Are your ventilation systems making your food unsafe?

Effective natural or mechanical ventilation systems are a basic operational and legal requirement for any food manufacturing business. Welcome to Week 37 of the HACCP Mentor Food Safety HACCP Challenge. Ventilation systems can be over-looked in a food safety management system, so this week, we are going to take the opportunity to delve into this subject a little bit more.

How to achieve this Challenge

Step 1: Identify the types of ventilation systems you have in your food business.

Step 2: Document the type and location of these ventilation systems.

Step 3: Review the effectiveness and cleanliness of these ventilation systems.

Step 4: Check to see that you have air quality verification and maintenance activities documented in relevant support programs.

Examples of Ventilation systems

Ventilation includes both the exhaust system that removes stale air from your food premises and the system that provides the fresh air into your food business. There are two (2) types of ventilation systems, natural and mechanical.

Natural ventilation can include openings such as windows, doors and or vents.  Natural ventilation will only be suitable in areas where there is little or no cooking that generates steam or greasy air. Mechanical ventilation systems can include fans, exhausts, ductwork, extraction units and air-conditioning units.

Common ventilation problems

When ventilation is not suitable or effective within a food business a number of problems can occur. These can all subsequently have an effect on the overall food safety of the food products handled by a business.

  • Condensation from heating activities eg. Cooking, steaming, frying, can cause mould growth.
  • Accumulation of grease on surfaces that are not able to be removed from airborne particles.
  • Pest Infestation or pest contamination when natural ventilation systems are not adequately screened or pest-proofed.
  • Circulation of objectionable odours, micro-organisms, yeast and mould from unclean mechanical ventilation systems.

Verification of ventilation systems

All methods of ventilation should be regularly reviewed for effectiveness and cleanliness. This activity can be included on your internal GMP audits. Don’t forget to get the maintenance department involved to see the frequency of maintenance activities. It is also advisable to verify the air quality coming from mechanical units through environmental swabbing and/or testing.

Is ventilation a problem in your food business?

Please share your experience regarding ventilation systems with the HACCP Mentor community by leaving a comment below this post.

3 thoughts on “Are your ventilation systems making your food unsafe?”

  1. Let not forget evaporators in the food processing areas, especially in the RTE areas , where they can potentially cross contaminate the food if they are not properly maintained and sanitized on a regular cleaning schedule

    1. Absolutely Francisco. This is a commonly missed area for cleaning which can quickly become a source of contamination if not regularly cleaned and sanitised.

  2. It’s also important to note that where businesses have mechanical exhaust ventilation in place, particularly over food cooking areas that a requirement is generally placed on them by their insurer to have cleaned not only the hood but also the ductwork and the exhaust fan unit annually. Normally I have found as a regulator that businesses say they have cleaned it all themselves to save money. However, the interior of the exhaust canopy hood and the ductwork right up to the base of the normally external mechanical ventilator (fan unit) under OHS requirements are considered as a confined space.
    So then the issue becomes validation, of who did the cleaning and when. During a fire investigation, in the case of a fire occurring, the insurance companies want proof that cleaning has occurred annually, especially in the case that a fire investigation identifies that the seat of the fire (point of origin) occurred at that point (inside the ducting).
    Also, if untrained personnel enter a confined space without the necessary qualifications (in Entering a Confined Space) and find that they are unable to extricate themselves, or worse still are overcome by fumes, then Work Safety Investigators will attend the premises to investigate how and why the incident has occurred.
    Put simply, in the case of mechanical exhaust ventilation, as a regulator and educator I have always identified the insurance requirements to business owners/operators, and alway recommended that they find a contractor suitably qualified and experienced to undertake this work. The safety of all employees and employers is of utmost importance, and it is simply not worth the risk of one’s life to undertake work for which you are not trained, nor qualified for.
    Verification and Validation will

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