Accept no substitutes: Food-grade heat exchangers a key ingredient for food and beverage production success

The food and beverage industry (F&B) is particularly reliant on quality control. While chefs and other food preparation workers toil away at ensuring their products are palatable to consumers, they also must ensure their systems and processes are meeting stringent safety standards. This goes for the myriad of producers and suppliers as well, with everything from cooking oil and eggs to lettuce and cheese controlled by a thicket of regulations.

By Brigit McPherson, Food & Beverage Sales Leader for Aggreko North America

The various levels of food safety regulation serve a simple purpose; to protect consumers from food contamination or an outbreak of which can, aside from the obvious detriment to public health, lead to calamitous consequences for food producers. It is, therefore, critical that food and beverage producers have the right tools to ensure their products meet all necessary safety standards. This is particularly true when it comes to heating and cooling, given how quickly foodborne illness-causing bacteria can grow in the “danger zone” of internal temperatures. Cleaning processes must reach sanitizing temperatures, refrigerators and freezers must maintain critical set points, and ovens must be accurate.

Accept no substitutes: Food-grade heat exchangers a key ingredient for food and beverage production success

Heat exchangers for the food and beverage industry

Along with the essential equipment that we normally think of when it comes to food production, what is perhaps considered less often is the critical role of heat exchangers. Heat exchangers have a variety of applications across industries, wherever it’s necessary to transfer heat between mediums. A simple heat exchanger, for example, includes a coiled tube with hot liquid or gas inside a larger shell that has a colder fluid, thereby cooling what’s in the coil and heating what’s in the shell without the two substances ever coming into contact with each other.

Within the F&B industry, applications for heat exchangers include refining cooking oil, regulating fluid temperatures for pasteurization, heating soups and sauces, and more. Due to the stringent safety requirements of F&B producers, effective heat exchange is a necessary component of food production. Milk must reach a certain temperature to be pasteurized, and then quickly cooled to avoid spoiling. Various other liquids, like cooling oil and condiments, must also be processed at certain temperatures to preserve their taste and avoid contamination.

Using heat exchangers for F&B applications can also help improve energy efficiency. When pasteurizing milk, for instance, exchangers can have the heated milk and cold milk work together within the assembly, since neither liquid is coming into contact with the other.

A specialized solution

While the F&B industry requires the utmost attention to detail when it comes to safety and quality, there are surprisingly few dedicated food-grade heat exchangers. Many of the exchangers being used in F&B applications are not created specifically for the industry. Though there may be some up-front economic benefits to installing exchangers that are built for any number of industrial applications, there are also several potential drawbacks for F&B producers.

Multi-purpose industrial heat exchangers may have previously been used for heating hazardous chemicals, and their previous users could well have neglected to clean them to a level needed for food-grade applications. It can be challenging to trace the background of standard exchangers, with limited documentation, making it impossible to know how an exchanger was used before its F&B installation. Implementing such exchangers for food production can therefore lead to contamination and quality issues, potentially spoiling large quantities of product, interrupting production, and requiring a costly replacement process.

Such scenarios can be avoided by starting with high-quality food-grade heat exchangers. Exchangers that are built specifically for the F&B industry have several benefits over standard exchangers, including:

  • Cost-efficient sizing tailored to F&B applications
  • Integration with existing temperature control systems
  • Safe and cleaned to food-grade protocols with certifications
  • Traceable chain of custody that these have only been used in the F&B industry
  • Quick to install and flexible to meet the needs of different types of food production

In an industry that must often cater to consumers’ changing preferences, the ability of food-grade exchangers to easily integrate with existing systems and accurately heat or cool products without disrupting other operations provides another key benefit over standard exchangers. If an F&B producer needs to quickly change their lines of production, food-grade exchangers can adapt to the varied requirements of different food products easier than a standard exchanger.

The sanitary nature of food-grade exchangers, which meet the high safety and cleanliness requirements of the F&B industry, also makes them ideal for an industry that’s increasingly being watched by consumers for overall safety in processing. More than ever, F&B consumers are sensitive to contamination outbreaks, and such a scenario could lead to a bad consumer image of the company. In an industry with tight margins and fierce competition, food-grade exchangers can help F&B producers eliminate this risk for cross contamination and focus on increased production.

Accept no substitutes: Food-grade heat exchangers a key ingredient for food and beverage production success

Temporary solutions can be just as critical

Another attractive option for F&B producers are temporary food-grade heat exchangers, which can be deployed quickly while still meeting the strict standards of the industry. A failure in an F&B producer’s heat exchanger can lead to a forced curtailment of production, while a cascading failure of several exchangers can halt the process altogether. Even a faulty exchanger that’s still operational would have to be pulled out of commission, due to the stringent requirements in F&B.

Temporary food-grade exchangers can be installed and made operational on short notice to ensure an F&B operation continues production as planned. Temporary exchangers are often bundled together as part of a turnkey solution that can be implemented in a matter of days from the first meeting with their Food & Beverage Experts.

As it stands, only one company meets the requirements of having food-grade exchangers ready to be installed quickly for temporary applications. Aggreko, a provider of mobile modular power, temperature control, and energy services, maintains a fleet of temporary food-grade heat exchangers which can meet the needs of several applications, such as seasonal projects, filling in for exchangers taken offline for maintenance, and emergency situations. Of the handful of companies that produce food-grade heat exchangers, they are the only one with a temporary solution.

The benefits of a temporary food-grade heat exchanger are especially clear in crises when an exchanger goes out of service for unplanned reasons. A recent example was when a company had one of its four heat exchangers used for refining cooking oil failed. In this situation, it was impossible to shut down production for a prolonged period to replace the exchanger, while the one system that was out of commission was causing a significant drop in oil production. As a result, the company turned to a temporary food-grade heat exchanger which could be made ready in a short period.

In this case, equipped with an in-house team of engineers specialized in heat exchangers, Aggreko was able to install the temporary heat exchanger within just 36 hours of first meeting with the client. The Aggreko food-grade exchanger met the client’s stringent safety and production requirements and not only enabled the client to continue oil production at normal levels, but oil output even increased by 12%.

The installation of the temporary food-grade exchanger in Aggreko’s case demonstrates not only the benefits of a turnkey solution, but also the overall benefits of having a food-grade exchanger. Food-grade exchangers can meet the strict, precise requirements of the F&B industry better than standard exchangers, giving F&B producers the peace of mind that their products aren’t likely to be spoiled by the limitations of a non-food-grade heat exchanger.

About the authors

Brigit McPherson serves as Food & Beverage Sales Leader of North America for Aggreko, designing tailor-made energy and temperature control solutions for companies in the food and beverage space. With nearly two decades of experience in the food and beverage industry, Brigit is an expert in food processing, temperature control, power, heating, energy storage, and cooling systems. Collaborating with team engineers, product specialists, technicians, and sales personnel, Brigit works closely with customers to support their business needs.

About this Featured Story

This Featured Story was first published in Heat Exchanger World Magazine in July 2023. To read more Featured Stories and many other articles, subscribe to our print magazine.

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