In the food manufacturing industry, ensuring product safety, and adhering to stringent regulations is of utmost importance. The Ore-Ida plant, known for its production of frozen foods like the popular Bagel Bites, tater tots and frozen french fries, faced a recurring challenge with condensation during their production process. However, by embracing the concept of desiccant dehumidification, Ore-Ida discovered an effective solution that not only reduced fog and condensation but also improved overall operating efficiency.
The USDA safety system, known as HACCP Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, requires food manufacturers to find permanent solutions to potential contamination hazards such as overhead condensation. The Ore-Ida plant in Fort Myers, Florida was looking for a solution to permanently address condensation issues. Each day, a four-hour production shutdown is required where seventeen employees carefully clean with steam-injected water and then work with mops and squeegees to dry the facility.
During the third shift the wash down begins with the production room temperature at 45° F. This cold air is so close to saturation that it cannot absorb the large amount of water vapor being sprayed into the room. As a result, the spray precipitates out immediately forming fog and condensation throughout the room.
Once the wash down is completed, a/I equipment, walls and floors must be dry and free of any water or condensation. Any overhead condensation that could drip from the ceiling on to the product must be removed. This drying is done due to the threat of contamination posed by moist and wet conditions which can promote pathogen growth.
With humidity close to 100% RH during and after the wash down, the total time needed to dry the process area exceeded four hours. Ore-Ida employees attempted using cooling from the air conditioning system, circulation fans, squeegees, and mops on any standing water. With no luck at successfully minimizing drying times, they knew they needed a different approach.
At the facility there was a growing interest in shortening the lost production time while maintaining strict sanitation standards. The company operation people wanted to protect their popular brand, but at the same time they wanted to shorten the drying time required to get back into production. Ore-Ida's managers set out to find a process that would reduce fog and condensation, while increasing operating efficiency. It was through this search that they first considered dehumidification.
Ore-Ida was enthusiastic about the desiccant dehumidification concept for addressing their fogging and condensation issues but was reluctant to make the capital investment in a technology they had not previously used. Polygon convinced them to try desiccant dehumidification by renting an industrial dehumidifier for a one-month evaluation.
"On the first day of operation with the rental unit, the wash down was started, and fog was allowed to fill the area," said Andrew Galloway, production support leader. "The dehumidifier was then started. Within 15 minutes, all the fog was cleared from the room."
The fog, which had previously obscured the cleaning process and presented a hazard to workers, was eliminated and the wash down could continue at a safe and efficient pace. In addition to clearing the fog, the unit also dried the equipment, walls, floors, and ceilings. With the dehumidifier in operation, the wash down time took little more than two hours.
After one night of evaluation, Ore-Ida managers were convinced of the dehumidifier's capabilities. However, processing of the capital appropriation, manufacture of their permanent dehumidifier and installation would take 11 weeks. During this time, Bagel Bites decided to retain the rental unit.
"Due to the overall effectiveness of the system, we weren't willing to give up the rental equipment until the permanent unit was installed and running," said Sam Casey, manufacturing manager for Bagel Bites. ''The overall benefits of improved sanitation and safety far outweighed the rental costs."
Installation in the processing area was straight forward. Conventional, ceiling mounted evaporator coils provided cooling to the area at 45° F. Dehumidification is handled independently by the Polygon desiccant dehumidifier placed outside the building. The dehumidifier delivered air at 77° Fat 4% RH. The cooling units operated in response to a thermostatic control. A humidistat held the room to 65% RH, an appropriate level to prevent condensation and fog, while also meeting food production specifications.
Along with eliminating the fog and condensation, Bagel Bites has found that their dehumidifier has benefits that reach beyond the processing area. Several freezers located inside the dehumidified area have realized a significant reduction in both frost accumulation and defrost cycles. "Because the moisture is removed from the air, it does not accumulate as quickly on the evaporator coils and inside the freezer," said Victor Herbert, maintenance supervisor. That means the energy-consuming defrost cycles have been shortened, and the interval between them stretched out.