No one expects their food to make them sick but according to the CDC each year one in six Americans contracts food poisoning. Of those, some 128,000 will find themselves in hospital and 3,000 will die.
That’s reason enough for those in food and beverage processing and manufacturing to take hygiene very seriously. Plus, it’s good business practice. Negative publicity from a food contamination incident destroys consumer confidence and sales usually dive. Add on the direct cost of lost production, cleaning, and assessed fines and a business may not survive.
The key is prevention and that demands rigorous attention to process controls and process cleanliness. Equipment must be both designed and specified for ease of cleaning and also ensure product is subject to appropriate treatment times and temperatures.
The dairy industry presents a good illustration of the role of fluid handling equipment in maintaining and protecting human health. Raw milk can harbor a range of pathogens hazardous to human well-being, which is why pasteurization is important. Pasteurization requires heating milk to a high temperature to destroy even the most heat resistant pathogen, Coxiella burnetii.The presence of Coxiella burnetii causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headaches, and fever. In one study Coxiella burnetii was found in more than 94% of raw milk samples.
Most pasteurization is carried out as a continuous process using a technique known as High Temperature, Short Time (HTST). This holds milk at 72°C (161°F) for 15 seconds, which is both hot enough and long enough to destroy C. Burnetii.
In a continuous flow, time at temperature is determined by flow rate. Any variation in flow leads to a change in time at temperature, which could allow pathogens into the food chain. Many HTST pasteurization systems control timing through the use of magnetic flow meters. The FDA requires that these be supplemented by a flow monitor. This must be set so as to trigger an alarm should time-at-temperature not meet legal minimums.
In dairy, as elsewhere in the food and beverage industries, all surfaces contacted by the product must be kept scrupulously clean. This means subjecting them to intensive cleaning processes using either steam or caustic agents that remove and destroy any sources of contamination. The materials used for the various pipes and fittings must therefore be resistant to these cleaning cycles. It's also essential that the pipes and fittings have no internal bacteria-harboring crevices. To achieve this, many components are fabricated from 316 grade stainless steel before being electropolished internally.
A second issue with food handling systems is the risk of “taint.” Taint is when the processing equipment imparts a taste or odor to the product. Stainless steel generally provides good taint resistance, although certain acidic compounds can be problematic. One way to avoid any risk of taint is by using Teflon (PTFE) components. While it can be impractical to make complete systems from Teflon its use should certainly be considered whenever possible. When selecting components for food and beverage processing equipment it is important to look for those classed as Ultra High Purity or UHP.
The ChemTec contribution
ChemTec manufacturers a wide range of flow monitors at its factory in Florida. Many of these are available in both 316 stainless and Teflon. The LPH series of non-adjustable flow monitors is an example of the products available to meet UHP requirements. Designed for low-flow applications, these sense high and low flow conditions and can trigger an alarm as required.
ChemTec product specialists can provide more information on the role of flow monitors in the food and beverage industries. Call or email to schedule a discussion today.