Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, milk, butter and beans — every food production operation that uses
raw ingredients is acutely aware of food
safety risks. Managing them requires a
comprehensive effort. Risk management
practices must reach across the supply
and distribution chain, as well as across
processing sites. At the plant level,
Because the impact of a recall is high, processors must be vigilant
from the moment raw products and ingredients enter their facility
until the final product is packaged and shipped. New provisions
in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) require documented
hazard analysis and control prevention programs for almost all food
products and processing facilities.
There are many reasons why product temperatures can be
inadvertently high, beginning with incoming temperatures. Raw
products may have been exposed to elevated temperatures during
shipment, unloading or in storage. Dry ingredients like flour are often
stored in outdoor silos where temperatures can swing daily, as well
as seasonally. Inside, plants may be climate controlled, but product
temperatures can rise between stations and especially in loading
and shipping areas. Any time a product is handled, mixed, formed or
otherwise worked or processed, heat is added through friction.
Establishing temperature control early is important. Foodborne
pathogens can rapidly multiply whenever products are exposed to
temperatures above 40˚ to 50˚ F — throughout the process and all
the way to the consumer’s plate. As a leader in cryogenic solutions
for the food industry, we work with plant personnel to review existing
food safety programs and examine temperature control at critical
points. This includes:
• Reducing product temperature to meet company HACCP plans
• Eliminating the rise in temperature as product is worked
• Reducing temperatures for subsequent processing steps such
Packaging is another point of control where gases can help with
temperature control. For products packed in boxes such as poultry,
automated box chillers can deliver precise amounts of carbon
dioxide (CO2) snow for consistent chilling from box to box. For chilled
products in bagged or film-wrapped packages, modified atmosphere
packaging (MAP) gases can greatly extend shelf life. Products can
change color and spoil prematurely if packages are not properly
sealed. And microscopic pinholes in the film can be difficult to
detect. New leak detection equipment now makes it possible to
sample 100 percent of MAP packages in real time.
Cryogenic solutions not only help maintain time and temperature
requirements, but can positively impact yield and productivity. In
fact, these are often the primary reasons for system improvements
and upgrades. Food safety can be improved at the same time, and
hygienic design is often a deciding factor. It is easy to see why.
Quality Assurance managers work hard to eliminate potential
points of contamination. Common sources include human contact,
standing water or bacterial impurities from shoveling dry ice or
other handling. Hygienic design reduces or eliminates areas inside
the equipment that might trap food particles or harbor moisture and
bacteria. Of course, automated solutions also reduce human contact.
For example, important elements of hygienic design for
inline cryogenic freezers include welded seams, sloped internal
surfaces and eliminating potential areas of contamination from
above the product zone, such as drip hazards. Ideally, a product
should not be exposed to anything other than the track it is riding on
and the cryogen — either nitrogen or CO2. Production lines
and procedures should also minimize transfers and handling before
and after freeze processing.
For chilling products at the mixer/blender, a cryogen injected from
the bottom eliminates labor and safety issues involved with loading
dry ice from the top of the mixer. Nitrogen bottom-injection systems
are now widely used in the meat and poultry industry to achieve
significant quality advantages. In keeping with this trend are new
hygienically designed injectors that feature a positive shut-off at the
blender wall to seal out moisture and food particles. These injectors
retrofit to existing mixers so processors can avoid a major expense.
Whether cryogenically chilling or freezing, experience in
engineering design of temperature control applications, installation
and startup of application technology are critical to achieving set
parameters for each product. Process monitoring is also critical for
consistent operation — and FSMA compliance. The cold truth about
food safety is that risks exist regardless of the size of the operation.
It is just as important at 500 pounds-per-hour as it is at 20,000. The
good news is that even modest investments can pay off in multiple
ways — and help ensure long-term success.
Erik Fihlman is Program Manager — Food Industry at Linde LLC.
The Cold Truth About Food Safety
By Erik Fihlman
A cryogenic impingement freezer can rapidly lower
food temperatures to chill, crust or freeze raw, formed
or glazed products with a high level of consistency and
yield gain. Hygienic design features enhance food safety.