How to Recognize and Repair Flooring Damage in Food Processing Areas

What Happened, Why Is It a Problem, and How Do You Fix It?

By Kyle Hinners, Global Segment Director – Food & Beverage, and Gina Atzinger, Business Development Manager, Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine; Jennifer Zepeda, Business Development Manager, Sherwin-Williams High Performance Flooring

person operating floor grinder in food and beverage application project

Manufacturing and process areas are the focal point of food processing facilities – locations where the cleanliness and integrity of all surfaces are essential due to their close proximity or direct exposure to raw commodities, food ingredients or finished, prepared foods. It is critical to keep counters and surfaces clean and intact for food safety purposes. So is the case with floors and floor details, including drains, expansion joints, moldings and wall transitions, all of which may deteriorate over time and harbor mold, bacteria and other pathogens. Therefore, clean and properly maintained floor surfaces play a vital role in preserving and protecting the cleanliness and purity of food processing operations (Figure 1).

Such processing areas often feature seamless resinous flooring systems installed on top of concrete, as the systems are highly durable and easy to clean. However, even the best and best-protected resinous floors require maintenance to preserve their integrity and cleanliness. The most common signs of wear and tear, flooring damage, and the need for timely floor repairs and recoating include:

  • Ponding water
  • Drain problems and undercutting of the concrete slab
  • Penetration of moisture, chemicals or foodstuffs into concrete
  • Safety problems due to obvious wear, divots or cracking
  • Settling and failure of expansion joints

These common problems carry very real operating costs, including the risk of downtime and product contamination, personnel injury or accidents, fines and regulatory actions, or even product recalls.

That is why, as part of the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), food and beverage facilities are required to implement preventive control plans that describe how they will correct any problems that may arise. In the case of a flooring related problem, having repair specifications already in place for rehabilitating and recoating concrete structures will allow a facility to take immediate corrective actions – such as issuing a detailed bid for repairs to trusted suppliers and flooring contractors – following a compliance issue.

Being able to initiate repairs promptly improves the likelihood that a facility will be able to restore compliance within the three- to four-week window auditors typically mandate. Better yet, facility managers can be prepared to spot such issues ahead of audits and as part of daily operations by understanding what matters are likely to occur, how to address them and what the facility can do to prevent them in the future. This article will help managers do just that.

Floor Coatings Protect Valuable Concrete
To maintain the efficiency of your food processing plant, the quality of your products, and the safety and productivity of your personnel and equipment, you’ll need to allow for timely and complete inspection and maintenance of production floors. You’ll also need to make appropriate and complete repairs when needed. These activities must include not only proper attention to the concrete substrate itself, but also attention to the floor coatings on top, including: ensuring the correct surface preparation of the underlying concrete (Figure 2); specifying the right flooring system for the anticipated food material and cleaning protocol exposures; properly applying coatings and surface treatments; providing adequate curing and drying times; and performing periodic future maintenance.

Every food production area is going to see wear and tear on its concrete floor over a working life that typically spans decades. That’s why food processors commonly install floor coatings on top to protect the concrete from premature wear (Figure 3).

Properly specified and applied floor coatings essentially provide a “sacrificial” layer over valuable, structural concrete substrates, absorbing some of the physical wear and abuse while preventing incursion of harmful moisture and chemicals. They can later be refreshed by mechanical grinding, damaged concrete can be repaired, and a new topcoat or refreshed system can be installed to further prolong the life of the concrete.

Common Flooring Problems, Likely Causes and Repairs
Not even the best resinous flooring systems can prevent all concrete damage, so it is important that your periodic inspection processes, as well as your in-house damage repair and safety programs, can identify common flooring problems. While some problems can be quickly repaired with expert advice and the right products, many will require the help of skilled coatings professionals.

Here are some of the most common problems associated with resinous flooring applications and how to solve them:

Ponding Water. Water or fluids that pond rather than properly draining off a floor are a top target for safety and health inspectors, since that standing fluid is a slip/fall hazard and can be easily contaminated by bacteria that can then proliferate and spread. Ponding moisture can also be rapidly spread by foot or wheeled floor traffic, potentially further spreading bacteria and slipping hazards. Ponding signals an improper slope to drain that may have originated from poor floor design or installation. Another possible reason is that the underlying concrete has settled or cracked.

Repair: Grind the floor coatings away to remove them. Then, cut out and remove the affected area of concrete and re-level/re-slope it with a suitable sloping product, such as urethane concrete. Then, apply the appropriate flooring system layers. If the ponding water is at a 90-degreee floor-to-wall transition, install a curved cove base or a 45-degree cant base, either of which will encourage water to move away from what would otherwise be a harborage point for moisture and bacteria (Figure 4).

Drain Problems and Concrete Undercutting. Due to the heavy weight of a concrete floor, some settling is natural. However, settling and cracks that occur near drains could indicate a defect or gap in the floor/drain interface. When moisture infiltrates this gap, instead of flowing into the drain, it can gradually erode the underlying soil and “undercut” the concrete, causing weakness and cracking.

Repair: Identify gaps and defects in drain areas. Prepare surfaces and then reapply the proper drain detail (Figure 5). In addition, consider converting trench-style drains to box drains, as the latter style has far less surface area where undercutting can occur. The reduced surface area of a box drain also limits the area where water can collect and bacteria can proliferate. Of course, converting a trench drain to a box drain will require re-pitching the floor a quarter inch for every foot that fluids must fall from the edge of the wall to avoid ponding water.

Chips, Cracks or Divots. Active production areas are likely to incur their share of chips, cracks and divots in concrete substates over time. Chips and cracks often occur during the concrete curing process, with some cracks being virtually invisible and many remaining relatively small and easy to repair. Still, others may grow large enough to pose hazards to the movement of personnel or equipment. Damage like this can result from many causes, including changes in floor loading (e.g., the unplanned placement of heavy production equipment), impact damage (dropped loads), structural movement (settling), floor traffic (vibration or physical wear) or thermal shock (rapid temperature changes).

Repair: Small cracks and divots up to 1/16 of an inch can be “bridged” with a flexible epoxy membrane, which will help to prevent cracks in the substrate from telegraphing up into the finished flooring system above. Larger chips or divots must be prepped, then filled with a urethane concrete patching material. Such resins can patch holes, cracks, depressions and other surface imperfections, with certain formulations setting within two minutes and allowing the repaired area to be placed in service or recoated within 30 minutes.

Figure 1. Clean and properly-maintained floor surfaces help to preserve and protect the cleanliness and purity of food processing operations.

Figure 2. Proper preparation of the concrete substrate using grinding and shot blasting (shown) techniques ensures a strong bond with the flooring system applied on top.

Figure 3. Resinous flooring systems protect the concrete substrate below from premature wear, enabling facilities to maximize uptime and minimize maintenance costs.

Figure 4. Installing an angled cant base (shown) or a curved cove base at 90-degreee floor-to-wall transitions eliminates a common harborage point for moisture and bacteria by encouraging water to drain away from that interface.

Figure 5. Careful attention around drains is required during flooring system installations to minimize the potential for moisture to infiltrate gaps and undercut the concrete substrate below.

Failing Control or Expansion Joints. A tremendous amount of stress and strain centers on transitional areas of a concrete floor, including floor-to-wall interfaces, control joints and expansion joints. These joints are designed to relieve stress and allow movement and settling of large concrete slabs in a controlled manner. However, these joints and the concrete that surrounds them can be damaged due to high loading stresses, heavy traffic or impacts, exposure to moisture or chemicals, or other factors.

Repair: The damaged joint areas, as well as surrounding damaged concrete, must be removed and replaced entirely. Because some concrete will likely be replaced, installers will want to use a urethane concrete flooring system to accelerate the repair timeline. Such systems allow them to complete the flooring installation in as little as three to five days after the concrete is poured compared to the typical 28-plus day wait required before installing a conventional epoxy mortar or methyl methacrylate (MMA) flooring system on green concrete.

Common Causes of Floor Coating Failures
A floor coating failure usually appears as an area that is coming loose, breaking or peeling free from the underlying concrete. A failure affecting the floor coating can arise from many causes – many of which have little to do with the coating itself. Let’s consider some potential common causes:

  • Changes in Cleaning Processes: A coating specified for use with dry cleaning processes may not respond well to the sudden introduction of hot-water washdowns.
  • Chemical Attack: The introduction of a new cleaning chemical, such as a new antiviral disinfectant not envisioned when the coating was specified, could attack and break down the coating surface.
  • Commodity Incompatibility: Spills of foods or ingredients processed in an area could contaminate or break down the floor coating.
  • Repurposing of Facility Space: Expansion requirements may dictate that areas developed for one purpose (e.g., receiving, packaging or distribution) be repurposed into production areas. However, the floor coatings originally used in these areas may not be adequate. If the coating was not resinous and unable to handle thermal shock, then hot water washdowns associated with production could penetrate the coating and attack the concrete substrate. If a proper coating was applied, but in a thickness not adequate for production areas or when preparation of the concrete substrate was subpar, the flooring could be damaged.
  • Erosive Attack: Long-term process, commodity, chemical or water leakage over time can also erode and damage coatings and concrete surfaces.

While all of the above are possible causes, by far the most common causes of floor coating failures are inadequate or improper surface preparation, as well as poor coating installations.

Resolving Floor Problems and Optimizing Future Performance
The best way to avoid any future coating failures is to work with skilled and experienced floor coating suppliers and contractors – ones that can evaluate the floor problems you have and recommend the best solutions for addressing them. It is common, especially on older floors that are being recoated, to encounter some degree of contamination, such as accumulated grease that has gradually penetrated the coating and floor surface. Such areas may not appear problematic to a longtime owner who is eager to complete a coating job and return the floor to full production, but the eyes of experienced suppliers and contractors will quickly recognize areas that require additional preparation steps – and perhaps specialty resinous flooring systems.

These parties offer a full range of knowledge on best floor preparation practices – from diamond grinding and shot-blasting to degreasers and special primer coats – as well as critical specifications. That includes understanding International Concrete Repair Institute surface preparation standards (ICRI 310.2) and Concrete Surface Profile classifications (CSP 1-10) that are essential to ensuring a consistently strong mechanical bond between the concrete surface and the type of coating that is required.

With the help of input from a coatings manufacturer like Sherwin-Williams High Performance Flooring, a qualified coatings contractor can also ensure the right coating is specified for your application. Then, the contractor must properly apply the coating system, including:

  • Properly installing every aspect of the floor system, such as surfaces, slopes, drains, cove bases and moldings, doorways, transitions, and control and expansion joints.
  • Correctly applying each coat, finished with the appropriate texture, within the recommended window to allow maximum adherence to the previous coat.
  • Ensuring appropriate environmental conditions, including temperature and relative humidity, during coating applications and throughout the entire curing process.

The result will be a floor system – concrete plus coatings – that handles exposure to the expected foodstuffs, loads, cleaning chemicals and wet/dry cleaning processes for years to come.

About the Authors
Kyle Hinners is Global Segment Director – Food & Beverage for Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine. He has 16 years’ experience in the protective coatings industry, serving in a variety of sales and marketing leadership roles. His most recent position with Sherwin-Williams was Protective & Marine Sales Manager. Hinners has a degree in business management from St. John’s University. Contact him at

Gina Atzinger is a Business Development Manager for Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine. She has been in the protective coating industry for more than 39 years, serving 23 of those years with Sherwin-Williams. Atzinger is a NACE Certified Coating Inspector and an SSPC Concrete Coating Inspector. Her coatings career has included positions in product development, quality assurance, sales management and marketing. She completed her undergraduate studies in chemistry and police administration at the University of Louisville. Contact her at

Jennifer Zepeda is Business Development Manager for Sherwin-Williams High Performance Flooring. She has served in a variety of sales and marketing roles throughout her 16 years of experience in the protective coatings industry. Her most recent position with Sherwin-Williams was Protective & Marine Sales Representative for High Performance Flooring. Zepeda holds her NACE International Level 3 Certification and is an SSPC Level 2 Certified Coating Inspector. She has a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University. Contact her at

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