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Air Quality Requirements During the Food Process

written by: Rafael•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 8/21/2010

Every year US consumers spend approximately 145 billion in food and beverages. Air is an often overlooked factor in minimizing the risk of food contamination. Food process air quality requirements are a very important item to consider to assure consumers a healthy product.

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    Foodborne diseases rank as one of the most important health issues around the globe. In the US 81 million cases and 9000 deaths are caused by food contamination. Air quality is an important risk factor for food industries since air can be a carrier to introduce toxins and microorganisms to the food processing plant.

    The majority of food processing plants are located in industrial areas with heavy atmospheric pollution. Thus, consumers need to be assured that these pollutants are excluded from the food they will consume. In general, food processor air quality is often correlated to the absence of microbial particles in the air, which may come in contact with the food at critical times during the processing of the product (Hampson and Kaiser, 1995).

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    Air as a carrier of particles

    Air is often forgotten or overlooked as a way to introduce pollutants to food processing plants. Air has the ability to “carry” a variety of contaminants including: pollen, plant cells, algae, protozoa, bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and mould spores. Human activity, sneezing, coughing, wind, rain splash, releases from animals can all make contaminants to become airborne.

    Although it may be impossible to eliminate the risk of food contamination by pollutants in the air, the idea is to minimize the risk as much as possible.

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    Food Process Air Quality Requirements

    Cleanroom technology is an efficient way to reduce risk associated with air contamination. There are many definitions of cleanroom technology. The CEN-European Commission for standardization (CEN, 2000) defines a clean room as “A room in which the concentration of airborne particles is controlled, and which is constructed and used in a manner to minimize the introduction, generation, and retention of particles inside the room, and in which other relevant parameters, e.g. temperature, humidity, and pressure, are controlled as necessary.”

    The ISO 14644-1:2000 standard establishes classes as well as food process air quality requirements for clean rooms in terms of particles content and size. For example, an ISO Class 1 clean room can not have more than 10 particles/m3 of air of a 0.1 micro meter size and no more than 2 particles/m3 of air of a 20.2 1 micro meter size. This represent the highest possible level of a clean room. an ISO Class allows 100 particles/m3 of air of a 0.1 micro meter size and no more than 24 particles/m3 of air of a 20.2 1 micro meter size. Appropriate clean room classes and facilities for food and beverage applications are dependent on the food product being manufactured.

    Air quality is very important to assure consumers the healthiness of their food. Risks of food contamination by air need to minimized. Cleanroom technology is perhaps the best way to assure such risk minimization.

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    Hampson, B.C. & Kaiser, D. 1995. Air quality in the food-processing environment: a cleanable HEPA filtration system. Dairy Food Environ. Sanit., Vol. 5, pp. 371.374.

    CEN (2000) -European Commission for standardization. ISO 14644-1:2000. Cleanrooms and associated controlled environments. Part 1: Classification of air cleanliness.