the U.S. Several agencies at the federal and state levels regularly inspect food processing facilities to make sure the products being produced for human consumption are free of impurities.
Inspections cover many issues, but among the most crucial is that floor coatings must meet or exceed exacting certain standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This agency insists that the chemical makeup of coatings used in food and beverage facilities contain only resins and additives found on their own approved list.
In addition, NSF International, an independent, non-profit organization, certifies products and writes standards for food, air, water and consumer goods.
EPA The government requirements imposed by the USDA are not the only standards food processing plant managers must keep in mind when selecting floor coatings. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at both federal and state levels impose a range of standards that cover the amount of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emissions from floor coatings.
For example, California requires adherence to very strict standards to fight the accumulation of smog that often affects certain areas of the state, and many states in the Northeast U.S. have laws that reflect a similar concern for air quality. While many food processing facilities in the U.S. are located in states that are less stringent in their VOC-compliant rules, the industry nevertheless is generally aware of the need to be knowledgeable of VOC emissions concerns. Consequently, many food processing plant managers select coatings with low VOC emission rates even when not obligated to do so by law.
Traffic The volume and type of traffic is another important criterion in selecting a floor coating for a food processing facility. Personnel safety and potential liability issues compel food processing plant managers to ensure skid-resistant floors by using textured or grit surfaces. The degree of texture is typically determined by the conditions of operation, frequency of cleaning and maintenance, and presence of oils, greases and other potentially slippery substances.
A high-medium grade of texture for food processing makes sense since these environments are often 'wet' either from cleaning agents or from the inherent exposure to oils and grease. Where high impact and heavy loads are part of the traffic pattern, a flexible membrane may be applied beneath the floor coating.
Cleaning Floors in food facilities must be thoroughly cleaned regularly, often several times daily, to keep the food processing operation pure and up to government standards. Consequently, food processing facility floor coatings must be durable enough to handle vigorous cleaning procedures, which typically include very hot water, steam, and aggressive cleaning chemicals. It is clear that only high-performance floor coatings will withstand this kind of punishing maintenance.
On a typical day in a food processing facility, floors are exposed to a variety of process chemicals as well as corrosive cleaning chemicals, primarily detergents. If a floor is subjected to only minor chemical contact, a thin film coating may suffice; however, if a floor is exposed to the variety of moisture, temperature, and chemical conditions typically found in a food processing area, it is essential that the plant manager select a thicker, more durable floor coating that can offer sufficient protection to meet those conditions.
In addition to the corrosive nature of the cleaning chemicals, the very hot, high-pressure steam used in daily cleanings can take its toll on a food processing facility floor. The pressure alone is often capable of removing a standard coating, much like what happens when a deteriorating concrete driveway is pressure-washed. Because the cleaning process is performed repeatedly and at very high temperatures, it is crucial that the coating be thick and durable.
Odors A factor not always considered by food processing plant managers is the need to avoid the transference of unwelcome odors or tastes to food products. Some foreign substances give off odors or tastes that render final food products unacceptable. Water-borne coatings are significantly less likely to emit odors that might be absorbed, thus they are generally an excellent choice for floor applications in food processing facilities.