Keg Washing: Working Smarter to Conquer an Essential Brewery Task

kegs on conveyor belt going through wash machine

By: Cheryl Gray

Imagine a dried egg inside a frying pan. Then, imagine the bacteria that immediately begins to grow because you’ve left the problem to fester, and, well, you know the rest.

  The same premise holds true when cleaning the kegs for your brewery. If the job is not done properly, breweries are setting themselves up for all kinds of safety and hygiene problems, both inside and outside the keg. Ensuring that beer is safe to consume is not an option. It is a must.

  Beer products are very sensitive to any outside contamination. Even tiny traces of bacteria or other contaminants can ruin an entire batch of beer, costing breweries money in lost time, resources and, of course, product. 

  There are some key differences in cleaning the outside of a keg versus the inside. Cleaning the inside of a keg involves focusing on removing any beer residue, bacteria or contaminants. Success in this area can ensure that the beer dispensed maintains the quality its brewer intended and is safe to drink. A proper external cleaning, of course, guarantees the removal of any contamination or dirt that may be present on the outside surface of the keg.

  While properly cleaning beer kegs is not an impossible task, choosing the wrong cleaning apparatus can be costly on all fronts. If you choose kegs for your beer products, knowing how to protect your customers from contamination is the job of expert companies with solutions that can help. Many breweries are opting for automatic solutions to clean and sanitize their kegs.

  Fillmore Packaging Solutions, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, promises affordable solutions for keg washing designed for craft breweries of all sizes. Since owner Tony Saballa founded the company more than twenty years ago, it has focused on perfecting the mechanical side of production. Saballa says his company is all in when it comes to automatic keg washers.

  “We don’t offer manual keg washers since they typically require the same amount of labor and cost to construct as fully automated washers. We also have found that manual washers often have variable outputs with wash quality issues due to operator missteps and errors.

  Our keg washers are built to completely automate the washing process utilizing state-of-the-art UL certified electronics. Automation simplifies the washing process so brewers can apply their attention to other tasks.”

  Saballa adds that Fillmore’s keg washers are UL Certified and constructed to meet the UL508a safety code standards for the United States and Canada. The washers are constructed at the company’s St. Louis manufacturing facility.

  “We aim to deliver American-made automation that functions to the highest standards at a cost that is affordable for both startups and expanding breweries.”

  Saballa points out some major mistakes that brewers make when it comes to keg washing and how Fillmore can steer them in the right direction. One major error, Saballa says, is overdoing the cleaning process. He says that more is not better in the case of keg washing.

  “Here at Fillmore, we often find that brewers tend to over-concentrate their cleaning and sanitizing solutions, sometimes using double and triple the manufacturer recommended usage rates. More is not better. This increases the operational cost, and safety for the operator must also be taken into consideration. Other factors that exist are the accelerated wear on pumps, valves, seals and gaskets, which can lead to down time and costly repairs.”

  Saballa explains how Fillmore’s keg washers are built to operate on a special voltage and designed for different breweries of different sizes. 

  “This is important since most new breweries are not located in industrial zones. Single-phase machinery offers a solution for brewers operating in areas where three-phase power is inaccessible or installation would be cost-prohibitive.”

  Each Fillmore keg washer operates on either 120v or 220v AC and compressed air and is capable of handling advanced pressurized CO2. Equipped with an enhanced design and technologically advanced features, the semi-auto keg washers include a fully programmable interface designed for customized operation, high-capacity cleaning and advanced sanitizing for brewery kegs.

  Another company specializing in keg washers is Craftmaster Stainless, headquartered in Rancho Cordova, California. The company manufactures production equipment for multiple beverage industries, including beer, cider, wine, spirits and coffee. Its clients range from small craft brewers to large global producers. With more than two decades of experience in stainless steel fabrication, the company’s team has the capability to custom-design and build commercial beer brewing equipment.

  When it comes to cleaning kegs, Craftmaster Stainless offers the Keggernaut Semi-Automatic Keg Washer. The product features a Siemens interface that gives breweries full state-of-the-art touch control over temperature settings and wash cycle timing. 

  The Kerrernaut is equipped with dual cleaning stations designed to wash two kegs of any size.    It can clean up to 40 kegs an hour, contingent upon the length of the wash cycle. The user-friendly features allow the kegs to simply be inverted, automatically washed, sanitized and pressurized in minutes. This semi-auto beer keg cleaning equipment allows for a quick and easy option to increase productivity. 

  Craftmaster Stainless offers its customers lifetime support on all commercial brewing equipment. It also provides custom designs for its microbrewery clients. 

  Keg washers are also available from Alpha Brewing Operations. The company, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, provides fully automated options for an entire brewery. Its automation options from breweries range from semi-auto to what the company calls its fully automated package. The works include features such as a large touchscreen interface and connectivity options with mobile devices.

  For keg washing, Alpha Brewing Operations offers a product called the Alpha “Wash Dog Junior.”  It is an affordable, compact, automatic version of the company’s larger and fully automatic counterpart. The “Junior” is still highly automated but requires manual coupling to kegs and comes in a smaller package. This smaller keg washer is designed to fit into the tight budgets and tight spaces of startups and small breweries.

  Keg washers are also available from international manufacturers, such as Comac, which has its headquarters in Italy. Comac has several varieties of external keg washers, capable of washing anywhere from 30 to more than 1,000 kegs per hour. Comac offers customized keg-washing solutions for breweries of all sizes.

  Comac’s most compact keg washer is only about six and a half feet long, including a single section and one track. The company touts it as an ideal option for hot or recycled water washing. There is a larger option that performs multiple tasks for keg washing, such as pre-washing with recycled water, washing with a caustic solution to remove hard-to-clean dirt and a final rinse with clean water.

  For larger production facilities, Comac offers a dual-track keg washer to boost cleaning capacity. Other features include easy and cost-effective maintenance, quick changeover ability and savings in water consumption. Other options available for large production lines include a separate skid for components, such as pumps, valves and heat exchangers to simplify cleaning and maintenance.

  Experts agree that keg washing, inside and out, protects the beer and the consumers who buy it. For breweries large and small, the task is an inevitable necessity made easier by automated machinery designed to make a mundane task easier to manage while increasing safeguards against cross-contamination.

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