Food Processing: Packaging

Dust collection and containment for food packaging lines is critical. At this stage, the finished food product is packaged for sale and consumption. At the packaging stage, cleanliness is especially important to prevent contamination and ensure that the finished package is clean, sanitary and appealing for consumers.

Controlling dust is essential both for food quality and safety and for aesthetics and salability. Seeing excess dust on the outside of the food package—or, worse, inside packages between the inner bag/sealed product and outer container—is a real turnoff for consumers in addition to a potential avenue for microbial growth and contamination.

Food packaging processes include bag filling, box filling, carton filling, canning and wrapping. Bag filling and box filling for cereal products, flour, sugar and powdered starches can be especially dusty.

Dust Collection Challenges for Food Packaging

Dust is often created during packaging as finished product is moved by conveyor and during the box or bag filling process. Puffs of compressed air used during bag filling generate little puffs of dust with each package filled, which will accumulate over time if they are not collected. This creates several challenges during the packaging process.

  • Cross-contamination: Packaging lines for multiple products are often located in the same facility, creating a cross-contamination concern if fugitive dust is allowed to escape. Many packaged foods contain allergens such as wheat (gluten), nuts (peanuts, tree nuts, and other types), eggs (eggshell dust or dehydrated egg products), dairy (dehydrated milk), soy and sesame. Spices and food additives may also cause serious allergic reactions in some people. It is essential that potential allergens are not allowed to contaminate food or packaging for other products.
  • Nuisance dust/aesthetics: Dust that settles on or in packaging is unappealing to consumers of packaged food products. Excess dust can also irritate the lungs if inhaled, though this is less likely to be a concern in the near cleanroom conditions of the packaging lines than in earlier food production processes (such as cutting, grinding and batch mixing). Still, even small amounts of nuisance dust can create product quality problems at this stage of the process.
  • Microbial growth: Dust that is allowed to settle on surfaces in the packaging facility or in between packaging layers provides a medium for microbial growth. Even small amounts of food dust can support the growth of bacteria, molds and fungi, particularly if exposed to any moisture (such as humidity in the air). A dry, dust-free environment is required for food packaging to ensure that the packages remain sanitary.
  • Combustion risk: A combustible dust explosion in food packaging lines would be a very rare occurrence; if dust is allowed to build up to sufficient concentrations to support a dust explosion, there are already significant product quality and food safety problems on the line. However, it is important to be aware the most food processing dusts—including flours, powdered milk, corn starch, wheat starch, sugar, tapioca, whey, cocoa powder and many spices—are highly combustible. They should not be allowed to become concentrated in enclosed conveyor systems during movement of finished food products and bag filling/box filling operations.

Regulating Food Packaging

Food Processing Regulations for Food Packaging

The food processing industry is highly regulated. Companies involved in food packaging are subject to both food safety regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and occupational safety regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA). Some of the most critical regulations for the packaging stage of the food processing industry are as follows.

  • Food Safety: Food processors and packagers must comply with the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act. Under this act, companies involved in packaging of processed foods must have controls in place to reduce cross-contamination of food allergens and prevent microbial contamination. Some of these requirements include control of airborne dust, prevention of dust build-up on surfaces and in production lines, and sanitation of equipment and surfaces.
  • Nuisance dusts: Many food processing dusts fall under the OSHA definition of “nuisance dusts,” which are regulated under the general particulate matter concentration limits set by OSHA. The general limit for “Particulates Not Otherwise Regulated” (PNOLs) is 15 mg/m3 (8-hour TWA limit) for total particulate and 5 mg/m3 for respirable particulates. Employers must also follow general Housekeeping standards (OSHA 1910.22, Walking-Working Surfaces) to prevent accumulation of dust on surfaces.
  • Combustible dusts: Combustible dusts are regulated under OSHA’s General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1)) with additional requirements under the Hazardous Locations (§1910.307), Hazard Communication (§1910.1200) and Housekeeping (§1910.22) standards. In addition, manufacturers dealing with combustible dusts must follow National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for prevention of fires and explosions. Food dusts fall under NFPA 61, Standard for the Prevention of Fires and Dust Explosions in Agriculture and Food Processing, as well as NFPA 654, Standard for the Prevention of Fire and Dust Explosions from the Manufacturing, Processing and Handling of Combustible Particulate Solids. Dust collection systems for food processing dusts must also meet NFPA 68, Standard of Explosion Protection by Deflagration Venting, and NFPA 69, Standard on Explosion Preventing Systems. OSHA’s Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (NEP) outlines policies and procedures for inspecting workplaces that create or handle combustible dusts.

Read more about regulations for food processing dusts.

Air Filtration Systems

Dust Control Solutions for Food Packaging

Food packaging is typically done in cleanroom or near cleanroom conditions to prevent fugitive dust created during the packaging process from settling on the final package or in between interior and exterior packaging. There are several considerations to keep in mind when designing a dust control solution for food packaging.

  • Enclosure/source capture: Many packaging stations are easily enclosed to contain dust for source capture. If the process cannot be enclosed, it is possible to create a custom hood to draw dust away from the packaging line as it is created. It is especially important in the packaging line to collect dust as close to the source as possible. That may require specialized hoods to collect the small puffs of dust created during bag filling, box filling or movement of product on conveyor systems. Positive and negative pressure zones can also be used to prevent dust from earlier processes and conveyor systems from propagating into the final packaging lines.
  • Dust collector location: As in the processing lines, the dust collector for the packaging area will be located outside and will vent filtered air to the outside. This prevents re-contamination of food and food packaging when the filters are changed or dust collector bin is emptied.
  • Makeup air and filtration: Because air is usually vented outside, a makeup air system will also be required to maintain the right air pressure inside the facility. HEPA filtration in the HVAC or makeup air system will ensure that air that enters the facility is clean and does not introduce any contamination into food packaging lines. It is important to consider airflow patterns within the room when adding a makeup air or HVAC system so that air discharged in the room does not interfere with dust collection.
  • Airflow: Because the packaging environment is sterile and temperature-controlled, the dust control solution should be designed to minimize the amount of air required to remove the dust. This will ensure that you are not wasting energy by venting too much conditioned air to the outside. Proper enclosure and hood design will help to minimize the amount of air required to remove food dust during the packaging process. It is also important to pay attention to the airflow patterns within the room.
  • Filter media selection: Selecting the right filter for the dust collection system is also very important at the packaging stage. Many packaged food dusts are hygroscopic, meaning they readily absorb moisture from the air. In a humid environment, these dusts may cake or form a crust on filters. A washable filter media can extend filter life considerably in these situations.

Dust collection for food packaging is highly customized for the packaging line. Our engineers will evaluate your packaging processes and help you select the right dust collector and filter media. We can also design an industrial ventilation and makeup air solution for you to ensure optimal dust collection, reduce cross-contamination concerns and mitigate health and safety hazards.

Our experienced air quality engineers will work with you through the whole process, including needs analysis, system design and engineering, collector and ductwork installation, filter selection, HVAC system integration, startup and commissioning, and aftercare and service.

Solutions

Senturion®

Senturion is the most flexible and versatile industrial dust collector on the market today.

PleatLock Cartridge Filters

PleatLock Dust Collector Cartridge Filters

RoboVent's premium filter engineered to provide the best filtration protection for your plant and employees. A widened pleat and proprietary filter media help deliver top performance.

Deflagration System on Fusion 4.5

Deflagration System

Protecting your workers and facility from the risks of combustible dust, RoboVent's Deflagration System employs multiple devices and technologies to mitigate dust explosions.