In food manufacturing facilities, compressed air is used to provide energy, clean equipment, and blow open plastic packaging. However, compressed air can contaminate surfaces, foods, and packaging. If you are in charge of sanitation in a food manufacturing facility, it's important that you take adequate measures to ensure the safety of the packaged foods so they are not contaminated by air compressors. Here are the types of contaminants to be aware of, and how to reduce the risks of those contaminants in your facility.
3 contaminants from air compressors
The air from air compressors can contain 3 contaminants that can spoil food and cause illnesses to people who eat the food.
- Moisture. Air compressor intakes take in air from the environment. Along with this air is water vapor. When the air is compressed, the water vapor condenses and forms droplets of water. Air compressors have fluid control valves in them to control this moisture. If the moisture is not controlled and eliminated from the air that is expelled from the air compressors, the moisture can get into the foods and packaging, and onto surfaces that are used during food preparation.
- Oil. Oil can also be found in the air, especially from vapors that are created during cooking processes using oil. Oily residue from equipment can also linger in the air as vapor, which can then get into the air intake vents. Equipment and air compressors that are powered by oil should not be used in food manufacturing facilities to minimize the risks of oil contamination in the foods unless necessary during the preparation process, such as with fried foods. Air compressors for food preparation should have an oil-water separator inside the equipment.
- Particles. Particles of dust, food, bacterium, fungi, microorganisms, allergens and minute metal and plastic shavings from faulty parts can get into air compressors and cause contamination. These particles, as with moisture and oil, get into air compressors through the air intake vents. The ability for particles of food allergens to get into the air compressors is one of the reasons why product labels are required to state when a food is manufactured in the same facility as food allergens. Air compressors are designed to remove particles from the compressors when sensors detect they are present.
When food is contaminated, it can lead to costly recalls and downtime to clean the facility to prevent further contamination. However, there are several things to do to mitigate or eliminate the risks of contamination in your food from air compressors.
One of the best ways to eliminate risks and prevent contamination is through safety measures. Your facility should already have a protocol in place for operating and maintaining air compressors. If not, it's important to develop one. Here are a few important things that should be included in your prevention measures.
- Seals. Air compressors have seals that are designed to keep contaminants out of the air that is compressed inside the equipment. These seals should be checked regularly and replaced as necessary according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Contract with an air compressor technician to perform these preventive measures.
- Control valves. Control valves are also crucial in keeping the air compressors free of contaminants. For food manufacturing facilities, the air compressors should have fluid, oil, and particle control valves, along with sensors to detect them. When the sensors detect the contaminants, they automatically turn on the valves, dryers and filtration systems to expel the contaminants from the air compressors.
- Tests. To ensure that no contaminants are being ejected from the air compressor nozzles, routine tests should be conducted. These tests are called air audits and can be conducted by your air compressor contractor.
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