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Causes of fire in food processing facilities


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#1 starrsm

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Posted 02 August 2016 - 08:32 PM

I stumbled across this site while researching fire and causes of fire in food processing facilities.  I work for a company that manufactures small-scale fire suppression and recently we've seen a significant uptick in the number of plants requesting systems to protect electrical controls and mechanical systems.

 

I'm trying to understand three things:

 

1.  Is there a real need for these systems in the industry or are these isolated inquiries?

2. What are the primary areas / equipment of concern?

3. Would control of a fire at its earliest stages (ie inside the electrical panel in which the fire originates) limit the impact of the fire on the facility to the point that inventory wouldn't need to be discarded due to the smoke exposure?  What are the exposure limits?

 

I'll be looking at the boards, I see a number of references to fire incidents already. 

 

I'd appreciate any feedback I can get on the topic.


Edited by Simon, 03 August 2016 - 06:23 PM.
Removed contact and website details

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#2 Karenconstable

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 07:12 AM

Hi starrsm,

 

Wow you have asked a tough question for a subject as broad as 'food plants'.  Every single food plant is unique; the answers depend on a huge number of variables and I guess that is why no one has tried to answer yet.

 

First, the increase in requests from the food industry might have something to do with new food safety laws in your country.  Those laws do not directly address fire but they do have other requirements that might be indirectly leading more people to take notice of what is going on inside food factories.  Fire suppression is of course all about mitigating risks and the new food laws require food businesses to take a look at hazards and risks related to food safety and implement plans to prevent them.  Perhaps once people get in the habit of thinking about hazards, then even non-food safety hazards become more 'visible'.  Just speculating...

 

Primary areas and equipment of concern:  that is very dependent on the food factory.  A snack food manufacturer will be concerned about fire in the frying oil and in the finished goods warehouse, a large bakery might be worried about dust ignition when handling flour, a small bakery might be worried about their ovens, a distillery has flammable liquids on site, a fish filleting factory might be very low risk for fire, while a fish cannery might be quite high risk because of the gas-fired retorts.  Some food and packaging materials burn easily, some don't.

 

Controlling a fire in its early stages, as you said, would always be better than controlling it at later stages.  As for loss of food stock from smoke damage, there are no 'exposure limits' because it depends entirely on the food type, how it is packaged/stored and its intended usage. Smoke-affected food could be discarded for safety reasons but also for flavour reasons or for aesthetic appearances.  Financial losses can also occur without any smoke damage; for example if a fire in a control panel caused food production to stop or to fail in some way.  It can be very expensive for food production equipment to lie idle due to electrical or mechanical failures.

 

I hope these comments have been helpful.  If you need more information I recommend hiring a food industry consultant to spend a day with you, perhaps accompany you on some sales calls and help you to understand the unique needs of our industry.

 

Karen


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#3 starrsm

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 02:32 PM

Thanks Karen:

 

I hadn't been terribly specific in the intro as I was just sort of giving on overview and background of what I was looking to accomplish.

 

At this point, we've been installing in the US and UK in cheese processing faculties, primarily in electrical panel protection - basically ensuring that a fire due to a failure in one of those cabinets had a similar impact to a blown fuse.  Provided that there was redundancy in systems, there would be no process interruption.  The smoke release in one of these events is pretty minimal as the fire would largely not escape the confinement of the enclosure, nor would the gas suppressant.

 

I think you hit the nail on the head with this statement:

 

"Financial losses can also occur without any smoke damage; for example if a fire in a control panel caused food production to stop or to fail in some way.  It can be very expensive for food production equipment to lie idle due to electrical or mechanical failures."

 

That seems to be the motivating factor in the systems we have deployed and that's the application I plan to learn the most about first; whether the solution is applicable beyond the plants we've done and is the value of the potential loss multiplied by the probability enough to warrant the cost of protection.

 

I'll take a closer look at some of the other areas you've suggested as well.  Fryers generally should have protection on them for obvious reasons, concerns with ovens are reasonably easy to understand.  The flour handling and explosion protection is really a different discipline in fire protection, but flammable liquids are right in our wheelhouse as a area we can look at. I'd be curious to know more about the comment about snack foods in the finished goods warehouse - why would that area carry an elevated risk? 

 

Thanks Karen for taking the time to respond, it's given me both some assurances that there's value in looing further into this as well as some new avenues to look at!

 

Cheers!

 

Scott

 

 

 

Note:  And apologies to Simon - didn't meant to violate the rules with contact info in the body.  The intent was to allow an anonymous response... often fire incidents (at least in other industries we serve) aren't discussed in open forum due to the sensitive nature of the events.  Sorry about that!


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#4 Karenconstable

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Posted 16 August 2016 - 11:25 PM

Glad to be of help.

 

To answer your question about snackfoods, the product has a very low water content and contains plenty of carbohydrates and lots of oil.  The products are packed with lots of air (to cushion the contents), overwrapped with polypropylene film, surrounded by more air and contained in a cardboard carton.  The cartons are palletised on wooden pallets and stacked nice and high on well-ventilated open racking.  I'm sure you can see where I am going with that...


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