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How Vacuum Filtration Helps Prevent Food Contamination

Posted on June 7, 2016

Every year, foodborne illnesses cost the economy more than $15.6 billion and send more than 53,000 Americans to the hospital. A large portion of these costs and illnesses are due to a group of usual suspects — 15 pathogens including E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes.

Preventing food from becoming contaminated with these and other harmful microorganisms requires a comprehensive plan that includes employee personal hygiene, equipment sanitation, and, of course, proper housekeeping.

Here are three ways vacuum filtration contributes to this effort.

Keeping pathogens at bay

Listeria is probably the most well-known pathogen of the “Big 15.” This nasty bacteria accounts for about $3 billion of the economic burden due to contamination. Just this month, a Listeria outbreak prompted a huge recall of frozen foods sold under 42 different brand names.

Listeria is a rod-shaped bacteria that typically measures 0.4 to 0.5 microns long by 0.5 to 2 microns wide. To capture particles this small requires serious filtration:

  • HEPA filters are 99.97% efficient at trapping and retaining particles down to and including 0.3 microns.
  • ULPA filters are 99.999% efficient at trapping and retaining particles down to and including 0.12 microns.

It goes without saying that mops and brooms can’t come anywhere close to this level of efficiency. If you’re still using this type of cleaning equipment, you’re not effectively keeping pathogens out of your facility.

Controlling the spread of allergens

As many as 15 million Americans have food allergies, and these are potentially deadly.

Wet cleaning is a common way to remove allergens. But not all areas of a plant can be washed down, and even a very small concentration of allergens is often enough to create a big problem.

This problem can be exacerbated by traditional dry cleaning methods like blowing compressed air. Mike Pehanich described the problem well in this Food Processing article:

“A peanut chunk can be propelled half way across a plant by an air-hose blast. A vacuum, on the other hand, removes it.”

By using a vacuum with HEPA or ULPA filtration, you can ensure that even the smallest allergen particles are removed during cleaning.

Ensuring contaminant-free exhaust

Vacuuming a food processing facility with a regular shop-style vacuum cleaner is equivalent to collecting contaminants and then releasing them back into the air. That’s because the contaminants are not properly filtered, so they end up exhausted back into the air from the vacuum.

You can keep contaminants from escaping in this fashion by using a vacuum with multi-stage filtration that includes a downstream exhaust filter. This guarantees that once you’ve trapped the contaminants in, they won’t get out again.

Preventing food contamination requires a multi-faceted approach that takes into consideration equipment, processes, and personnel. On the cleaning side, an industrial vacuum with adequate filtration is one of the most important tools you can have in your toolbox.

To learn more about vacuum filtration for the food processing industry, view our whitepaper: Safe Choice Education: Improve Sanitation Efficiency