Having dealt with customers the length and breadth of the UK and Ireland, we have found there are many myths and misconceptions when it comes to maintaining Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) on site.
As food safety is of paramount importance, reducing spores, microbes, dust and other sources of airborne contamination should be part of an ongoing air handling programme for food production plants.
Contaminated Food is a Bigger Problem Than You Think
Do you know how many people in the world fall ill after eating contaminated food?
According to the World Health Organization in June this year, an estimated 600 million people (that’s almost 1 in 10 of us) fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420,000 die every year.
In this article, we dispel some of the myths surrounding IAQ, and put you on the right track to help keep your air clean and audit compliant at all times.
Myth 1: ‘Outdoor Air Quality Affects Food Production’
Outdoor air quality has only a very minimal effect on contamination in the food production process.
Findings at a Customer Site
One of our customers is located in the countryside in a low pollution area. The Engineering Manager has always been under the impression that the air on site was clean. He started to notice staining on the underside of his fabric ducting, however, and called us in to take a look. The air socks were in a high care area and, on investigation, we found mould growing inside them.
During winter his air supply system had been on heat mode and warm air coupled with moisture from production had created the perfect conditions for mould growth. This air in his system wasn’t coming from outside but was being recirculated through the system and air full of mould spores and bacteria was being carried to the high care production areas and risking food safety.
Why We Should Focus on Indoor Air Quality
So rather than outdoor air quality, it’s Indoor Air Quality we need to be concerned about. In indoor environments, uncontrolled factors, such as processes and personnel, contribute to the release of microorganisms in the air, which result in the majority of contaminants found in production areas.
So, the threat to human health and the damage to the reputation and finances of a brand is real. These are the hazards of poor air management.
Myth 2: ‘We Have An Air Handling Unit So Our Air Must Be Clean’
Unfortunately, having air handling units on your site does not guarantee clean air.
We find that sites assume that having an air handling unit guarantees that any nasties in the air are filtered out. But if you have had no professional risk assessment carried out, there might be important aspects of your system that you are overlooking. For example:
- Is the filter grade adequate for the type of production taking place in your production area?
- Are the filters being changed regularly enough and to a regular schedule?
- Is there contamination in your ductwork?
Myth 3: ‘We Should Change Our Air Filters Once They Have Reached The End Of Their Useful Life’
The third myth is that you should change your air filters once they have reached the end of their useful life.
Some companies insist there is an optimal time to replace air filters from an energy/ efficiency point of view and rely on pressure drop readings to indicate when this should be. We often find that our customers’ in-house engineers are often too busy to check pressure drop or examine the filters for wear and tear/build up and so it is not picked up soon enough that they need changing.
At HVDS, we know from experience that it is better to be preventative and change them according to a set schedule, and retailers will often state what this schedule should be. Changing air filters to a set schedule means that virus and bacteria do not get chance to build up.
This brings us to Myth 4.
Myth 4: ‘We’ve Changed Our Air Filters So Our Air Quality Is Good’
People think that just because they have changed their air filters, their IAQ must be good. Air filters, however, are only one of the potential sources of contamination when it comes to your HVAC system. In fact, some of the most common sources are often overlooked.
How about your ductwork? Looks great on the outside, but how often do you check inside? As well as mould growth in ductwork, we also see substances such as grease, packaging dust and grain and cereal dust.
A full Risk Assessment will often reveal further areas of concern, for example:
- The aluminium in coils in the AHU can break down, over time, to a fine powder residue, which could get carried through the HVAC system and into food.
- Condensate can pool in the drains, presenting a risk of Listeria and Legionella.
- Debris can build up in fans, leading to the growth of bacteria, which could get into food.
Myth 5: ‘We Can Base Indoor Air Management On Stats From Tests’
The final myth busted is that we can base indoor air management on stats from tests. This is simply not true. Each and every plant we visit is different, manufacturing different products with different processes, and therefore each has a different set of operating conditions. It depends very much on what you are manufacturing or processing as to what your air handling requirements will be.
Since tests done in labs can’t possibly reflect real operating conditions, there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to air management. For this reason, we provide a comprehensive Risk Assessment, based on a Risk Assessment Template that conforms to the BRCGS Food Safety Issue 8. Our Risk Assessment will highlight any areas that need to be addressed, helping you to take control of your air handling system and maintain audit compliance. To enquire about our Risk Assessment Template, please contact us on 01785 256976 or get in touch here.