Microbial contamination in the food manufacturing industry is a serious concern. In addition to environmental concerns, microorganism contamination can also impact food products through a compressed air system. Because of this, it is essential that manufacturers regularly test their food grade air or gas systems for microorganisms to ensure the safety and quality of their products.
Bacteria, yeast, and mold are all microorganisms that can impact systems through compressed air. They pose serious risks for end products and put consumers in danger. Food grade air and gas must not contaminate the products, especially not with microorganisms. It is critical to understand the root causes of microbial contamination, how it can impact production, and what is needed to a create plan for monitoring and protecting your system.
Microorganisms can be introduced into a compressed air system through a variety of sources. The intake air draws in atmospheric air which can carry 5 to 50 bacteria per cfm. This means that a compressor with the capacity of 300 scfm takes in 100,000 to 1 million bacteria each hour (Scott, 2017). This huge number of microorganisms will impact the end-products if inadequate filtration is employed or if the filter size is not appropriate for the system in question. A risk assessment can help determine the appropriate type of filtration.
Trace Analytics’ Microbiologist, Maria Sandoval, explains, “Failure to have adequate monitoring and maintenance on system piping can result in biofilm production in piping. This biofilm contaminates compressed air as it flows through the system.” She explains that periodic compressed air testing is the best way to ensure biofilm does not overtake a system. “Even one colony can grow into biofilm when left unchecked. There are certain types of bacterial biofilm that are very resistant and hard to clean.”
Leaks can also introduce microorganisms to a compressed air system. A leak can act as a suction that pulls atmospheric air into the system. If said leak occurs after filtration, then the microorganisms in the atmosphere will enter the system and impact the product.
It’s important to consider the effect that other contaminants have on microbial growth. Warm, damp environments are ideal for microbial growth. That means that an excess of oil and water in a compressor system creates a breeding ground for microorganisms. In addition to appropriately placed dryers and traps, regular testing for water and total oil can help to ensure the compressor system is not habitable for microbial growth.