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Compressed Air: Risks of Oil Contamination in the Food Manufacturing Process

Original article published on International Food Safety and Quality Network

Food manufacturers hold the important role of ensuring that the food we eat is safe. Oil contamination in compressed air systems can introduce a variety of hazards to end-users and substantial costs for the manufacturer. As a result, it is important to accurately identify sources of oil contamination, establish a risk assessment, and know the proper testing methods.


  • • Compressors
  • • Worn seals
  • • O-rings
  • • Cleaning solvents
  • • Connection glue
  • • Improper filtration
  • • Atmospheric air

Due to an abundant use of oil in the compressed air process, the risk of contamination is increased.


  • • Decrease in productivity
  • • Recalls
  • • Loss of product
  • • Complete shutdown due to system cleaning and revalidation
  • • Bad taste and odor in food



The following organizations have identified compressed air as a Critical Control Point that must be monitored:

  • ISO (The International Organization for Standardization)
  • • BCAS (British Compressed Air Society)
  • BRC (British Retail Consortium)
  • SQF (Safe Quality Food Institute)

Widely used in the food and beverage industry, ISO 8573 is an international standard that provides limits for total oil contamination. 


It’s important to know that oil-free compressors do not completely eliminate the possibility of oil contamination and the need for filtration and testing.

Food-grade oil can be used in the compressed air process to prevent oil contamination; however, this is a much more expensive option than traditional industrial oil. Even when food grade oil is used, testing is still important because atmospheric oil can enter the system.


sampling for total oil in compressed air

Because ISO 8573 purity classes 1 and 2 require a combination of oil aerosol and water vapor, it is important to make sure your laboratory provides combined testing results. This standard points to infrared spectrometry or spectrometry gas chromatography to test for oil aerosol.


The food manufacturing process requires rigorous preventative measures to ensure their products are safe for consumption. Due to serious risks that derive from oil contamination, adequate filtration and regular compressed air testing are necessary to avoid inconvenience, expensive costs, and most importantly, serious dangers to consumers.

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