Food Processing Q&A

Sept. 4, 2012
Food processing refrigeration has technical requirements and methods that are quite removed from other refrigeration sectors. Representatives of two leading food processing refrigeration contractors provide insights into their work.

Randy Theen is vice president of the industrial refrigeration division of Colonial Webb, Norfolk, VA. Colonial Webb operates nine offices throughout the Southeastern U.S.

Q: What are keys to success in food processing refrigeration?

A: Safety, sound manufacturing processes, and quality. Other core competencies are assumed. We have to provide solid project management, engineering and process safety management resources. These competencies aren’t just an added value; they’re a ticket to entry.

Q: What do food processing customers want from a service/installation contractor?

A. Just as different contractors have different capabilities, many customers have different expectations. Some customers have three- and four-star requirements, and expect the highest levels of safety and quality. They also expect a high level of documentation to satisfy their internal requirements, as well as OSHA and EPA regulations.

Unfortunately, there are food and beverage manufacturers out there who don’t hold the bar very high. Price is their primary decision driver, and their refrigeration systems and food safety may suffer by dealing with subpar contractors.

Q; What are the general licensing requirements that set it apart from supermarket system refrigeration work?

A: The basic industrial refrigeration requirements are driven by ASME B31.5 which is a piping standard that sets the minimum requirements for pressure piping.

Q: Which refrigerants are most common in Colonial Webb’s industrial refrigeration work?

A: Historically, anhydrous ammonia is king in the industrial refrigeration world. Ammonia is an extremely efficient and green refrigerant, but it can be dangerous and flammable in very high proportions with air (B1). The food processing industry has come a long way in raising the bar on safety to keep ammonia the choice refrigerant.

Q: What types of regulatory changes are taking place?

A: In the last few years, many industrial refrigeration end users are moving away from refrigeration systems that circulate ammonia throughout their plant. Instead, they are centralizing their ammonia systems in a mechanical room and pumping a secondary fluid such as chilled propylene glycol or carbon dioxide through the facility for their cooling needs.

Q: What types of changes in technology do you find to be exciting and promising?

A: The biggest game changer in the industrial refrigeration landscape comes in terms of controls. Advances in automated computer controls over the last few years allow improved operation and greater dependability. Another improvement comes in terms of rooftop hygienic units. As food and beverage plants become larger, sanitation becomes more and more important. Rooftop units offer a way to control room pressurization and improve clean up times.

Chuck Stephensis a project manager for Universal Refrigeration,

Seattle and Auburn, WA.

Q: What advice would you give to a refrigeration contractor who wants to break into food processing projects?

A: To move into the food arena, you’re going to have to build relationships, and find qualified technicians. You must be able to assure the customer that you can take care of their equipoment. Price is a concern, but not as much as having it taken care of correctly. You have to then know how to market it, and obtain referrals to the next customer.

Related to equipment knowledge, most production facilities use large rack systems, and some use large DX systems.

Another requirement is that you have to know chillers, which throws people off. Chilled water systems or glycol.

You have to understand water flow issues along with refrigerant flow.

Q: Which refrigerants are most common in Universal’s food processing projects?

A: R-404 and R-507 are the two most common refrigerants for medium- and low-temperature applications. There are some R-134A systems in use, but not many. There’s also a lot of R-22 out there. You’ll have to look at the R-22 alternatives if you get into food processing. We’ve been changing out a seven-rack system on a blast freezer for a plant, and using R-407F.

Q: What type of continuing education is becoming more important nowadays?

A: Controls are changing more now, and it’s important to keep up with the developments in variable frequency drives (VFDs).