Is the Compressed Air in Your Food Plant Safe?

Should Compressed Air in Food Plants be Tested for Microbes - Parker HannifinCompressed air is used in a broad range of applications in the food processing industry. These applications include mixing of ingredients, cutting, sparging, drying of product, transporting and propelling food through processing systems, and packaging of final food product. In many of these applications, compressed air is in direct or indirect contact with food product. Impurities in the compressed air may contaminate the food and cause change of color and taste, reduced shelf life, and product recalls.

The perfect environment for microbial growth

Compressed air, which is generated on site by pulling in ambient air and compressing it, contains water vapor, particulate matter, oil vapor and droplets, and microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and spores. (Atmospheric air typically contains 140 - 150 million dirt particles/m3 and can contain up to 100 million microorganisms/m3.) Contaminants, such as liquid oil, oil aerosols and oil vapor, can also enter compressed air as a result of leaks in worn seals, orifices and O-rings within the compressor. Since the compression process raises the temperature of the air, the air needs to be cooled before use. This process condenses water vapor into water aerosols and droplets. Water in the compressed air can produce rust and corrosion in the piping which can flake off and be carried downstream, contaminating the food product.

Water condensate, warm compressed air and dark conditions provide the ideal environment for growth of bacteria, spores and mold. These microbes travel through the entire compressed air system and are released at exit points where the air comes into contact with food, packaging, or food contact surfaces.

Safe Quality Foods (SQF) guidelines

Recently, Safe Quality Foods (SQF) released a 7th edition amendment. Section states, "Compressed air used in the production process shall be clean and present no risk to food safety". Until now, the only devices capable of sampling compressed air systems for microbes were expensive, cumbersome, and required lengthy sampling times and extensive training.

Testing compressed air for microbes

The Parker Compressed Air Microbial Test Unit - CAMTU is the most cost effective solution for quickly and easily testing compressed air for microbes. The  Parker CAMTU weighs less than one pound, is easily transported, requires no electrical connection and provides test results in approximately 20 seconds with minimal training required. The device includes connection tubing, a shut off valve and a specially designed pressure regulator and metering orifice.Parker Compressed Air Microbial Test Unit These matched components provide the exact amount of compressed air exposure required for each sampling. The petri dishes are pre-filled with specialized tryptic soy agar (TSA) and are designed to hold up to compressed air flow and pressure. TSA is used for the cultivation of a wide variety of microorganisms including most bacteria and mold spores.

For additional information, read this report on the comparison of the compressed air microbial testing unit to a standard method of bioaerosol sampling.

Watch this quick video to see how easy it is to test compressed air.

Related posts:

Are You Ready for an Audit? Is Your Plant Compressed Air in Compliance with GFSI, SQF, and BRC Codes? Part 1 of 6

Is Your Food Product Safe from Microbial Contamination? Part 4 of 6

What are the Risks of Contaminated Compressed Air in a Food Plant? Part 2 of 6

What’s the Best Line of Defense against Microbial Contamination of Food? Part 6 of 6

Is Your Food Product Safe from Microbial Contamination? Part 4 of 6

How to Manage the Risks of Food Product Contamination from Compressed Air. Part 3 of 6


This post was contributed the Compressed Air and Gas Treatment Technology Blog Team, Parker Industrial Gas Filtration and Generation Division.

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Comments for Is the Compressed Air in Your Food Plant Safe?

Kamini Joshi
What is the unit of measurement detected from CAMTU Detection Kit (CFU/what). I checked the manual and could not find the information.

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