Since a cold foods business literally stands on its flooring, knowing what goes into building and maintaining a floor can save a company millions of dollars. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data  from 2011 through 2018 (the most-recent year available), the floors, walkways and ground surfaces at cold foods manufacturers were the number one source of injury causing employees to lose time from work. For frozen foods manufacturers, the 2018 BLS data shows slips, trips and falls were the number one cause of injury, more prevalent than overexertion, repetitive motion or equipment.

Costs related to flooring stretch beyond worker health. If a floor isn’t maintained safely, it could affect a Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification or even lead to a product recall. Think how cracks and voids in a floor can harbor bacteria that equipment and workers can inadvertently spread throughout a facility.


Unique conditions for cold foods flooring

Floors inside a cold foods processing facility or cold storage warehouse weaken and eventually wear out. Getting a good outcome from repairing or replacing floors takes the right mix of specifications, products, timing and temperature. For cold foods manufacturers, there are flooring products vendors can apply below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and others requiring well over 32 F to set up. If thawing the environment isn’t an option, some contractors can apply methyl methacrylate (MMA) flooring, which rapidly sets at a very low temperature but requires PPE and venting. For products needing more than 32 F to apply, contractors can mitigate downtime by adding an accelerant to the flooring product to finish a job faster. With the right preparation and installation, flooring surfaces like cementitious urethane can withstand temperature swings from -330 F to 240 F.


Flooring’s cost linked to planning, design

Manufacturers often patch flooring problems – rather than resurfacing a facility – because it minimizes downtime or inexpensively meets conditions for an audit. Stopgap measures can lead to a cycle of repairs, cracks and more repairs. Stopping production to move equipment and entirely rework a floor can ultimately cost less, but only when a facility manager and contractor thoroughly plan out the project. Whether a cold foods manufacturer wants a vendor to undertake spot repairs or completely resurface a facility floor, facility managers should:

anti-slip flooring

Anti-slip flooring is a crucial safety component to a cold foods facility and not an area to cut costs.

Ask about techniques & equipment

Look for vendors who place a premium on cleanliness vis-à-vis SFQ. Make sure they have familiarity with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and how the flooring work relates to your process and sanitation controls. Ideally, a vendor will have a full-time safety manager.

As for exploring a vendor’s techniques, you can ask how, for instance, they will repair cracks, divots or expansion joints. Simply covering an expansion joint -- instead of filling, coating, re-cutting and adding a flexible urethane -- will cause the floor to fail from that point. When it comes to equipment, make sure a vendor has quality ventilation equipment with double HEPA filters for reducing or containing dust. Ensuring a flooring product binds to a surface in a cold environment usually requires grinding or shot blasting, which creates dust.


Find an expert to pick a spec

Facility managers too often leave specifications to a vendor. Get help from an unbiased third party like the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI). NFSI, for example, recommends that cold foods manufacturers have floors tested regularly by a walkway auditor, preferably a NFSI WACH graduate, to evaluate problems and make recommendations. Some surfaces inside a facility are easy to spot as trouble areas. But a safety manager can eliminate biases with an audit using a tribometer, which measures a floor’s coefficient of friction. Choosing the right flooring specification in advance might cost more, but it could safely speed up the project and get a manufacturer’s production lines running sooner.

When selecting a flooring product, consider what’s happening in the facility. Document the type of chemicals used for washdown and what kind of foodstuff might fall to the floor. Share that information with a third party to help you select an appropriate product. If, for instance, a flooring product isn’t designed to flex, thermal shock from washdown will cause the surface to pop off.

Expansion joints in a cold facility floor

Expansion joints in a cold facility floor should be completely refurbished and not just covered to save money.

Select a vendor with a track record

If a vendor doesn’t have references in the cold foods industry, then all else, including the vendor’s quote, is merely hoping their work from other industries translates to yours. There’s a steep learning path with the cold foods environment. Find out how many cold foods projects the vendor has accomplished and the percentage delivered on time. A well-equipped, skilled vendor will, for instance, contain dust from grinding a floor; that containment cuts cleaning time and reduces production downtime.


Get a plan in hand, early

Some vendors rely on subcontractors, which takes coordination. Get the vendor’s project plan in writing, well before the project starts. Meet in advance and walk through key steps of the flooring plan with your facility manager and the vendor’s project manager, foreman, safety manager and salesperson to prevent unnecessary production downtime. The vendor’s first day on the job should start with work, not questions.


Understand what affects price

Most flooring work is priced as a project, not per square foot. A facility manager can reduce costs by focusing on planning and preparation. For example, if a facility can move its equipment and products and wash and clean floors in advance of a vendor’s arrival, the vendor can trim labor costs. If a facility manager has a safety orientation, he or she could deliver this online to the vendor’s team to take before the project starts.


Gather the facts for procurement

Determine the expected life of a soon-to-be-installed floor and what it is worth to do right the first time versus redoing it. Invite the EHS manager to be part of the flooring project, so the procurement officer knows the floor’s financial costs include preventing: 

  • lost downtime;
  • falls due to poor slip resistance;
  • a shutdown because the floor inside a freezer didn’t pass inspection; or
  • cracks promoting the growth of Listeria-causing bacteria.


Final thoughts

Total cost of ownership matters with flooring. Sometimes, it’s easier and worth the cost to put in a superior-quality floor that could last 10 years, instead of installing what seems to be a less expensive product. But if a less expensive product requires you to change your processes (e.g., purchasing new chemicals, changing your washdown procedures, more frequent repairs) to wring longevity out of it, then what does that bargain cost? There’s no right answer until you delve into the planning and design properly. Your operations depend on it.


[1] "Number of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work by selected worker and case characteristics and industry, all U.S., private industry, 2011 – 2018,” U.S. BLS, retrieved Oct. 22, 2020.