Many historians believe that in Ancient Rome, the nobility sipped hot drinks cooked in lead vessels and channelled spring water into their homes through lead pipes. These practices poisoned the Roman elite with diseases such as gout, headaches and abdominal pain. Food contamination has been an issue for centuries but luckily, we now have more efficient ways of controlling it.

Here Clive Jones, managing director of thermal fluid expert Global Heat Transfer, explains the impact of contamination in the food and drink industry and why companies should invest in high-quality food grade thermal fluid.

In food processing, contamination can occur from a range of sources, including by using unsanitary water to wash or chill food products; other common contamination problems are caused by pathogens transmitted from animal products and cross-contamination if equipment is not cleaned thoroughly. However, one hidden contaminator that is not often considered is heat transfer fluid, which can foul food products if it comes into contact with it, for example if the system has a leak. The best way to prevent contamination in this situation is to opt for a food grade thermal fluid.

Food grade thermal fluids carry a HT-1 certificate, granted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the NSF International, if they have been approved for use in food and drink processing. They are typically described as colourless, non-toxic, non-irritating and non-fouling. As thermal fluids are chemical agents, there is potential that they could come into contact with food and consumers. Although it may seem like a small risk, it is not an unusual occurrence.

In 2000, 86,000 pounds of sliced and packaged turkey was recalled after consumers complained the product was off-odour, off-flavour and caused temporary intestinal discomfort after consumption. Testing proved that the product had been contaminated with non-food grade thermal fluid. To ensure consumer safety isn’t compromised, food and drink manufacturers should always use thermal fluid suitable for incidental contact with products. 

It is a common myth that food grade thermal fluids can’t operate at the same high temperatures as standard products. However, specialist fluids such as Global Heat Transfer’s Globaltherm FG can operate from -20 to 326 degrees Celsius thanks to their outstanding thermal oxidation stability.

Food grade thermal fluids are also known to have a lower total acid value (TAN) than non-food grade. This means that, as well as being certified for incidental contact with food products, using food grade thermal fluid will lead to lower fouling and corrosion on internal structures during thermal degradation.

In the worst case scenario, contamination is discovered once the product has been shipped from the processing facility. If this occurs, the manufacturer must organise a product recall, which can result in huge financial losses and have a detrimental impact on reputation. Using non-food grade thermal fluid isn’t worth the risk, especially when there are thermal fluid experts on hand to help you choose the correct fluid and maintain it over its lifetime.

Proactive maintenance packages, such as Global Heat Transfer’s Thermocare includes 24/7 on-site engineering assistance, regular sample analysis, condition monitoring of heat transfer fluid, system health checks and training for a range of personnel including engineers, system operatives and health and safety. This approach could save manufacturers 75 per cent on maintenance and energy costs over a five year period.

After all, today’s food and beverage industry is much more sophisticated and controlled than the arbitrary practices of Ancient Rome, so why would any manufacturer take a chance on the quality of its products?