08/10/2018 - 00:00

Greening processed food production

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The food processing industry’s biggest impact on the environment comes from cleaning and disinfection. While this is vital for food hygiene and safety, it consumes vast amounts of water, energy and chemicals. Cleaning and sanitisation also releases undesirable chemicals into the environment, and generates wastewater and greenhouse gases.

The Spanish agro-food research and technology centre, AINIA, set up LIFE ECO-DHYBAT to see if applying eco-hygienic design principles could reduce the environmental burden of food manufacturing, in particular dairy and fish products.

“We worked with two companies, Calidad Pascual and Nueva Pescanova, modifying some of their production lines to make the equipment easier to clean,” says project manager Alfredo Rodrigo. “Then we measured the environmental impact of the cleaning and disinfection process on the different lines, so we could compare the results from the improved lines with the standard ones.”

Spending less to get more

The benefits were clear: the modified lines proved easier to clean, consuming less water and energy; wastewater quality improved as less organic matter remained in the equipment pre-cleaning; and energy consumption (heat and power) decreased, resulting in lower carbon dioxide emissions. What’s more, less time was spent cleaning the new lines, which boosted productivity.

An important lesson from the project is that even small modifications, such as avoiding sharp corners when designing equipment, can make a difference when it comes to the overall environmental impact and effectiveness.  

The cost of adapting existing equipment was shown to be largely offset by savings on water, energy and cleaning products. “The cost is recovered very quickly,” explains Mr Rodrigo. “And if eco-hygienic criteria are used at the design stage of food processing lines, there is no extra cost.”

Industry standard

The project’s achievements have led the EU to consider it and eco-hygienic design as a role model for the food and beverage sectors. “Although our industrial trials focused on dairy and fish processing, very similar results can be obtained for other food and drinks such as juice and meat products,” says Mr Rodrigo.

LIFE ECO-DHYBAT proposed eco-hygienic design as a candidate Best Available Technique (BAT) for the food industry. BAT Reference Documents (BREFs) are used by EU Member States when issuing operating permits for activities covered by the Industrial Emissions Directive. It was therefore a cause for celebration for the project team when the European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau included eco-hygienic design in thefinal version of the BREF for the food, drink and milk sector.

LIFE ECO-DHYBAT is a Best of the Best LIFE Environment project 2016-17


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