In a previous blog, we explored three ways vacuum filtration helps prevent food contamination in food processing facilities. Here we’ll look specifically at HEPA filtration and why a certified HEPA vacuum should be part of the housekeeping arsenal in all manufacturing processes.
What is certified HEPA filtration?
HEPA stands for “high-efficiency particulate air” (or, sometimes “high-efficiency particulate arrestance”). Essentially, what this means is that HEPA filters are very good at capturing particles that are very small.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, to qualify as HEPA, a filter must be — at a minimum — 99.97% efficient at trapping and retaining particles down to and including 0.3 microns. In practice, HEPA filters generally reach even higher efficiency levels for larger particles.
To be considered certified HEPA, a filter must be individually tested and verified. These filters are also known as true HEPA. This distinction is important, because there are many filters on the market labeled HEPA-type, HEPA-like, or something similar. These filters have not been individually tested or verified, so their efficiency can’t be guaranteed.
Why is certified HEPA filtration essential to industrial processing?
When purchasing a vacuum cleaner for your facility, make sure to select one that’s certified HEPA. Here’s why.
It will remove the vast majority of potential contaminants
At 0.3 microns, a certified HEPA filter can remove the most troublesome pathogens and allergens from the processing environment.
For reference, here are sizes of some common contaminants:
- Bacteria: 0.35 to 10 microns
- Plant spores: 6 to 10 microns
- Mold: 20 to 200 microns
A HEPA filter is also essential for keeping contaminants contained. Nilfisk’s vacuums use a multi-stage filtration system, the last stage of which is a downstream HEPA filter to ensure contaminant-free exhaust. Without this final step, you may be vacuuming up contaminants only to release them back into the ambient air.
It will protect your workers and facilities from combustible dust incidents
Many companies are still overlooking the risk of combustible dust explosions. In fact, this is a very real and very present danger. Between 2008 and 2012, there were 50 combustible dust incidents, causing 29 fatalities and 161 injuries.
At the very least, failing to control combustible dust will get you an OSHA citation. At the worst, it will result in a catastrophic, and potentially fatal, explosion at your plant.
An explosion-proof industrial vacuum equipped with certified HEPA filters as part of both the collection system and the exhaust system can help you prevent combustible dust incidents from happening. This protects your workers, your facility, and your company’s reputation.
It will keep you in compliance with regulatory standards
Finally, aside from just being good practice for product integrity and worker safety, using a certified HEPA vacuum will help you keep in compliance with regulatory standards.
For example, food processing facilities must comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FDA-regulated food processing facilities must fulfill the hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls (HARPC) requirement. This process involves identifying all potential hazards and then implementing controls to prevent them.
Similarly, facilities that don’t fall under FSMA, such as those regulated by the USDA and the NFPA, must still comply with the hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) requirement. This process involves identifying all potential hazards and implementing controls to ensure they don’t exceed critical limits.
If the air in your processing facility contains contaminants or dust, it’s a hazard. That means it needs to be controlled.
So, why is certified HEPA filtration important for industrial processing? Because it promotes product safety and worker safety, and because it helps you stay on the right side of compliance laws.