Microbial and Bacterial Filtration is a Critical Control Point for Food and Beverage
Filtration in Food & Beverage processes is a critical control point essential to optimize quality, cost, and efficiency. The most important of quality controls is called a Critical Control Point, under HAACP (Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points) and is designed to eliminate biological, physical and chemical hazards from the final product.
As the last process step before packaging, and a key part during food processing, final filter cartridges are often used in the Wine, Beer and Bottle Water industries, amongst others, as Critical Control Points. Because of this, it is essential that the performance of these filters is monitored regularly. One very practical and efficient way of validating the performance of a final filter, is a method called Integrity Testing. Integrity Testing is a non-destructive, in-situ test designed to be carried before and after production, to give assurance of filter performance.
Food and Beverage Producers value the importance of product quality, process efficiency, continuous improvement and regulatory compliance. The challenges they face, to continuously meet and exceed all of these requirements, apply to all the different food processing stages and filtration is no exception. An example of the filtration challenges that Food and Beverage manufacturers face is in microbial and bacterial filtration, which aims at providing a shelf-life stable product free from spoilage or indicator organisms. For this reason, and as mentioned before, microbial and bacterial filtration in the form of Final Filter Cartridges, is a key Critical Control Point.
However, this very important Critical Control Point, can be Expensive, difficult to scale, highly regulated and sometimes inefficient at eliminating the risk of contamination: It's ultimate objective.
The Four Challenges in Further Detail
Not all microbial and bacterial filters are able to significantly reduce the risk of contamination that Food or Beverage products are exposed to
Final Filtration can be costly
Performance issues in final filtration can stop the full production line
Final filtration is highly regulated
Food and beverage processing conditions are very rigorous. They typically include pressure spikes, the use of chemicals, hot water, steam and frequent operator handling. Filters are exposed to all these extreme conditions, and as such can be damaged during its lifetime, and put the final product at risk of contamination. Risk of contamination may be caused by the following:
The cost associated with Final Filtration can be attributed to each and all of the following factors
Standard filter cartridges are typically contained within multi-round housings, consisting of multiple cartridge filters inside a single housing. Such set up, in a critical final filtration application, can cause the following challenges to the Food and Beverage manufacturer.
The intention of Food Contact Compliance regulations is to protect consumers' health and the quality of the foods they buy. Because it is in direct contact with the product, and it is typically the last step before packaging, final filtration is highly regulated
|Weak structural design. A filter may be damaged due to all the food processing conditions listed above. A common point for damage and failure are junction points in the filter. These are the areas where materials and components that make up a cartridge filter are joined together. There may be up to 13 junction points in a standard 10'' cartridge filter!
|Cost of goods used. The choice of raw materials, manufacturability, number of components and design of the filter can impact its cost. A well designed filter, that optimizes its material use through sophisticated geometries and manufacturing methods, could offer at par or superior performance at a fraction of the cost of a less sophisticated design. By optimizing its effective filtration area, a well designed filter can deliver the same performance, as multiple sub-optimally designed filters.
|Complete production shutdown. It occurs if final filtration is stopped due to cleaning, sanitization, maintenance, blockage or failure. It is not possible to continue packaging/bottling if the final filtration step is sitting idle.
|There is no globally recognized standard for food contact compliance. For this reason, regulations may not only differ between the regions of the world where the food product is being produced and sold, but also in the regions where the filters are manufactured.
|Failure to test the integrity of a filter. It is not easy to evaluate how efficiently a microbial filter is performing against its claims. There are different laboratory tests that may be performed to evaluate the microbial count upstream of a filter, but results are not inmediate enough to take corrective actions if the results exceed the control limits. Integrity Testing is an alternative method that allows the manufacturer to inmediately and in-situ, evaluate if the filter is integral, and therefore expected to perform as claimed by the filter manufacturer. However, not all filters available in the market are integrity testable, nor have they been qualified for specific applications or installations.
|Lifetime of the filter. If a filter is doing its job, it is essentially selectively separating filtrate from a solution. As a result, after continuous filtration the Food & Beverage manufacturer must dispose and replace the filters as they become saturated (or plugged). Depending of how often they are replaced, the filtration costs will add up depending on the volume of product that is processed yearly, on the type of product that is being filtered and on the performance characteristics of the filter.
|Downtime is extended if Integrity failure is detected. Because a large installation contains multiple cartridge filters; it can take exteneded periods of time to inspect the installation and identify the single source of failure.
|Not every Filter Manufacturer, offers Food Contact compliant products. Filter manufacturers serve various applications such as Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing, Industrial Water or Electronic's Production. Therefore the Food & Beverage producer must always make sure to identify a supplier with knowledge and experience in the Food & Beverage Industry and that can offer the respective declarations of compliance, relevant to all the regions of the world where the food products are sold and distributed.
|Filtration Microbial Retention (Logarithmic Reduction Value) varies by microrganism. In other words, a filter that may work well reducing the concentration of certain spoliage microorganisms, may not perform equally against an alternative microorganism. As such, the Food & Beverage producer must very carefully select a filter that has been tested and demonstrated to be effective against the retention of microorganisms relevant to the type of product (e.g: wine, beer, water, etc...) that is being filtered. Such claims are usually validated in Technical Reports provided by the filter manufacturer.
|Cost of accessories. Filter cartdriges do not operate as a free standing component. They are usually installed inside a stainless steel housing and attached to a network of stainless steel piping, monitoring devices and structural supports. All of the above are necessary for hygienic and efficient operations, but add CAPEX considerations to the filtration design.
|Capacity expansion is expensive. When demand exceeds the production capacity of a filtration installation, the producer will need to expand it. With a standard cartridge filter multi-round housing, expansion can be costly, with the end user needing to buy a larger multi-round housing while hopefully still having use for the old, and smaller, housing.
|Hygienic Housing Design is critical: Non hygienic design can allow the build-up of biofilm and particulate which makes clean-ability challenging and should be avoided in critical applications such as final filtration prior to packaging.
The microbial and bacterial filtration challenges that a Food & Beverage manufacturer must consider are various and not easy to navigate. It is important that when selecting the optimal microbial and bacterial filter for their respective food processes, that the following key attributes are taken into consideration. An effective microbial and bacterial Filter for the Food Industry must:
- Be robust and reusable to reduce the total cost of ownership of the filter.
- Be Integrity Testable and validated (by the filter manufacturer) against food specific microorganisms, to reduce the risk of contamination
- Have a design that allows installation flexibility and modularity, to either scale up with production capacity, or to not stop the entire production line when scheduled for maintenance or sanitization
- Must be food contact compliant in all regions where the finished products are being sold or distributed.
Learn more about the key attributes every filtration installation must meet to address the four challenges of Microbial Filtration