Dust control is essential for the food industry to ensure food quality, prevent cross contamination, and create a safe and comfortable workspace for employees. An efficient and effective dust control strategy involves three critical elements: dust reduction, housekeeping, and dust collection. While there is no one-size-fits-all dust collection solution for the industry, understanding the basics of dust control and how they apply to your processes can help you make the right decisions for your facility.
The Importance of Dust Control
Uncontrolled food dust can present significant problems for food manufacturers, especially if multiple products with varying ingredient types are produced in the same facility. Fugitive dust is one of the major causes of cross contamination in food production facilities. Dust that escapes from mixers, blenders, sifters, and other production processes can easily propagate through the facility, contaminating other production equipment and conveyor lines as it settles. It’s much easier to control dust at the source than clean it up once it spreads through the facility.
Food dust can also create other hazards in the facility:
- Microbial growth: Excess dust settling on surfaces and in crevices creates conditions that support the growth of bacteria, yeast, and molds, many of which can cause foodborne illnesses.
- Employee health, safety, and comfort: Food dust can present risks to workers, too. Breathing in flour, for example, can lead to a form of asthma called “baker’s lung.” Some spices and additives are dangerous to inhale, and other ingredients can cause allergic reactions with repeated exposure. Even if dust is not especially dangerous, a dusty environment is not comfortable to work in, which can create recruiting and retention problems for food manufacturers.
- Combustion risk: Most types of dust found in the food industry—including flour, sugar, cocoa, starches, and powdered milk—are combustible. In fact, the food and agriculture sector has the most reported combustion incidents, according to the 2021 Combustible Dust Incident Report (available at com). Controlling combustible dust is essential for plant safety.
Dust Control Basics: Dust Reduction, Housekeeping, and Dust Collection
To prevent cross contamination and other issues caused by fugitive food dust, manufacturers must implement a multi-part dust control strategy that includes dust reduction, housekeeping, and dust collection.
- Dust reduction: First, look for ways to reduce the volume of dust created or the amount of dust that becomes airborne. For example, low-speed/high-volume conveyor systems can reduce airborne dust. Transfer and dumping points can also be engineered to reduce dust cloud formation. Finally, some processes and conveyors can be enclosed to prevent dust from propagating to other parts of the facility. When enclosing dust-producing applications, however, be sure to collect dust to prevent dust clouds from reaching explosive concentrations within the enclosure.
- Housekeeping: Good housekeeping practices are also required to reduce the buildup of dust on surfaces and equipment. Dust that is allowed to settle on surfaces such as light fixtures, the tops of equipment, roof beam systems, and floors and work surfaces is easily transferred to other parts of the facility through human activities or disturbances that cause it to go airborne. To avoid creating airborne dust clouds, use a National Fire Protection Association-compliant vacuum system to clean up loose dust. Food contact surfaces should be scrubbed and sanitized frequently, especially when switching between ingredients.
- Dust collection: An effective dust control strategy will almost certainly include some form of dust collection system. A dust collector filters particulate out of the air and returns clean air to the facility. Dust collection can be used to pull dusty air out of enclosed applications and conveyor systems and to clean air for the facility as a whole. Collecting and filtering airborne dust prevents it from settling on surfaces, which will significantly reduce the housekeeping burden and cross-contamination concerns. Dust collection also prevents dust from accumulating to combustible levels in the air.
Designing an Effective Dust Collection System for Food Applications
Dust collection solution design for food applications is generally highly customized. The solution will depend on several factors.