In the food manufacturing industry, compressed air quality is a critical factor. To ensure the protection of the food products processed in each facility, the compressed air must be contaminate-free. The Canadian Food Safety Enhancement Program has identified compressed air and gas used in the packaging and processing as a potential source of contamination. The potential hazard of compressed air quality is often overlooked during internal risk assessments, possibly due to the fact compressed air is odourless, tasteless, and colourless, or it may be that many people consider compressed air as just air.
Sources of compressed air contamination include the compressor itself and the ambient intake air. The contaminated compressed air can be a major issue for a food manufacturer. The outdoor air that is feeding the compressor may contain contaminates including oil vapour, micro-organisms, solid particles and water vapour. The placement and location of the compressor intake should be carefully considered to avoid as many contaminants as possible.
Moisture creates an ideal breeding ground for mold growth and the presence of moisture is the primary concern for the food industry. Fungi and microorganisms can grow inside the pipe system, then be blown into food containers or food products.
Pressure dew points must be below -26 ֯ C (-15 ֯ F) to inhibit the growth of fungi and microorganisms. The simplest way to eliminate moisture in a compressed air systems is to dry the compressed air to a specified pressure dew point. Other contaminants of compressed air include oil aerosols and vapours.
If you have an oil free compressor, it does not exempt the system of any compressed air treatment or testing requirements. Compressed air dryers and filters are always required.
Critical information to monitor air quality and assist in the prevention of contamination of the food supply can be provided with compressed air testing. To properly maintain service and testing of the compressed air system be sure to have qualified personnel employed.
Many sectors of the food industry use compressed air. An example of compressed air being used to clean containers before filling with food would be a bakery. The compressed air is also used to cut, sort and shape food products, depending on the application it can be used in a range of pressures from high to low.
International Standards Organization established a specification that targets compressed air which is ISO 8573. It is comprised of nine documents describing compressed air contaminants, purity classes, and the sampling and analytical techniques to be used. The compressed air system performance may be evaluated in terms of the compressor output at the compressor itself, at the various points of use, and in the piping downstream of the compressor. Compressor output knowledge is important in terms of selecting downstream filtration and assessing gross contamination of the piping system.
In systems where stead-state flow, pressure, and temperature cannot be maintained, partial flow sampling is inappropriate. At any point, full flow sampling may be used which requires a sampling device which has the capacity to handle the full flow at that point in the system. Most user request the full flow sampling as they want to know the air purity at the point of use where air may come in direct or indirect contact with the food/product. Compressed air supports the food industry as long as due diligence is taken to remove contaminants from the system, and regular compressed air testing is done.
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