5 Steps to Optimize Your Food or Beverage Steam System Process


There’s no doubt, that as a food or beverage manufacturer, your goal is to produce the highest quality food or beverage product that is safe, and meets the needs and expectations of its consumers. Efficient and consistent operation of your steam system process is key to achieving this high quality standard. Here are five steps to ensure that your steam system process is optimized and that your goals are achieved.

1. Acquire an understanding and awareness of the food and beverage regulations and standards for using steam in your process

Steam quality is an important part of food and beverage processing. Food and beverage manufacturers should maintain a strong knowledge of regulations dealing with its quality and use. The U.S. regulations and standards for steam that comes directly in contact with food, beverages, or processing equipment during the manufacture process include: 

  • FDA Code of Federal Regulation
  • 3-A Sanitary Standards Institute (3-A SSI)
  • Organic Standards
  • Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) 

Peruse this guide, devised by Spirax Sarco steam experts, containing the details of the regulations and standards mentioned above.  

2. Maintain good food hygiene and prevent food safety problems

When food or beverage manufacturers learn that a batch of their product is contaminated, fear and anxiety immediately affects all within the facility.  Food that has been tainted with anything from salmonella and listeria, to a shard of glass or a sliver of metal can cause serious harm – or even death – to those who consume it.  When consumers are injured or even die because of food contamination the repercussions for the involved companies can become enormous. In the worst cases companies go out of business. Even if a company survives a contamination crisis its reputation is likely very tarnished and its bottom line will inevitably suffer.

There are three areas to consider when it comes to maintaining hygiene and preventing food safety problems. They are: 

  • Cross-Contamination - can occur at any one of multiple stages during a process, such as plate heat exchangers, condensate, and boiler carry-over. Companies manufacturing or processing food or beverages need to have a very strong understanding of how to avoid cross-contamination in order to adhere to HACCP principles and eliminate risk.
  • Cleaning - Cleaning-in-Place (CIP) and Sterilizing-in-Place (SIP) are very important to remove any traces of bacteria on equipment and surfaces.
  • Cooking - will kill potentially harmful micro-organisms in food, but the risk of bacterial contamination through a failure in the cooking process can be mitigated further, and even eliminated, by the use of clean steam.

3. Understand the potential contamination risks in your process

As stated earlier, having a strong understanding of the food and beverage regulations and standards is important. The inclusion of the regulations and standards into your steam process will help to ensure that high quality of the final product is achieved.  As you implement the guidelines it’s equally as important in understanding the potential contamination risks that can occur in your steam process. As a substance often injected into food and beverage, steam is one of these potential hazards. We all know that steam is sterile, but not many realize that possible contamination, upstream or downstream in the pipework, can affect the product, providing a hazard to human consumption. 

There are three types of contamination risks that you need to avoid to keep your process optimized and running efficiently. They are chemicals, particulates, and non-condensable gases.

  • Chemicals – Raw feed-water is usually treated by public utilities to kill microorganisms and remove other harmful substances. The chemicals they use, plus other chemicals added by boiler operators, can make their way into steam used for food processing through boiler carry-over or atomization.
  • Particulates – Chemicals used to treat public water can be corrosive to boilers and steam supply lines. Steam is a very aggressive vapor, which can cause extreme corrosion of steam and condensate pipework and boilers. Water minerals precipitate deposits of scale that can create particulates within steam supply.
  • Non-condensable gases – Oxygen, carbon dioxide and other gases dissolved in feed-water, or introduced by other means, can cause cold spots in steam sterilizers and pasteurizers, and thus reduce heat transfer efficiency.

Spirax Sarco offers on-site technical support to evaluate your steam system process and help you avoid the contamination risks. Our engineers are knowledgeable with an understanding of the sources of contamination and where the risks could be in your steam system process.

4. Produce good quality steam in your process

If you’ve read this far, you’ve learned about the importance of maintaining food hygiene and preventing food and beverage safety problems.  You’ve also discovered regulations and standards to implement and potential contamination risks to avoid in your steam system process.  Producing good quality steam in your food or beverage manufacturing process is of the utmost importance in achieving the highest quality product that is safe and meets the needs of your consumers.  

There are six process requirements to produce quality steam in your food or beverage manufacturing process.  They include:

  • Installing and maintaining the right steam processing equipment – Steam system equipment is designed to operate within certain parameters. It’s important to ensure your plant or filtered steam processing equipment incorporates the specifications, design and controls needed for your applications and that it’s correctly installed. This, coupled with regular maintenance, will help you consistently generate steam of appropriate hygienic quality.
  • Minimizing the potential for boiler carry-over – Boiler carry-over can be triggered by a number of operating factors and may contain high levels of water treatment chemicals, dissolved solids and other contaminants. 
  • Controlling chemical additives – Follow the FDA (FDA Code of Federal Regulation, Title 21, Vol 3, Section 173.310) and 3-A Culinary guidelines for food approved chemicals and dosages to treat boiler water and the steam that comes in contact with your product or process. 
  • Quickly identifying and removing contaminants in condensate - The practice of returning condensate from around the plant to reduce energy, water and chemical consumption may allow steam to pick up scale, corrosion, detergent residue, and other possible chemical cross-contaminants. Regular testing of samples taken from fittings just ahead of food processing applications will help you catch any impurities quickly. For consistently clean steam, install contamination detection equipment in your condensate return system.
  • Installing a clean steam generator and using it wherever steam quality is critical - Clean steam systems use a second steam generator, fed by distilled, deionized or de-mineralized water, without chemicals added. They also include anti-microbial design and finishes and are made of high grade stainless steel, which doesn’t corrode. Together, these elements eliminate the risk of contamination by boiler chemicals, particulates or other hazards.   
  • Identify external sources of contamination with an equipment surface audit – The washdown process uses high pressure to clean the equipment area. Any contamination on the surface of equipment can be blown into the process.  The steam system should be designed in a way that eliminates any areas that could collect contaminates.
    -- Crevices can hold contaminates that can be blown into the process.  For example, avoid bolted flanges, open support channels, and threads which can hold bacteria.
    -- Caustic wash-down causes rust on carbon steel piping and equipment.  The rust can be blown into the process during cleaning.  The use of stainless steel piping, valves, and fittings reduces the contamination risk.  Support-racks and skids should be made of stainless steel and free of crevasses. It's also important to reduce the exposed threads on bolts.

5. Conduct regular quality control assessments

Your local Spirax Sarco Sales Engineer is available to discuss and review your steam system to identify the areas in your process that may need modification, and could help you achieve the optimized steam process you need to produce the highest quality food or beverage product that is safe, and meets the needs and expectations of its consumers.

It’s also equally important to ensure that moisture (in the form of condensate) is removed from your steam system process.  A steam trap survey would identify the areas of moisture so that you could eliminate them, resulting in system reliability and maintained safety standards.

Last of all, Spirax Sarco has knowledgeable steam experts who are able to perform an entire steam and condensate system assessment providing you advice on the quality of your steam and the areas of your system that need modification to ensure you achieve system reliability, energy savings, and improved system performance and productivity.