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 their losses and improve food 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
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 in 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 example, relative humidity accuracy must be “assured within 5 percent.” If a facility doesn’t meet humidity- or condensation-related standards, the USDA has the right 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
In addition to improving consumer safety, temporary climate control and other means of reducing food losses would help reduce food prices in the U.S., according to the U.S.D.A. Climate control solutions include desiccant dehumidification technologies and proper air balance.
Desiccant dehumidification technologies help walls and machinery stay drier, and improve the quality of indoor air. Because dehumidification solutions quickly eliminate condensation and “fog” caused by washing or steam cleaning, pathogens are less likely to contaminate food and employees can resume work faster. When you use a desiccant dehumidifier in a freezer, it will have shorter defrost cycles and accumulate less frost.
When you promote the proper air balance in a facility, the company will save on energy costs and place less demand on the HVAC system. 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. Instead, look 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.
Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture via CC license