The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that the value of food loss in 2010 was about $161.6 billion. The agency stated that inadequate climate control is among the top causes of these losses, which amounted to about 1,249 calories per person per day. With temporary climate control solutions, food manufacturers can reduce food loss and improve safety by remaining compliant with USDA standards.
Important Terms Related to the Environment in Food Processing Plants
- Dew point: The temperature at which water vapor condenses into liquid form.
- Relative humidity (RH): The ratio of actual water vapor density (or pressure) in the air and saturation water vapor density (or pressure).
- Environmental sample: A sample collected from a surface in a food processing facility to test it for the presence of viruses, bacteria, parasites, or mold.
- Food intoxication: The event that occurs when pathogenic microorganisms secrete toxins into foods.
- Food infection: The act of microorganisms multiplying in food until they reach the minimum infective dose, the minimum number of microorganisms needed to cause illnesses in humans.
- Food loss: Post-harvest food that wasn’t consumed because of issues such as poor climate control, mold, moisture problems, or shrinkage.
- Food waste: When wholesome edible items remain unconsumed.
- Water activity (aw): The ratio of vapor pressure in food and the pressure of distilled water, used to determine the types of microorganisms that are most likely to cause spoilage.
- Lag time: The amount of time it takes bacteria to acclimate to a new environment and multiply.
- Temporary climate control: Solutions that help facilities maintain optimal temperatures and relative humidity levels.
- Continuous monitoring and control: Connected technologies that allow plant managers to actively monitor temperature, humidity, and toxic gas levels, and then mitigate potential issues automatically with house and/or external equipment to meet preset thresholds.
Why USDA Humidity Compliance Standards Matter
The food industry must adhere to strict standards set by the USDA to remain compliant and ensure the safety of consumers. Moisture problems within a facility, including poor circulation, can lead to problems such as:
- Moisture damage to the physical structure
- Bacterial growth
- Mold growth
- Condensation and dripping water that contains microorganisms
- Food losses
- Health problems among employees
- Increased dust levels
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has standards regarding the temperature and relative humidity levels in food processing plants. For those that handle meat and poultry products, for instance, relative humidity accuracy must be “assured within 5 percent.” If a facility doesn’t meet humidity- or condensation-related standards, the USDA has the authority to shut down the plant.
Recommended Relative Humidity Levels for Different Foods
- Milk powder storage: 20 to 35 percent
- Sugar storage: 20 to 35 percent
- Coffee powder: 30 to 40 percent
- Seed storage: 35 to 45 percent
How Temporary Climate Control Helps Facilities Remain Compliant
The air quality in and around a facility can remain relatively stable from hour to hour and day to day. However, when there are sudden changes in climate, facilities may find that their equipment is not capable of adequately handling these rapid changes. Facilities can use temporary climate control and remote monitoring as a failsafe solution to avoid the negative consequences of climate changes. These consequences can include contamination, toxic gas build-up, and unsafe work environments. To achieve temporary climate control, facilities can utilize desiccant dehumidification, air balance, and remote control and monitoring systems.
Desiccant dehumidification technologies can help keep walls and machinery dry, which in turn improves the quality of indoor air. By quickly eliminating condensation and fog caused by washing or steam cleaning, these solutions help prevent the contamination of food by pathogens. Moreover, employees can resume work more quickly, leading to increased productivity.
Desiccant Dehumidifiers can also be used in freezers to prevent frost. With the decrease in frost there will be less of a need to pause production to defrost, creating time and cost savings.
Proper air balance in a facility can save money by reducing the demand on the HVAC system, creating energy savings and lowering maintenance costs. The resulting condensation and humidity control help eliminate airborne contaminates. In addition to improving working conditions on the line, proper ventilation helps streamline the manufacturing and packaging process.
Attempting to eliminate humidity problems with fans may create negative air pressure within a building, which can lead to more condensation and increased energy costs. An alternative solution would be to turn to temporary climate control which works independently of evaporator coils. Polygon offers tailored air balancing and desiccant dehumidification solutions that you can rent as needed to keep your facility compliant with industry standards to continue producing safe food products.
Remote Control and Monitoring
Polygon’s ExactAire® remote monitoring system helps manage toxic gas levels by offering real-time insight into indoor air quality metrics such as PAA, CO2, and other gases. This information allows for risk mitigation in potentially hazardous air conditions by allowing facility and plant managers to continuously monitor and understand changing conditions to minimize downtime.
Through data dashboards, notifications, and automated reports, this technology also enables active control of indoor air with the ExactAire Smart Controller using sensor data to regulate house ventilation systems and/or Polygon equipment. This technology can prevent shutdown-related risks and employee safety concerns while ensuring regulatory compliance.
Contact us today to learn how Polygon can best help your facility.