Special Section on Food Engineering: Apply Process Safety Principles to Food Processing | AIChE

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Special Section on Food Engineering: Apply Process Safety Principles to Food Processing

Special Section

The food industry can benefit in many ways from applying process safety principles like inherently safer design to its facilities.

Food processing facilities are often outside the scope of U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Process Safety Management (PSM) regulations as defined in 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.119. Certain areas, such as coolers and freezers using anhydrous ammonia as a refrigerant, may be covered by PSM and require a targeted PSM program that is not followed across the rest of the plant. However, non-PSM status does not mean that process hazards do not exist. Combustible dust safety has been elevated to near-PSM status by the efforts of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard committees (1). Natural gas is a hazard governed by the National Fuel Gas Code (NFPA 54/ANSI Z223.1) and other standards (2). Combustible dusts and/or natural gas are present in nearly every food production facility, and many past incidents involving these hazards are tragic reminders of the dangers they pose. Industrial hygiene also compels food processors to be conscientious about handling certain ingredients to comply with permissible exposure limits (3).

A knowledge and awareness gap exists concerning process safety concepts throughout much of the food processing industry. In facilities, or parts of facilities, that do not fall under PSM, plant staff are often unfamiliar with process safety concepts. For example, staff may be aware that a PSM program is in place for the ammonia refrigeration system, but might not understand what it entails or what it means to them apart from the emergency evacuation plan.

Although some food processing engineers may be unfamiliar with process safety vocabulary, they employ good engineering practices and certainly know how to identify a root cause. Some of the issues encountered in a food processing facility are met with statements such as, “We didn’t have this problem until we ran ‘X’ on this production line!” To me, this statement reflects the famous Trevor Kletz quotation regarding inherently safer design (ISD): “What you don’t have can’t leak” (4). Put differently, ingredients you don’t use can’t be hazards.

This article discusses how process safety concepts like ISD, which are traditionally focused on the chemical process industries (CPI), can also be applied to non-PSM food processing facilities to improve safety and operability...

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