Our Insights

Plate Steel Sanitary Decking: Save Yourself From A Nasty Surprise

May 23, 2018

Brian Rausch of POWER Engineers

By Brian Rausch
Civil/Structural Department Manager, Facilities Division

I have never met a food manufacturer that wasn’t interested in a plant that’s cleaner, easier to maintain, and more affordable to update. The ever-increasing pressure from corporate leadership to reduce capital costs and improve production margins is difficult to balance with the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Hence, cost-effective projects that improve sanitary environments are front-of-mind for plant managers, corporate engineers, and operations and maintenance managers.

Considering those factors, I wonder why more facilities don’t implement flat-plate steel decks instead of using tubular steel sections? In the past, flat-plate steel decks may have been more cumbersome and expensive to design and install, but now, due to better design tools and fabricator efficiencies, these structures are becoming more cost effective to design, install, and are significantly more sanitary in food production environments.

What’s wrong with tubular steel?
Tubular steel frames are fine when they’re newly installed. However, anyone who’s spent time in a manufacturing plant understands that things don’t stay the same for long.

A colleague of mine recently expressed his anxiety about tubular steel: “Whenever we have to cut into one of those frames to mount or add something, we all get tense: you never know WHAT you’re going to find or what’s going to come spilling out.” Tubular steel can be a breeding ground for some of the nastiest pathogens out there, including listeria, salmonella, shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), vibrio vulnificus, or clostridium botulinum. Together, these five foodborne pathogens are responsible for roughly 1.26 million illnesses (primarily from salmonella and E. coli) and nearly 700 deaths.¹

In the break-neck pace of food production, line reconfigurations and equipment upgrades often dictate that a structural frame be modified. As soon as someone drills a hole in a tubular steel frame to modify it or attach something to it, its sanitary integrity is lost. Whether you’re dealing with legs, handrails, or horizontal supports, once the seal is broken, the hollow space inside your tubular steel structure is vulnerable to bacteria, putting your product at risk of contamination.

What’s the alternative?
Plate steel structures and frames are growing increasingly more popular and cost-effective as a viable alternative to tubular steel. Structural beams are scalloped at the top to significantly reduce welding (and associated cost).

Manufacturers benefit directly across the lifecycle of the structure: from ease of design and fabrication through ongoing, in-plant maintenance.

The cost for plate steel decks and frames is becoming competitive with tubular steel and can simplify design, installation, and sanitation.

Plate steel decking is more sanitary than tubular steel. As fabrication technologies have improved, it’s also become more cost effective to design and install – competitive with the other options on the market.

Consider the following benefits to plate steel structures and frames: