The Importance of air quality in Food safety

The Importance of air quality in Food safety

Created Tuesday 6 April 2021

Discover how air quality can affect what we eat and drink and the challenges facing food and beverage production facilities. 
Our guests this month are Denis Treacy and Ross Dumigan.
Denis Treacy has a distinguished career in the supply chain and FMCG industries, from the science laboratory to governance of business and brands. Currently he is the CEO of Culture Compass, mentoring and leading companies in the fields of Product Quality, Food Safety, Process Control and Health & Safety.

The Transcript

Dusty Rhodes  0:03 

Hello there and welcome to Let's talk clean air where we find out more about how clean air can affect the quality process for you and the workplace. This month we're looking at how air quality can affect what we eat and drink and the challenges facing food and beverage production facilities. My name is Dusty Rhodes and joining me is Dennis Tracy at Ross Dumigan. Dennis Tracy has a distinguished career in the supply chain and fast moving consumer goods industries from the science laboratory to governance of business and brands. Currently, he is the CEO of culture compass, mentoring and leading companies in the fields of product quality, food safety, process control and health and safety. Ross Duggan is Camfils food and beverage segment manager for Europe with a long and successful history in the Clean Air industry. Gentlemen wants to start off talking about air quality in food and beverage production. Can I ask Dennis to start off with what are the most important areas we should be talking about?


Denis Treacy  1:09 

There are a number of areas that you need to consider first of all, you need to consider the risks. So good clean air quality is there to protect the operators and people working in that environment either from dust in the air or the threat of explosions if the dust are organic, or indeed to protect the environment to ensure that products remain as hygienic as they can possibly be. So it depends on the area and the application but generally speaking there are production areas and ingredient areas that needs to be protected dusty.


Dusty Rhodes  1:55 

Okay, Ross from your point of view, then what are the most important areas we should be talking about?


Ross Dumigan  2:00 

From my point of view, the most important areas that we should be focusing on when we're talking about air quality is the air handling units, I mean carrying out regular inspections of Air Handling units is something that is must within the food beverage industry. The risks that can be that can be posed from poorly maintained and poor hygiene being carried out on the air handling units cannot be understated as simple things like checking your air handling unit pressure gauges and ensuring that the proper gaskets and cleanliness within them cannot be understated it is of high importance that this is carried out on a regular basis.


Dusty Rhodes  2:40 

Okay, grand so what I get from that is we need to be thinking about people we need to be thinking about plants and food Of course, and also as Ross says the actual equipment as well and the air units. How do we set a standard when we when we start talking about air quality? What standards or regulations are around air quality in a facility?


Ross Dumigan  3:03 

What typically when we're talking when we're typically talking about the standards for air quality, we've got ISO 16890, but we also have EN 1822. Now ISO 16890 is specifically references to your general HVAC filters, and EN 1822 is your HEPA filtration standards. There are also standards for the European market, which are done under Eurovent 4-21 and Eurovent 4-23 which look at the efficiency of filter standards and energy consumption standards. So you bring the sustainability element into your air quality focus to by utilising those standards.


Dusty Rhodes  3:40 

So if you want to find out what the standards are at your facility, how do you go about making the measurement?


Denis Treacy  3:48 

Well, can I if I can just interject there if I may Dusty so, the plain and simple fact is. If you've got a process that creates dust, whether that's dust that's discharged into the working environment, or dust that's collected in an in a sealed unit or either of those, then you want to be able to remove that dust you want to be able to control that because it will have an adverse effect on the people, it will create the opportunity for combustion. And it will also if we're talking about particulates, microbiological particulates, it will create the opportunity for spores and bacteria to either you know contribute to poor working environment or actually have a detrimental effect on the shelf life of products. So, it depends upon the product. It depends upon the environment. You know, there's a very big difference between a bread bakery and a pharmaceutical plant. So, the standard and the specifications have been laid out by ISO. They are very, very clear in terms of the level of filtration but that is applicable to the environment you're working in, you wouldn't want to put super filters into a bread bakery. Because as Ross has already said, you know, if you don't maintain those, well, then they become actually a problem rather than the solution. So the application is dependent upon the standards is dependent upon the application. Would you agree? Ross,


Ross Dumigan  5:21 

I would, I would for sure, Dennis, I mean, as you quite rightly said, you don't want to be putting in heavy filters where it could be complete overkill for the application. And ultimately, you know, carrying out an assessment of what sort of air quality you would need for your facility is highly important to know within to comment on that, within the food and beverage, we typically have got our four zones that a lot of companies apply within the industry, which is your local care, medium care, high care and high risk zones, which would typically, which would typically then define the type of filters that would be used within these areas, from your, your general course filters up to your high efficiency filters, your Hepa filters. And that's, that's obviously of high importance.


Dusty Rhodes  6:10 

Dennis, because you're dealing with a lot of various different companies out there, do you think people in facilities are of the standards?


Denis Treacy  6:17 

Well, it's not just facilities, its engineering, its new product development, its technical. So if you're setting up a business from scratch, dusty, you don't know what you don't know. So you know, my advice is always going to be to get experts in. So wherever that may be, and we're talking about particularly filtration here. So you've got an ideal business partner in Camfil. So you, you go to people that know and understand the technology of filters and filtration, air flow, volumes of transfer, the levels of dust, etc. So they can come in and they can do a full evaluation of your plan. Understand what you're trying to do, you're trying to remove dust from the environment, you're trying to collect dust from a silo system, what is it you want to do, they can, you know, somebody like Ross could come in and evaluate them, then they can determine a plan, which is not just the specific size and nature of the filters and filtration. But also, again, back to Ross's point, the plan to ensure that once you've invested in this equipment, that it maintains a good production flow, that it maintains a good level of operation. And that is based on, you know, good practices, regular maintenance, checks, the changing of filters when it when appropriate. And that's all that will all be laid down in the guidelines, manufacturing guidelines. And that's very applicable to your production environment. So that's what that's what I would do from the start.


Dusty Rhodes  7:45 

So Ross, if auditing is your area, how do you go about auditing?


Ross Dumigan  7:50 

What typically what we would like to see within the industry is an auditor going up to the general hvac or heating ventilation air conditioning equipment, and taking the time to open the door and have a look at the components within the within the air handling unit, to ensuring that the products inside the air handling unit are clean fit for purpose and suitable with the current standards. Unfortunately, what we see within the within auditing principles and auditing actions, that doesn't tend to happen. And that's, that's something that is a huge concern for us. Because from what we've seen with protocol backs, and issues with air quality and contamination of the food chain. Typically, this tends to happen from poor air quality. We've what we would like to see his auditors coming in and inspecting the certification for the filters, looking at the seals and the gaskets on the air handling units to ensure that they're fit for purpose. They're in good condition, they're not damaged. any damage to your seals and gaskets within your hunting unit is a route for bypass of your filtration, you can have the best interest in the world within your unit. If you've got damage to your framework, if you've got damage to your unit, if you've got compensation of your cause, or the mechanical equipment in the air handling unit, then it's posing a huge risk to the air quality that's being supplied to the unit that then has a huge knock on effect to the risk of getting close to the food that's being consumed within our food and beverage facility. And again, if the audits are going to consider taking into account the air quality, this is all normal day to day things that should be looked at when audits are taking place.


Dusty Rhodes  9:29 

So that's how you identify if there's an air quality problem.


Ross Dumigan  9:33 

If we're going to identify from it from an air quality problem, what you would normally see and Dennis I'm open to correction here is you don't normally see test plates either in air handling unit the along the production floor. And these are monitored on a regular basis from the microbiologist on the site. If there is deemed to be a risk posed from the in the production for our in the air handling unit, then their will obviously be a root cause analysis on our own RCA done to identify where that risk is coming from.


Dusty Rhodes  10:07 

Dennis, you want to throw something in there?


Denis Treacy  10:09 

Yeah, I would. And for me, my experience has always shown me that the ownership where the ownership for filtration sets generally gets confused. So if you're a technical person, and you're establishing a good event, or you're you might be health and safety professional, and you're establishing a good set of credentials for your production environment, so you understand your, your environment, you understand the level of dust, you understand what it is you're trying to control it, then you get a professional like Ross and the team in to evaluate, you know, what filter you need, how much flow you need, etc, etc, you establish that you decide, decide on what equipment you're having you decide on the filters, your filters you're putting in place. That's, that's fine from day one. But what happens, and how does that deteriorate. And the problems I found is that the ownership for the ongoing maintenance and repair tends to be with another department, you might sit with engineering, and we might sit with facilities, and engineering facilities may not fully understand how important things are. So they may decide that they don't, you know, they they're under pressure. So this changing of a filter every week or every month or whatever may not be at the top of the priority list. So they saw those gaps in the filter changes start to extend, they also might be looking at budget challenges. So they might decide to buy an alternative filter, which looks cheaper, and seems to be cheaper, but perhaps doesn't offer the same level of protection. So of course, all these things are absolutely vital, because that gets into the, into the into the equipment itself. But, you know, there's an easier indicator and that is, you know, is the filter doing what it's supposed to do? is it taking air out? is it taking dust out of the environment? Is it controlling dust? Are you seeing your particulates, or your spools or your microbiology? You know, display and as it should do? So is that is the thing actually working? And then often the audit is that as Ross says, is the root cause to find out why isn't not rather, whether it is or isn't, you know, because you'll see that manifested in the failure of the system itself.


Dusty Rhodes  12:27 

You spoke about many different departments and having different points of view when it comes to air quality, ultimately, whose responsibility is it? Does it come down to one person? Or should it be a team working together?


Denis Treacy  12:39 

Well, you always need whenever your divine decided, deciding on or defining A a strategy for anything. And in this particular case, air filtration, yes, you do need a number of you need a number of functions to apply their knowledge. So you'll need engineering, to ensure that you've got the means to be able to instal you've got the right flow of air, you've got you know, power and all that sort of thing, you know, safe power, you need the health and safety practitioner, the person that's looking to ensure that the dust is controlled in the right way so that it doesn't present a risk to operators, it doesn't present a combustion risk. And then if you're talking about microbiological quality, then you will need a somebody from a technical department to ensure that they that their requirements and their standards are met. So yes, absolutely. So multifunctional team, but I will also be involved procurement in there because quite often, if procurement if the procurement team don't understand the necessity for ensuring that the right equipment is bought and the right replacement possible, then that's quite often where problems can occur. And I've got lots of experience of everyone thinking everything's fine. And suddenly there's a problem and you find out that the procurement team who've got their own pressure challenges or their own financial challenges, have decided to go and buy a filter from a different supplier. And that filter doesn't quite fit all the gaskets aren't quite right, or the filtration levels aren't quite there. And suddenly you you believe that you're, you're maintaining well, but you're actually not and you've got this, you've got a disenfranchised component that's creating the problem for you.


Ross Dumigan  14:25 

And just, I have to echo the sentiments here me too often we've been we've been working with customers for a long period of time and, you know, again, it's who's whose responsibility does the Air Filters lie with and who defines exactly what type of verification requirements are needed for the specific site. And once we have the clarity and once we have people on site that take complete ownership of air filters air quality, then it means that right, it significantly reduces the risk of there being issues on site. And again, it ultimately eliminates procurement costs. Almost to going out to a vendor who is going to be going and looking for the business based on price. And essentially what we've seen in the past is people that are coming on site offering cheaper alternatives to a filtration product, more often than not, are not compliant with the current standards and thereby introduce unnecessary risk of food, or the service to the food production process. By putting in products that are not fit for purpose and should not or never be used within a food and beverage industry, it's so important that all stakeholders within the process for producing food are involved when it comes to air quality. And essentially, that they have the knowledge and have the training to make the right decisions when they're selecting their filters for the to address the air quality concerns and air quality requirements that they have at their facility.


Dusty Rhodes  15:47 

Okay, so that's, that's an awful lot of talk about risk. But can either of you give me an example of where air quality has affected the actual product


Denis Treacy  15:56 

here, most definitely dusty, I can give you a couple of examples. So when you're producing particularly cakes, and in my in my ambient world, you know, cakes offer a much higher moisture levels, so they're much more prone to the growth of xerophytic yeasts and moulds. So these are yeasts and moulds that can live a very, very low moisture level. So they can cause the product to go mouldy. So thereby affecting shelf life. Now, the way you control that, obviously is with recipe but if you're if you're you know, you believe, as I've always done in ensuring that products are clean, then you don't want to put too many chemicals in there. You want them to be natural, you want them to be healthy and good for you. So your other alternative is to control the environment to ensure that you don't get a level of spore or mould or yeast buildup in the environment, that overloads the product such that it can't survive through its shelf life. And where I've got a direct experience of where filtration air filtration systems have not been maintained well, where they either haven't both, they haven't been maintained well. And the procurement team actually bought substandard filters, even though they were the right shape and size. And they were deemed to be compatible. In fact, they weren't the right substance natural quality, they did not provide the right level of control. And what that did was that that caused that a filtration system that was designed to reduce and remove contamination from actually generating it. So these became so contaminated that they were actually blowing contamination out into the environment. And as a result of that, the cakes that were being produced, weren't surviving halfway through their shelf life before they were becoming mouldy. And, you know, consumer complaints were coming in. So that's one example. I've got other examples of, of, of infestation, so if you is what is already quite rightly said, You must maintain your systems, well, you must use the right equipment, you must have the right plans in place. Because if you don't, and if you've got an organic system, maybe a flower system, then you can't you run the risk of infestation there are what we call in the trade and stored product insects, which are naturally occurring in in things like flower. And if you don't maintain good hygiene, then these can become a major problem. So imagine not cleaning your filters out and getting those infested. And they will just multiply so you can create a problem. That's a hygiene problem as well as a food safety problem. So there's two examples. So I can tell you from personal experience,


Dusty Rhodes  18:51 

Ross, what examples have you got?


Ross Dumigan  18:54 

Well, we have a we had a site in in France A number of years ago who had a serious issue with salmonella. Now the problem that we had was that this customer particular had four particular sites in in France now one of the sites did not deal with us. And historically, it was down to price. Now we knew the products that were in use at this particular site were of low quality, questionable standards. And essentially what happened was the real problems that occurred due to air quality was that there was the introduce our introduction of salmonella into the product that was being consumed by customers. Now, the root cause of that was poor air quality and putting in filters that were not suitable for that level of particle to capture within the within the ventilation system. That's just one that's just one example that we see now thankfully that customer saw the light and accepted that, okay, this cannot be all about cost. And we're talking about cost of references, there doesn't have to be a customization for, you know, putting in good filters. And having a, you know, a negative cost, good filters can save you money also, I mean, at Camfil we offer a range of filters that can save you money, and will not compromise on air quality. So, I mean, the examples, the examples on the market, that you can see, certainly on the Camfil websites are limitless, there's plenty, there's plenty to reference there. But when it comes to food and beverage, it's a case of look, put in the correct filters that are applicable to your industry, and make sure that you do not introduce a risk to your facility.


Denis Treacy  20:45 

Yeah, I think Ross has hit on the absolute fundamental theme here, Dusty, and that is risk, you know, if a business doesn't understand its risks, doesn't understand what the means are to manage those risks, then it will have a they will be unconsciously incompetent. So, so a procurement person or an engineer might decide that they can, you know, cut corners in either the maintenance of all the installation of or in the procurement of replacement parts, or wherever it may be. And if you don't apply that back to risk, then you're gonna end up with your risks being compromised or not controlled. And that so the first stop start point for all of this is a proper and comprehensive risk assessment by competent people. And we're back to dusty that team of people with different skills, different abilities, but I would always add in there an expert and external experts. So my, if you like, my environment team would always if I'm looking to understand risk, and understand how to manage my risk, I'd always involve a professional, like somebody from camfil, to ensure that we are all understanding average, because sometimes perspective comes from an external source. And, you know, when you're in a business and isolated business, you might not have any, any external input. So it's great to always use experts from the industry who've been around, you know, so Ross's will have seen installations in many, many different types of industries. So, you know, why wouldn't you speak to people who know what they're talking about.


Dusty Rhodes  22:37 

So risk is important. And a professional audit is hugely important by getting somebody in who knows what they're talking about. And they're external, and they're not involved in the day to day and they don't have all the history that you would find, working with the team that are managing the facility is very important. And then you assess the risk, but you also then assess the reward. So do you know if your risk is that your product is going to go off? Within a week, the reward will be that your product will last longer, and you've got happier customers? Is my understanding of what you've been saying? Good so far.


Denis Treacy  23:13 

It is it is


Dusty Rhodes  23:14 

alright. Now, aside from filters, then all right, because filters are hugely important. What other common problems have you guys encountered?


Ross Dumigan  23:22 

Well, typically from, from my perspective, what we what we see is that as food and beverage facilities grow and introduce new equipment and new processes, and more people, what they tend to forget about is the air quality, they tend to forget about the plant and equipment that's needed to be an addition onto their onto their expansion. We had one called we weren't customer in particular, who was who had expanded their filling lines on a beverage production application, who had expanded the filling lines. They had expanded their workforce and also expand their tent and equipment. So you're talking about introduction of forklifts, pallets, a lot of stuff that was going to be in the in, in around the aseptic, filling equipment that was generating particles, and it could have a negative impact on the performance of that equipment. And there was no consideration given on that expansion to the general ventilation system. So the system that would provide clean air to that environment and the clean air that surrounded the septic filling machines. Now the knock on effect of that was that the filling machines that were being used in this applications or these applications, or having a really, really short life, and they weren't performing as designed. That's just one example that we've seen when people don't give the due consideration to the design and expose expansion to their facilities and the quantity that's required for the applications to manufacture their product. Yeah,





Denis Treacy  24:50 

I would generalise it in terms of change. So what we've already said is that when we've got a new process or a new a new adventure that we're embarking upon, we get up properly risk assessed determination of our environment and what we need to control dust in the environment, etc, etc. microbes in the environment, we then with our multi skilled team, we establish what it is we need. And we go to the professionals to ensure that we buy what we need, we put their plan in place to ensure that that is well maintained. And that equipment does what it says it does. And what it promises to do. As long as we look after it, all of that is established. And we also establish that the people that are most have, are most important to that are the people that own that process going forward. The next thing we need to consider is change. And Ross has made that point well, anything that you change as a result of that needs a re a risk assessment dusty, so if you change the number of people or the size of the environment, or the speed of the, you know, the flow, or the volume of air, or the amount of dust that you're creating, whatever, you change needs to have a revaluation and that team needs to come back again. And do that we call that hasip in microbiological in food safety, where you, you reconvene the hasip team, because you've changed something, and it can be anything can be people, recipe, environment, and materials. But you've got to go back and start again with your risk assessment and make sure that you haven't missed anything.


Ross Dumigan  26:31 

I echo the sentiments there. I mean, it's clear that you need when you're looking at air quality, if there is an issue on site, it's always important to bring a fresh set of eyes something, let's say the company to have a look at the broader view when we're looking at it. I can't tell you how many times that I've been on site where I've witnessed, you know, a really, really easy problem that we would see as, you know, indoor air quality experts. And basically, the people that we've worked with on the site have been completely bamboozled by us and thinking, why did we why, you know, why did we bring in sooner to look at this, it's, it's always important to bring in a fresh set of eyes, someone that has been doing what they've been doing within the air quality industry and within air filtration industry for a number of years that knows what they're talking about, and is going to identify the problem and help you solve it, and ensure that that is completely mitigated against from moving forward within the food production industry.


Dusty Rhodes  27:25 

If I want to go into my facility tomorrow, and keep everything that we have discussed in mind today, what kind of things should I be looking at in the next 24 hours?


Ross Dumigan  27:38 

First, first and foremost, what I would be, what I would be looking at, when you when you go in the morning is go up and look at your air handling unit and look at your magnehelic gauges, make sure that your filters are not reaching their final pressure differential and that they do not need the they're operating within the ranges that they need to operate and that they do not need to be changed. There is a there's a misconception out on the market about changing filters on time, let me be very clear, you should not change your filters on time, you should change your filters, basing it on their pressure differential. This is allowing your filters to be changed on time could have a detrimental effect on the performance of your plant and equipment that's providing clean air to your facility. Also, it's important to note going down and ensuring that your team is up to speed on the equipment, what's up there, how it works, how many are the regular checks put in place to ensure that they're in a good working order? That if that from an air quality perspective, that's what I would begin with Dennis, do you want to come in there and say anything.


Denis Treacy  28:37 

I would look for the obvious things. You know, imagine you're a layman. You imagine you ask dusty to take a walk around the plant and say look, you know, have a look at what your environment so bear in mind, you know, we've got a lot of dust and we were handling a lot of bags of material. There's a lot of dust in here. What does it look like? Does it look like he's working? Are people coming out covered in flour or sugar? Or, you know, just does it look like there's a there's a lot of dust on top of surfaces. If you see that simple thing you don't have to know about gauges or filters or anything. You're just looking at what's obvious. And my experience has been you know, to play the stupid card I walk around and say, should all of those panels be covered in you know, half a centimetre of dust? Is that normal practice? Should that be the case? And then from there, you just say well, how often did you change your filters? When was the last time your filters were changed? Who was responsible for that? Can you show me the records for your preventive maintenance plans. And you know, pretty soon you'll know that you're on to a problem that no one either realises or always taking as seriously as they should do. And then you can get into opening systems up looking at the pressure differentials, but you know, just look for the stupid straightforward simple things for a start.


Dusty Rhodes  29:57 

Well, it's an excellent advice on the podcast this month. If you would like to find out more about this, do follow the links in the show notes below. You'll find them in the description of the podcast on your phone, or whichever device you're listening to us on. They include links and contact details, and everything else that you might need to get more information. Dennis Tracy and Ross Dumigan, thank you very much for joining us.


Ross Dumigan  30:19 

My pleasure. Thanks, Dusty.


Dusty Rhodes  30:20 

Our podcast today was produced by camfil, a world leader in the development and production of air filters and clean air solutions to remember you can get the podcast automatically every month by just clicking the subscribe button on your player right now. For now, though, for myself Dusty Rhodes thank you so much for listening, and we'll talk to you soon

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