food processing

For Healthy Indoor Air Quality, Food Manufacturers Need Clean Air

For Healthy Indoor Air Quality , Food Manufacturers Need Clean Air 1

Facing the constant risk of bacteria and regulatory pressures from federal agencies, food manufacturers must ensure their products are free from all sources of contamination, including the air. Maintaining safe and hygienic air quality levels not only provides employees with a comfortable work environment but also reduces the possibility of contaminants that are commonly found during food manufacturing.

Air should especially be controlled if it comes into direct contact with food. For example, common foods that are processed using air filtration systems include eggs. To prevent contamination of eggs by micro-organisms such as salmonella, eggs are sent through in-line conveyor belts, scrubbed with automated machinery, dried with filtered air and sanitized with chlorine misters.

Proper safety measures can help prevent the growth of microorganisms and the accumulation of particulates such as dust. Microorganisms that can harm food and, consequently, people are airborne and live within droplets, according to Food Safety Magazine. If the air is unfiltered, this could pose a challenge to facilities that wish to keep their structural features, such as overhead pipelines, clean and sanitized. As a best practice for food manufacturers, facilities should have filtration systems to safely remove airborne contaminants and improve the air quality of the building.

Sources for Contamination

When monitoring the air quality for food production factories, companies should note the physical volume of the facility as well as likely sources of food contamination and vulnerable areas in production lines. Sources of contamination could include raw materials used for production, packaging and movable equipment. Since machinery can generate exhaust, placing extractor arms near this equipment can effectively control potential air contamination. People can also bring particulates into the workplace as employees can track in dust and dirt on their feet or clothing. Dust can also cause micro-organism growth unless these particulates and various other contaminants are captured by air filtration systems.

Controls for Contamination

Temperature is an important factor for how food manufacturers can prevent airborne contamination, according to a report by Auburn University Department of Animal Sciences.

“The simplest, most straight-forward method of controlling processing room air conditions is to make sure that all HVAC units are in good working order and consistently maintaining temperature,” the Auburn University study said. “Additionally, doors to processing rooms should be kept closed at all times to reduce the chance of cross contamination and to assist the cooling units in maintaining temperature.”

Of course, proper air filtration goes hand-in-hand with temperature control. Food Safety News suggested the type of products within the facility that are being processed should determine the amount of filtration for incoming air. For example, products that are susceptible to contamination on a micro-level should utilize the highest standard filters.

It is also important to keep ventilation systems running as the risk of contamination grows as time passes.

“It has also been shown that as the day progresses, the amount of air contamination increases,” Auburn University researchers said. “In fact, as the week progresses, there is an increase in the overall contamination of air with bacteria and mold.”

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Chemical Exposure in Food Processing Plants

Food processing plants should ensure their workers are protected from hazardous fumes, such as ammonia.

While food safety may be on the forefront of some consumers’ minds when doing their shopping this year, food processing companies may also want to step up their commitment to safety in the workplace. As food facilities operate equipment and tools that may emit hazardous gases and fumes, workers may be at risk for long-term exposure to chemicals. 

A food manufacturing company was recently fined by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for $42,000 for six safety violations that may have led to workers being adversely exposed to ammonia. OSHA said the company failed to maintain the facility’s ventilation system, which is one of the most important aspects in ensuring worker safety, especially when it comes to hazardous fumes and gases like ammonia. The ammonia, a hazard that is supposed to be accounted for during proper process safety management, was used for refrigeration at the plant and managed to become released after a forklift damaged an ammonia storage container.

“A proper safety management program is meant to anticipate and plan for an array of failures that could cause the release of hazardous chemicals,” said Casey Perkins, OSHA’s area director in Austin. “Given the multiple deficiencies in this program, it’s fortunate no serious injuries resulted.”

Effects of ammonia on worker health

As a colorless but strong-smelling gas, ammonia can lead to a number of negative health effects, including causing workers to have difficulty breathing and experience chest pain, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In addition to the symptoms of ammonia exposure, NIOSH said this gas can also become flammable at certain concentrations, usually when there is a 16 to 25 percent mixture of ammonia released into the air.

Companies that want to be proactive in protecting their workers from hazardous chemical exposure often invest in air filtration solutions that allow employers to extract poisonous fumes while still maintaining a productive work environment. Oil mist collectors could also be an important safeguard against the chemical risks of ammonia as contact with lubricating oils could cause the gas to become even more flammable.

“When mixed with lubricating oils, its flammable concentration range is increased,” according to OSHA.” It can explode if released in an enclosed space with a source of ignition present, or if a vessel containing anhydrous ammonia is exposed to fire.”

With chemicals in the workplace potentially mixing and resulting in negative health consequences, companies must invest in the right engineering controls to guard their workers against long-term side effects.

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