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Process Control Operators: How to stop contamination on compressed air and in its tracks

When it comes to food and beverage production, safety is a must. When food safety isn’t prioritized during the production process, the door is open for risks such as food-borne contamination and diseases. In this process, the roles of both the operator and the compressed air system are crucial because the operator's knowledge of what systems to put in place can help prevent food contamination.

In many cases, food production facilities are obligated to adhere to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act. As part of this mandate, food and beverage manufacturers must follow a plan that puts structured practices in place to ensure food safety. Each facility must dedicate a person or persons to document this plan and ensure it is specific to the practices in that particular facility.

The food safety plan also requires food and beverage manufacturers to establish control measures rooted in science to prevent the likelihood of food contamination. Simply put, the plan is a systematic method made up of preventive measures designed to reduce risks from external factors such as biological, chemical, or physical hazards.

To ensure a high level of food safety, operators must apply the plan to all aspects of the food and beverage production process, including the use of compressed air. To demonstrate how it is applied, we’ll take a look at each step in the process. 

1.  Hazard analysis
Perform an assessment to collect and evaluate information about hazards associated with the food under consideration. This is typically done in two steps:

Identify the hazard - what is it?

Evaluate the hazard - how will it impact the food production process?

2.  Preventive controls
Determine and log which controls can be applied to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level. When it comes to compressed air quality, typical preventive controls for compressed air include temperature, moisture, and oil content.

Preventive controls often fall into the following categories:

  • Process controls
  • Food allergen controls
  • Sanitation controls
  • Other controls

3.  Oversight and management of preventive controls

Once preventive controls are set by the operators, a process must be put in place to catch any issues that may arise and to ensure that the preventive controls are functioning properly. This process should include:

  • Monitoring
  • Corrections and corrective actions
  • Verification

For compressed air, controls such as container temperature, blast duration, and dew point are monitored in real time. Particulate and oil are monitored through sampling. If monitoring determines the container temperature for the compressed air is not right, the corrective action is to adjust it accordingly.

And to confirm the preventive control process is viable, it needs to be verified. To verify the preventive controls, manufacturers can conduct product testing that includes detailed documentation to establish a record.

4.  Supply-chain program
Manufacturers must activate a risk-based supply-chain program if the hazard analysis uncovers a hazard that requires a preventive control and if that control is part of the manufacturing supply chain.

5.  Recall plan
In the event that a hazard occurs, there must be a plan in place to recall the food product affected by the hazard. That plan should be well-documented so that it can be implemented as needed.

Using the FDA’s food safety plan can help manufacturers deliver repeatable food quality and safety. Addressing compressed air quality during the food production process can help operators prevent possible contamination or make key adjustments to eliminate issues now and for the future.