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Managing Air Filtration in Commercial Bakeries for Healthier Employees and Safer Food

By April 18, 2022 April 19th, 2022 No Comments
15–18 minutes to read

Production processes in commercial bakeries can generate high volumes of particulate or molecular pollutants, so maintaining air quality is needed to protect food from contamination and minimize health risks for workers. This is best achieved by using appropriate air filtration and ventilation. 

When food residue is drawn into air handling units, air filters can become clogged, restricting airflow. When this happens, there is insufficient airflow to adequately move contaminants from the space and into the air filters . The particles then hang in the air, creating a smog-like effect, or they settle and accumulate on floors and equipment. This becomes a food safety and employee health issue.

Common sources of food dust at commercial bakeries include flour, grains, spices, egg shell, cornstarch, sugar and flavoring additives. Bioaerosols are another challenge. These solid or liquid particles carry microbes through the air that land on food during processing. In addition, airborne allergen particles can cause serious health problems for exposed workers or consumers of the end products. 

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Dust Dangers in Commercial Bakeries

Regular exposure to small particles of food dust can produce allergic reactions such as skin, nose and throat irritation. The finest dust particles easily become airborne and are inhaled, penetrating deep within the lungs. 

Respiratory conditions resulting from workplace exposure can be serious and chronic, such as baker’s asthma. This type of asthma is caused by breathing in allergens or the flour and grains that are added to baked goods in commercial bakery facilities. Afflicted workers can experience coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. Slips and falls are another concern at bakery facilities. Managing airborne dust minimizes slippery floors.

Baking processes that create high concentrations of airborne dust include loading flour and other powdered ingredients into mixers, dusting flour onto baking surfaces, sweeping food dusts from surfaces and disposing of flour bags. The health effects of inhaling food dust depend on the concentration of the airborne particles and length of exposure. Frequent low-level exposure might not create symptoms for up to thirty years.

Employers are required to follow OSHA’s General Duty Clause, which requires them to provide employees with a safe workplace that does not have any known hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury. It is also the employer’s responsibility to notify employees of immediate known dangers. In addition, specific state and local regulations or permits may apply.

“Not all exposures to poor indoor air quality cause symptoms, but the health hazards are there. That’s why air filtration management is important for maintaining a safe work environment,” said Steve Smith, CamCleaner Segment Manager at Camfil USA.

While employee health is a key concern, excess dust also settles and accumulates on pieces of equipment and drifts into the return air exhaust ductwork and other sections of ventilation systems. These particles in the HVAC system cause dust layering that increases operation costs due to frequent filter changes, duct cleanings and reduced transfer efficiency of the heating/cooling coils.

Bioaerosol Hazards in Commercial Bakeries

Bacteria, viruses and other infectious contaminants ride on particles of dirt or dust, getting into food when it is being prepared and processed. Common bioaerosols include bacteria like Listeria, E. coli, Brucella, Salmonella, and various molds and yeasts. 

Sources of pollutants like these include malfunctioning or poorly maintained HVAC systems, compressed unfiltered air lines and standing water. People working at the facility can also release bioaerosols into the air. These contaminant particles can remain suspended for a period of time, then eventually settle on surfaces. When food comes into contact with these pathogens, it could become contaminated, causing a food safety hazard.

For commercial bakery workers, inhaling bioaerosols can cause respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Ingesting food contaminated with certain bacteria can cause serious digestive problems and in some cases even kidney failure. 

The recent pandemic has raised awareness across the board that dangerous airborne particles are present in indoor air. Many commercial bakery operators are improving their ventilation systems by including the appropriate air filtration for their facility. Also driving this trend is the desire to reduce food safety dangers and safeguard employee health. Air filters act as a barrier between the contaminants and workers and food products. 

Commercial bakery facilities should have HVAC systems working optimally to keep bioaerosol emissions as low as possible. The appropriate high-efficiency HVAC air filters should be used in these systems to capture bioaerosols and prevent them from circulating. Ventilating the facility with outside air can also decrease concentrations of air contaminants within the building.

“To reduce the levels of bioaerosols within bakery facilities, it is important to have an air filtration expert evaluate each area of the operation. In addition to appropriate HVAC air filtration, supplemental commercial air cleaning systems can be installed to trap and neutralize harmful airborne contaminants,” Smith noted.

Managing Air Filtration and Airflow

Properly maintaining a bakery facility’s HVAC system helps to provide suitable air quality. Selecting appropriate air filters for different areas of the facility based on contamination risk is an effective way to reduce the threats from airborne contaminants while improving airflow and lowering maintenance costs.  

In addition to removing harmful airborne contaminants, a commercial air filter works to maintain consistent airflow throughout the facility. In particular, high-efficiency filters can hold large volumes of particles within the filter media while maintaining a low air resistance. 

“Often in commercial bakeries, multiple stages of air filtration are necessary, with final filters in the MERV 14/14A to MERV 16/16A range, depending on the application,” Smith recommended. 

To ensure safe indoor air quality throughout the bakery facility, it is important to evaluate the various production areas to determine the appropriate level of air filtration and air cleaning solutions needed for each location. Lower-risk areas such as food storage will often have different requirements than higher-risk locations like food preparation stations. Sufficient airflow is also necessary in high-risk areas that require space pressurization control. 

Ventilation systems work to optimize air pressure through the building, which is important because high-hygiene areas require higher pressure. Airflow should start in the cleanest areas and cascade toward less clean areas, like the receiving area, until the air is exhausted from the building.

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Air Cleaning Solutions 

In commercial bakery facilities that have expanded over time, the HVAC system might not have been designed to achieve the necessary air filtration efficiency or airflow for each production area. If possible, retrofit or replace the system to achieve adequate levels. If the HVAC system cannot be upgraded, supplemental air cleaners can be installed to maintain good indoor air quality. 

Air cleaners are specially designed to continuously recirculate the air through a filtration system that is separate from the HVAC system  filters. Air filtration experts can help bakery operators determine the optimum installation locations to capture contaminants and improve airflow patterns. For example, they can be placed above challenging areas on the plant floor and draw air through a series of air filters selected for that specific application.

There are two factors necessary for effective performance of an air cleaner. First, look at the air filter’s minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV-A) rating, which is used to characterize how well it removes different-sized particles in the air. Next, determine how much air the air cleaner draws through the filter, expressed in cubic feet per minute (cfm). 

“Commercial air cleaners not only improve indoor air quality and airflow, they also improve the lifespan of the main HVAC system air filters,” Smith added. 

Camfil CamCleaner Clears Bakery Facility Air

The Camfil CamCleaner is an ideal air cleaner to remove particulates and bioaerosol contaminants from commercial bakeries. It is a modular system that can fit into most bakery production areas, especially locations where direct source capture might be difficult.  The CamCleaner unit is typically installed suspended from the ceiling. It is especially useful in areas that have a high load of dust or fumes and high aerosol particulate concentrations.

“A series of CamCleaner units can be strategically placed in a bakery production area to create the best air pattern and substantially reduce airborne particulates,” Smith explained. “The clean air from one unit pushes the contaminated air to the inlet of the next unit, based on the required number of air changes per hour.”

CamCleaners are available in two sizes of air delivery, 2000 cfm and 4000 cfm, and each unit can provide multiple stages of air filtration. Configuration of air filtration can include a prefilter, a secondary or final filter, and/or a HEPA or molecular filter as the final stage.

Available filters include pleated prefilters in the MERV 8A to MERV 9A range to capture heavy contaminant loads, secondary filters that could include MERVE 13A through MERV 16A, molecular filters to control irritants, VOCs and odors, and HEPA filters to protect highly sensitive areas where cross-contamination is a concern. The system can return the clean air back into the bakery facility near its source, or it can be directed elsewhere in the facility to help improve positive air pressure.

Implementing an air quality program in commercial baking facilities by using appropriate air filtration and ventilation is the best way to protect workers and food products and to comply with regulatory standards. 

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About Camfil Clean Air Solutions

 

For more than half a century, Camfil has been helping people breathe cleaner air. As a leading manufacturer of premium clean air solutions, we provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control that improve worker and equipment productivity, minimize energy use, and benefit human health and the environment. 

 

We firmly believe that the best solutions for our customers are the best solutions for our planet, too. That’s why every step of the way—from design to delivery and across the product life cycle —we consider the impact of what we do on people and on the world around us. Through a fresh approach to problem-solving, innovative design, precise process control and a strong customer focus we aim to conserve more, use less and find better ways—so we can all breathe easier.

 

The Camfil Group is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, and has 31​ manufacturing sites, six R&D centers, local sales offices in 30 countries, and about 5,200 employees and growing. We proudly serve and support customers in a wide variety of industries and communities across the world. To discover how Camfil USA can help you to protect people, processes and the environment, visit us at www.camfil.us/. 

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