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Ongoing quest to prevent oil contamination of foods

26 July 2016

Martin Potter, general manager at Beko Technologies, discusses the problem of contamination of foods through mineral oils in compressed air


As discussed extensively in the media since 2010 – and published in several of BEKO’s marketing bulletins – the food industry continues to pursue the aim of preventing and eliminating mineral oil contamination in food products.

In recognition of the growing importance of this topic, the British Compressed Air Society has published a 'Best Practice Guideline 102'. This was produced in association with the food and beverage industry requirements to outline the pre-requisite programme and where applicable HACCP processes to give the users the tools they need to achieve this critical part of the manufacturing process.

In our experience compressed air contamination is generally only considered during the packaging phase of manufacturing, however, contamination of compressed air through direct or indirect contact with food poses a much greater risk, and therefore a potential hazard.

Compressed air is used in most food and beverage production processes. It is often used to transport or to mix products, purge moulds, clean canisters and containers, and also used in the direct production of food products. As a result, it comes into direct contact with the actual end product.

What is more, compressed air can come into indirect contract with food through packaging materials such as containers, bottles, cartons, etc., which are then used to package the food.

Oil-injected rotary screw compressors are commonly used when it comes to producing compressed air. 'Oil-injected' means that mineral oil is used in the compression chamber to cool and seal the air-end, thereby contaminating the compressed air with this mineral oil.

After the compressor is used, the compressed air is usually filtered to reduce the level of oil contamination and other components are used to reduce the moisture content and particle levels.

Oil-free compressors are also often used in the food industry. In the oil-free compression method, no oil is directly added to the compressed air in the compression process. However, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that will contain varying levels of contamination – e.g. through not fully combusted diesel, emissions from industrial plants, etc. – is sucked up and compressed during the air generation process.

Even compressed air production using the oil-free method requires corresponding processing to reduce the carbon dioxide content.

In view of the compressed air applications that pose a risk of contaminating foods with mineral oil, BEKO TECHNOLOGIES recommends online measurement procedures to ensure that compressed air is monitored at all 'Critical Control Points' whether it be contact or non-contact with food stuffs.

Periodic or even sporadic sampling and subsequent laboratory analysis would only provide a snapshot of the situation at the time of the sampling, and not continual, uninterrupted analysis of compressed air and therefore food quality. 

In order to be in a position to deliver this conclusive and continual quality assurance, BEKO TECHNOLOGIES has developed an online measurement procedure to determine the residual oil content in compressed air down to Class 1 and below.

Given the standard of quality required here, the measurement system was certified by TÜV Nord in accordance with the ISO 8573-1 standard and validated by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM).

In the past, the company has developed tailor-made solutions for the food and pharmaceuticals industry, and has implemented these in partnership with the relevant industry. We were able to meet and, in fact, exceed the minimum statutory thresholds for mineral oils in compressed air in all of these cases.

BEKO TECHNOLOGIES can offer ISO air tests to measure the quality of your air without having to purchase all the instruments necessary.