Real-time detection of organic residue ensures safe systems

Published: 04-01-2016

Insufficient cleaning or biofilm formation in equipment (pasteurizers, heat exchanger and pipes) form hazards for food manufacturers. Bactoforce has developed a new method for the real-time detection of such hygiene problems in closed flow systems. The new technology is great for troubleshooting and for optimizing CIP settings. The technology saves time and reduces the use of chemical cleaning agents, water and energy.

“In the food industry, regular inspection of tanks, pipes, heat exchangers and spray dryers is comparable to a vehicle inspection for cars,” says Marcel Wilmink, Bactoforce’s general manager for Northwest Europe. “Timely detection of mechanical defects such as cracks, corrosion and insufficient hygiene prevents more serious problems and keeps equipment in optimum condition.”

Bactoforce is a Danish company that inspects dairy, beverage and other food processing equipment. Their analyses are accompanied by an elaborate inspection report. The company also offers customers the option of monitoring their systems’ status online. Bactoforce has offices in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and the UK.

“In food processing equipment, mechanical defects and corrosion are not the only problems. The formation of biofilms is just as hazardous, if not worse,” says Wilmink. Biofilms are very difficult to remove and are usually caused by insufficient cleaning. They consist of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, phosphates and a buildup of micro-organisms, frequently embedded in a layer of slime that is difficult to remove. This layer often contains many spoilage-inducing and pathogenic micro-organisms that can be released during production, causing the contamination of food products.

It is hard to remove an existing biofilm from a production line, but they can be prevented through regular checks. Inspecting open systems and surfaces is relatively simple. Closed systems are more difficult. These include heat exchangers, pasteurizers, evaporators, membrane filters and pipes.

Closed system
Bactoforce has developed an innovative inspection method for validating cleaning in closed systems based on the presence of organic residues. “We’ve conducted more than a hundred commercial inspections using this new method over the past year,” says Wilmink. “They’ve shown that our measurements very accurately indicate the presence of organic residue. Moreover the measured value provides a direction whether this residue consists of biofilm or contamination.”

The new inspection method is based on determination of the Total Organic Carbon (TOC) in a closed system. Using a mobile pump, the closed processing system is turned into a water circulation system to which an oxidative substance is added. This substance reacts with the carbon compounds in the system. A series of samples from the circulating water is analyzed in a mobile unit. First, a strong acid is used to remove the inorganic carbon. Next, the organic compounds are oxidized into carbon dioxide. Then the amount of CO2 from organic compounds is analyzed. This gauges the amount of organic residue, contamination and/or biofilm.

Cleaning in Place
Wilmink explains the subsequent steps. “In some cases when organic residues are detected, they can be eliminated instantly by modifying the water circulation into CIP-clean. CIP stands for Cleaning in Place. So, we temporarily reverse the pump and pump a mixture of water and chemicals through the system. Residues detach more easily that way. Immediately afterwards, we can run another organic residue inspection to analyze whether the system is free of residues.”

Organic residue inspections in closed systems are part of troubleshooting inspections aimed at localizing acute problems. Wilmink says there is a growing interest in the Bactoforce inspection method for other purposes as well. “We’re seeing a growing number of companies who use it to fine-tune their CIP cleaning programs, either to validate new programs for specific contaminations or for improving existing programs. That makes sense. A well-designed CIP program guarantees product safety and can save a lot of money in terms of time, energy, water and cleaning agents.”