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Toolbox for the food industry.

This is not a toolbox talk, this is the real (Physical) thing.

Toolboxes have been in the firing line in the food industry (And other ‘clean’ industries) for years as none are considered very hygienic. There are even factories where toolboxes are banned on the production floor with tradesmen carrying their tools in plastic bags. Those tradesmen are suitably un-unimpressed (not the best way to befriend your techies).

There worst is that there aren't guidelines as to what such a toolbox should or should not be.

Below we provide practical guideline as to what can and should be expected or a toolbox that is suitable for the "clean" indutries.

The requirements will vary according to the level of cleanliness required at your site. Truly hygienic is a relative concept and one can at best strive to improve from the current designs. Basic principles like hollow bodies and crevasses should and can be addressed from the start.

From the technical side the toolbox must be compact and practical but that is another story. (Available on request)

How successful can such a design really be? For starters it should be possible to wash and dry it in a normal dish washer. That will be clean enough for most factories. (Excluding the tools of course)

What to look for in a Toolbox Inspection

SURFACE FINISH is an obvious departure point. Painted surfaces are often not the most hygienic. It could have a rough surface (some at microscopic level) that is not easy to clean. It will most probably have a paint that is not approved as food safe. It is also, more often than not, a rather cheap paint that allows easy damage which leads to peeling paint and rust. Peeling and rust is not acceptable and a rusted surface will harbour dirt because of the microscopic (And visible) hiding places.

  • Solution: Use stainless steel as it gives an easy cleaning surface and is rust free. (In hostile environments one may have to specify the grade of stainless) Stainless steel is also a colour that makes it easy to spot dirt.

  • Basic Principle: consider the toolbox surface finish

HINGES are a good breeding place for the nasty’s. Conventional designs all work on a pin that fits in a tube. This is quite small with minimal clearances. It is all but impossible to clean inside these small spaces. Quite often these will either harbour rust or oil, both of which present possible contamination issues. Next time you look at a toolbox, do a close inspection of this culprit and you will have to agree. It is also normally a loose item that is fixed mechanically to the box. All the traditional fixing methods will create two surfaces that are clamped together and will never form a perfect fit. This immediately creates a small space that is impossible to clean. It quite often is not painted between the surfaces and is an excellent starting point for rust. Some hinges are bolted on and the bolt nut and holes where they fit in all create small spaces that are also impossible to clean.

  • Solution: It can be designed out of the toolbox - no add-on hinges or bolts; no pins and tubes, hollow bodies or sharp crevices. Stainless steel is a good material to use.

  • Basic principle: No small cavities or paint, and a smooth easily cleanable surface all round.

CATCHES AND LOCKS. The same basics apply as for the hinges above (except that it is normally even worse).

  • Solution: Design it out of the toolbox - no add-on hasp and staple, catch, lock mechanism or bolts; no pins and tubes. Lockable boxes are preferred as it places responsibility and traceability for the toolbox with the tradesman where it belongs.

  • Basic principle: No small cavities or paint and a smooth easily cleanable surface. Check all locks for possible risks.

NOOKS AND CRANNIES are very prominent in most toolbox designs. The word ‘box’ says it all. A box has at least eight ‘long’ corners (a fold in the plate), and then the really bad areas are the corners where three of these folds come together. The sharper the bends are, the worse they become. The outside is a risk, because the paint wears off and rust starts. The inside is a risk because this is where dirt gets an easy foothold.

  • As a matter of fact, most tool boxes have about forty or more ‘long’ corners and that could result in a lot of accumulated dirt.

  • Solution: Design the dirt foothold out of the toolbox. Look for a design with large radiuses or better still an ‘open’ design that will minimise these corners and make them easy to clean.

JOINTS are the next issue. Because of economics and practicality most boxes have joints as part of their design. Some manufacturers weld these corners to eliminate the overlapping joint. (Beware of the quality of the weld on the inside, it is often rough with microscopic cavities.) Others have a flap on the first plate bent to ninety degrees and that is then fixed to the second plate by means of spot welding, rivets or bolts. The biggest problem is the flap as it creates a fairly large area where the plate and the flap are right up against each other. This is not sealed and creates a really nice space for the nasty’s to breed – and it cannot be cleaned successfully. The second culprit in this area is the rivet or bolt. It forms small cavities and hiding places that simply cannot be reached.

  • Solution: Design the problem out. An inert sealer could be acceptable if done properly.

BONUS FEATURES to look for.

  • An ‘open’ design of all corners has the added benefit that it cannot hold fluids. It can be so open that even dust and small pieces of dirt will work its way out of the box, which in effect is a self-cleaning feature. This is important because liquid is normally the biggest culprit as far as contamination and proliferation of the nasty’s are concerned.

  • Removable trays makes for more practicality and easier cleaning and inspection. It also gives the option of pre-sealing and re-sealing a specific tray in a separate bag for ‘special’ areas.

  • If supplied with a carry strap, finger protectors and rubber feet to enhance the user-friendly practicality, inspect that for hygiene purposes. In some highly sensitive areas you may want to remove this to further improve hygiene. (Please only enforce this if absolutely critical, as the technical guys will curse you every day).

  • Custom design for ‘special’ tools and other applications like a production sample carrier box.

Feel free to contact the writer with any suggestions as to improvements or changes to this article.

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