Preventing Fires in Food Processing Facilities

Traversing industries, a metalworking fluid is adapted to the food manufacturing industry; earns USDA-approval It was a deadly fryer fire at a poultry processing facility in the early 1990s at Imperial Foods (Hamlet, NC) that prompted industry-wide interest in upgrading the hydraulic fluids used in food processing.

Traversing industries, a metalworking fluid is adapted to the food manufacturing industry; earns USDA-approval
It was a deadly fryer fire at a poultry processing facility in the early 1990s at Imperial Foods (Hamlet, NC) that prompted industry-wide interest in upgrading the hydraulic fluids used in food processing. Typically, hydraulic fluids are used to power the motors and pumps of chicken and meat fryers. The fluid enables conveyor belts to move the food through fryers, or lift food up and down into fryers, depending on the equipment.

The fire at Imperial Foods occurred as a result of a mineral oil-based hydraulic fluid spraying from a ruptured hose onto an ignition source. The ignition source had been designed to heat the vegetable oil used for frying chicken. Catching fire, the hydraulic oil set off a disastrous chain of events. The fire and rapid spread of smoke - including toxic gases - resulted in 54 people sustaining injuries and 25 fatalities. Within minutes, the facility was engulfed in flames.

Heat and pressure, two essential ingredients in so many industrial processes, create the need for fire resistant hydraulic fluids in industry. Wherever heat or flame are in close proximity to hydraulic equipment, a ruptured hydraulic line or fitting can release a combustible spray of hydraulic oils into an open source of ignition. Recognizing this potential hazard, food processors and food processing equipment builders investigated what could be done to reduce the risk of such accidents and which fire-resistant fluids could replace conventional mineral oil-based hydraulic fluids.

The Right Fluid
Houghton International (Valley Forge, PA), a global manufacturer of specialty chemicals and fluid management services, has been offering fire-resistant fluids to the metalworking industry for more than a century. Its Houghto-Safe line of hydraulic fluids has a long, documented history of successfully operating in die-casting shops, steel mills, and foundries, preventing fire hazards.

With expertise in matching the right fluid to the right application, Houghton chemists began to research the use of Houghto-Safe water-glycol hydraulic fluid in a completely different context - food processing. It was a logical, albeit unexpected crossover. "Fire hazards in metalworking plants are well known - molten metal and open flames, for instance, are common in these processes," explained Tony Noblit, Fluid Power Manager for Houghton International. "However, the ignition source and potential for disaster in food processing plants are less obvious. Make no mistake, they're just as real. Employing our 'Transfer of Technology' practice, Houghton met the challenge of meat and poultry processing plants by adapting Houghto-Safe 620-TY."

Transfer of Technology
In die-casting and steel plants, technicians work with molten metal, utilizing heat and fire to make metal products. Food processors deal with extreme temperatures - in the context of cooking. In implementing Transfer of Technology, Houghton's chemists examined the common challenges of the metalworking and food processing industries. They applied their knowledge of metallurgy, chemistry, and plant safety to devise a fluid solution that would meet the needs of food processors.

The chemists altered one of the company's Houghto-Safe hydraulic fluids, abiding by USDA guidelines for non-toxic ingredients. Houghto-Safe 620-TY has since been USDA-approved as an H-1 fluid for incidental food contact. It is ideal for use in meat and poultry processing plants, or wherever fryers and other food-processing equipment are utilized, as it has been tested and approved for fire-resistance and will not propagate accidental fire.

Successful Implementation
Food processors and manufacturers are increasingly recognizing the importance of preventive measures in protecting costly equipment and facilities, as well as safeguarding employees. Flame-retardant products are wise investments in a company's financial well being and in the safety and productivity of its employees. Well over 100 customers are successfully using the Houghto-Safe TY line of hydraulic fluids. Stein, a business of FMC FoodTech, Inc., a leading manufacturer of food frying equipment,has recommended the use of Houghto-Safe 620-TY in a safety advisory circulated to customers.

Stein worked closely with Houghton to develop compatible fluids that would secure long life and safety for its fryers. For certain customers of Stein that operate compatible equipment, Houghton removed all petroleum and other flammable fluids and replaced them with Houghto-Safe 620-TY.

According to Noblit, "Houghto-Safe 620-TY is just one of many possible fluid solutions. Houghton's Fluid Power Technical Service Laboratory also collaborates with each customer's maintenance staff to develop a fluid maintenance program and to prevent costly hydraulic problems before they occur. Houghton's program can also help prevent unexpected hydraulic downtime due to fluid-related problems."

As with any hydraulic fluid, the best way to select a fire-resistant fluid is to work with the fluid manufacturer in analyzing the system operation and matching equipment needs with fluid capabilities. With this approach, the right fluid will be selected to satisfy the objectives of equipment protection, cost efficiency, and worker safety. Houghton offers both water-based and anhydrous fluids for hydraulic system operation. For more information on Houghto-Safe 620-TY, contact our Fluid Power Department at 610-666-4000 or visit us at www.houghtonintl.com

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