Flooring in the food and beverage sector: getting the balance right

Allied Finishes is a third-generation family business that specialises in coatings, including those used in the food and beverage industry.

Director Michael Gillies is part of the second generation, and he is passionate about the industry, which was borne out of a father who got the ball rolling.

“My father, Graham, was an industrial chemist. He was instrumental in bringing two-pack polyurethanes into Australia in the 1960s,” said Gillies. “He helped develop the two pack called Imperite, which was used in the Snowy Hydro scheme, as well as other infrastructure projects. Today, myself and my two brothers and our sons are still in special purpose coating businesses of one sort or another. Ours happens to be flooring,
and our particular focus is on flooring solutions for the food and beverage industry.”

Flooring is an integral part of any food and beverage build, especially in terms of hygiene and safety. If not laid properly, floors can be unsafe to work on, and can actually encourage rather than prevent the growth of bacteria and microbes. Gillies is all too aware of how important it is to make sure that the floors do more than simply meet the relevant standards.

“Our aim is to make life easier for the plant manager by providing true, practical, durable, flooring solutions,” he said.

Gillies is also aware of the elephant in the room when it comes to worker health and safety (WHS) and food health and safety – they tend to have some conflicting needs.

“The challenge that we often have is that the food health team on site will be looking at a floor that is very easily cleaned, which often means as smooth as possible. However, the WHS team will be looking for a very grippy floor, which is inevitably not so easy to keep clean.

“There’s an almost inherent conflict and it has to be recognised. You can’t pretend that that problem isn’t there. You’ve got to look at it pragmatically and say, ‘there is a conflict here. Let’s not ignore one team or the other’. The two teams literally have different priorities.”

Yet, that doesn’t mean they cannot work together to try and solve the issue. One effective way to find the middle ground is to ask the client if Allied Finishes can lay three or four different flooring options of four square metres each.

“We then encourage the client to subject those areas to normal use, and gather feedback from all stakeholders – production staff, and those on the food health and WHS teams. We find that after two weeks, consensus can be found, and the best solution identified, allowing the client to move forward with confidence,” said Gillies.

“The aim is to find the solution that satisfies the collective or combined goals, not just those of one team or the other. I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution. You’ll find that on every site there’s unique requirements. There’s some different factors that need to be taken into account during the consultation and decision-making process.”

One recent job the company had was for well-known Australian firm, Casella Family Brands. It is a company that has a reputation as one of the country’s best wine producers and exporters.

“Casella is an awesome company, we can’t speak highly enough of them” said Gillies. “We got involved with them because the floor in one of their tank farms was very worn and corroded from years of exposure to wine and different cleaning chemicals.

“What happens when a floor gets like that is it generally becomes cluttered and more dangerous. You’ve not only got trip and slip hazards in the floor itself, but if it’s a tired and worn floor, we find that there’s less motivation to maintain the area, which leads to the clutter and of course increased risk of an accident. In addition, as corrosion progresses, we start seeing issues like concrete cancer because waste water and chemicals get into the cracks and attack the reinforced concrete substrate and so forth.”

Allied Finishes got involved in the refurbishment over the Christmas shutdown period. The team ripped up the old floor, got down to a solid substrate, and then started rebuilding. Exposed steel reinforcing was treated, cracks were sealed with high strength resins, and low patches where there was pooling water were corrected.

“Apart from the fact a food floor is not allowed to have pooling fluids, it also creates a health and safety issue,” said Gillies. “Once that was done – what we call a localised full correction – we then went through and resurfaced the floor. It really is a beautiful floor.”

Like most retrofits, there were challenges with the Casella project. One was that they were dealing with a live plant, as opposed to a new project, so Allied had to work around Casella’s deadlines. This is why the Christmas shutdown period was chosen.

“We had a lot of difficult access issues to deal with,” said Gillies. “A lot of penetrations into the floor, for example – feet of tanks and things like that. They have to be treated very carefully because anything that penetrates the floor is a potential breakdown point. Along with the floor resurfacing, the surface drainage needed to be reviewed and adjusted. To do this, laser levels were used, ensuring gradual, even, effective falls to wastes.

Gillies said it was a very tight time line, but the project went well. “We had a team of 12 on site every day for two weeks except Christmas Day and Boxing Day.”

Being a major producer and exporter, adherence to the applicable standards were important to Casella.

“Obviously we had to lay the floor to meet Standard 3.2.3 of the Australian/New Zealand food standard code for Food Premises and Equipment,” said Gillies. “It says that floors must be able to be effectively cleaned, be unable to absorb grease, food particles or water, be laid so there is no pooling of water, and, where practical, be unable to provide harbourage for pests.”

And the future? What are some of the current trends in the flooring coating industry?
“We’re doing a lot more with antimicrobial coatings such as our SteriFloor range. Although different studies indicate that COVID-19 isn’t transferred by food or on food packaging, there is still a heightened awareness of the risk or contamination,” said Gillies. “SteriFloor has strong anti-microbial properties that thwart the growth of microbes.”

Another feature of Allied Finishes flooring is reduced curing time.

“Often we’ll be engaged to do maintenance works on weekends, as we have a reputation for taking food and beverage factory shutdowns very seriously. It is something that our company is passionate about,” said Gillies. “We want our clients to be always be able to trust us to meet their shutdown times. We’ll guarantee to meet their shutdown times, and if we are an hour over, then we discount our invoice heavily. We do this because we know and understand that shutdowns in food factories are expensive. Our clients need to keep producing their products. Labour in Australia is expensive, and food is a global commodity so down-time on a food production line is very costly.

“I suppose that is why we don’t lose customers. We have a reputation for doing the absolute best for our clients in all respects including solution features and shut-down times.”