OLE DOSLAND, QA & Food Safety Consultant, Certified Instructional Designer/Professional Instructor

Why do poorly designed buildings become food plants? Why isn’t more equipment accessible for cleaning? Does executive management realize the resources it takes to keep a food plant free of foodborne pathogens? Have you asked yourself these questions?

Sure you have, and it doesn’t have to be this way. What is a practical solution? Sanitary design is a money maker, seriously.

Mark the words of the business author, Philip B. Crosby, “Every penny you don’t spend on doing things wrong or over becomes half a penny right on the bottom line.”

Profit is the highest priority of executive management and many emphasize food safety as a top priority. Therefore, sanitary design must be linked to profit and food safety.

Consider the words of the food safety and sanitation author, Thomas J. Imholte, “Sanitary design needs can be met with a minimum capital commitment, and the return in lower maintenance and sanitation costs will be tenfold.”

Profit increases as operating costs lower; food safety increases as recalls are reduced; improved product quality means fewer complaints; and sanitation improves when less time and effort are required.



A commitment to sanitary design comes from three primary sources; owner, operator, and designer. The better these sources understand the link between profit and food safety to sanitary design, the greater their commitment.

An absolute of sanitary design is prevention. Good Manufacturing Practices and HACCP have focused on prevention for many decades. More recently the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) shifted the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it. A preventive foundation for creating profit and food safety simultaneously is through the sanitary design of food plants.

WHAT IS SANITARY DESIGN? Sanitarians generally agree that sanitary design is the application of design techniques that allow the timely and effective cleaning of a manufacturing asset, which will range for many years. But sanitary design is more than just cleaning; it is about profit, risk management, and efficiency. So, how does one link sanitary design to profit?

  1. Know your sanitation costs along with the costs of corresponding sanitary design failures, both internal and external. Internal failures are the costs encountered with a failure to meet requirements such as recleaning, rework, and regrading which result in subsequent production downtime. External failures are the costs corresponding to defects found by customers, such as complaints, recalls, product replacement, regulatory action, litigation, and customer loss. These costs will help justify an investment into sanitary design.
  2. Know how the Return on Investment (ROI) is calculated. Many company’s ROI timeframe is three years, but it should reflect the entire manufacturing asset over its useful life expectancy.
  3. Know the cost of your sanitary design needs beyond a sound food plant design. Strategic design coupled with knowledgeable engineering can balance the initial investment with longer term requirements related to food safety, sanitation, maintenance, quality, and operating efficiency.

There are many examples of not spending capital on sanitary design that result in higher cleaning costs. One of these is that of a bakery which decided to “save” $200,000 by not installing a dehumidification system on six new outdoor silos. A few weeks later, flour lumping blocked a pneumatic conveyance line with sticky and moldy material from inside the silos. It took three workers four hours to clean the inside of each silo once every two weeks to prevent a downtime occurrence and minimize the mold. The sanitation plan with the dehumidification system was three workers for two hours to clean the inside of each silo once per month. What is the ROI?

  • 3 workers x 4 hours per silo x 26 weeks per year x 6 silos being cleaned = 1,872 hours/year
  • 1,872 hours/year x $30/hour pay rate = $56,160/year to clean these silos each year
  • Less 3 workers x 2 hours per silo x 12 months x $30/hour pay rate = $2,160/year yields $54,000/year
  • The ROI of $200,000 divided by $54,000 = 3.70 years

If the $200,000 had been spent on sanitary design, it would have paid for itself in only 3.70 years by not having to spend an extra $54,000 each year on labor. Then, assuming a silo life of 50 years, that initial $200,000 investment would yield a savings of $2.5 million ($2,700,00 minus the initial investment). The long-term benefit of sanitary design over the life of the asset will reduce operating costs and increase profit and food safety.

Executive management typically thinks in terms of money, so ... show them the money. When all else fails, remember the average cost of a recall is $10 million. Profit increases as operating costs lower; food safety increases as recalls are reduced; improved product quality means fewer complaints; and sanitation improves when less time and effort are required. Sanitary design is a money maker, seriously.