The Right Compressor Can Help Reduce Contamination Risk in Food Products

As a food or beverage producer, nothing is more important than the quality and safety of your product. Naturally, you want to do everything you can to reduce the risk of contamination, while still operating your facilities efficiently and profitably.

Compressed air systems, while a key part of the food production and packaging process, are often overlooked as a source of contamination.

Types of Compressed Air Contamination

Atmospheric Air Contamination

The main contaminant source in modern compressed air systems is atmospheric air. It is drawn into the system, bringing with it micro-organisms and other microscopic contaminants. This contaminated air is then compressed and used in production.

Oil Contamination

A second major source of contamination comes from the oil used for lubrication and cooling in traditional air compressors. This process leaves oil content in the compressed air. If not removed, the oil will pass through the system to a Critical Control Point (CCP). Contaminated piping systems can also introduce oil.

Water/Moisture Contamination

Moisture turns a compressed air system into a breeding ground for microorganisms and fungi. They grow inside the system components and piping, then are blown out onto the product, equipment or containers. This problem is exacerbated in hot, humid climates. A pressure dewpoint of better than −14.8°F (−26°C) is needed to inhibit microorganism growth.

Solid Particle Contamination

Ambient dust particles can enter the compressor through the intake valve. Other common contaminants include pipe scale from old and rusting piping systems, and coatings from airend rotors in the compressor itself.

Unless actions are taken to remove or reduce compressed air contamination, chances are it will at some point also contaminate the product.

Assessing Contamination Risk

International standard ISO 22000:2005 requires that all hazards which may be reasonably expected to occur within food production be identified and risk assessed. In order to assess the level of potential risk, compressed air used throughout a production facility must be categorized at every point of use as:

  • Directly contacting the product
  • Indirectly contacting the product (such as through a container, packaging or equipment)
  • Non-contacting

It is crucial that each category and application be provided the correct purity of air in accordance with codes of practice and ISO standards for air quality. ISO 8573-1:2010 lays out recommendations for compressed air purity for direct and indirect points of contact.

It is important to identify non-contacting points in the system as well, to avoid spending resources to “over-protect” parts of the compressed air system that have no potential for contact with the product in any way.

Using New Compressor Technologies to Reduce Contamination Risk

Food and beverage producers who seek to maximize their protection against contamination have a wide selection of compression and purification technologies available to them.

As stated earlier, one of the most common causes of contamination comes from the cooling/lubricating oil used in traditional compressors. While purification equipment is effective in filtering out this oil, many food and beverage producers seek to lower their risk further by switching to new oil free compressor technologies.

100% oil less compressors contain no oil at all, allowing the user to fully remove one of these major sources of contamination. Having carried out a full risk analysis, many food producers now choose this option.

A related technology is the “oil free” compressor. They don’t use oil in the same way as a traditional compressor, but do contain oils within the gearboxes and other non-air side areas of the compressor. In analyzing risk, food producers should consider the potential impact should there be any leakage of these oils or failure of internal seals.

What other steps can be taken to help prevent contamination and maintain a reliable and efficient system?

  • Installation of filtration and drying (purification) equipment
  • Regular risk monitoring, air quality sampling and compressed air system audits
  • Maintain compressed air system in accordance with equipment manufacturer guidelines
  • Thorough documentation of all inspections, test results, service actions and incidents
  • Documented incident response process
  • Keep informed about developing compressed air system solutions and technologies to improve performance and reduce energy costs

C&B Equipment is a proud supplier of Gardner Denver’s entire range of oil free and oil less compressors from 2HP – 400HP, oil free air compressors. Contact us today about compressed air solutions to help lower contamination risk, increase plant uptime, and reduce energy costs.

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