Work Safe: Carbon Dioxide in the Food and Drink Industry

Throughout the food and drink industry, there is a general lack of awareness when it comes to carbon dioxide (CO2) and the issues it can pose.

Thanks to its many uses, carbon dioxide IS the most common gas in the food and drink industry. It’s used to add carbonation to soft drinks and injected in our food packaging to extend the life of the product helping food to look fresher for longer. This is called Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP). Within the cheese packaging industry; CO2 is the main gas used for hard cheese, where soft cheeses use a mixture of CO2 (20-40%) and nitrogen (N2).

 

The Dangers of CO2

Carbon dioxide might seem harmless at first glance. After all, we exhale it with every breath, and plants need it for survival. The presence of carbon dioxide itself is not necessarily a problem, but its volume in a given environment can rise to dangerous levels. The fact that carbon dioxide is colourless and odourless makes it potentially very dangerous.

Since carbon dioxide is heavier than air, it displaces oxygen and at high concentrations will cause asphyxiation. In the event of a release, it’s easy to succumb to exposure, especially in a confined space like a tank or a cellar.

Early symptoms of being exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide include dizziness, headaches, confusion, and loss of consciousness.

Accidents and fatalities do occur in the food and beverage industry from carbon dioxide releases. Without proper detection methods in place, everyone at a facility could be at risk. This is fairly common when one person shows symptoms of high carbon dioxide exposure and nearby workers attempt to help, only to become victims as well.

 

A Gas Detection Programme

Any application that uses carbon dioxide puts workers at risk. Since carbon dioxide can’t be detected by the senses, the only way to identify high levels is to implement a gas detection programme.

Personal gas detectors can continuously monitor the air in workers’ breathing zones to give them better awareness and the information they need to make smart decisions in the face of danger. Not only can gas detectors monitor carbon dioxide­ in the air, but they can also alert others if an employee is in danger.

When monitoring for carbon dioxide, it’s important to use a multi-gas monitor with a dedicated carbon dioxide sensor. It’s a popular myth that monitoring for low oxygen levels or for combustible gases will give an approximate carbon dioxide reading. The reality is that carbon dioxide escalates to dangerous levels before an oxygen sensor would alarm, while high concentrations of carbon dioxide could read as a combustible gas, leaving you looking for a source that doesn’t exist.

 

Fixed Gas Detection System

To ensure a safe workplace, a fixed gas detection system should be installed in food and drink production operations. These are mains powered so unless there's a power outage, they provide continuous gas monitoring around the clock. The main benefit of a fixed gas system over portables is the ability to activate extraction or ventilation systems in the event of a build-up of hazardous gas.

A gas detection system will, of course, provide visual warnings. This can be locally at the gas sensor, on the control panel or within a central building management system (in a control room). Alternatively, gas sensors can be positioned in a potentially hazardous area, yet the visual beacon is outside of the area acting as a pre-entry alarm. Workers know it is safe (or not) to enter the area.

The third benefit of installing a gas detection system is to integrate into data acquisition and reporting software so all data can be accessed by the people with health and safety responsibilities.

 

Portable Gas Detectors

In addition to having a fixed gas detection system installed, we'd also recommend wearing personal gas detectors. Fixed gas detectors can only provide so much coverage and workers may walk into an area that is not covered by a fixed gas detector. Personal gas detectors ensure that people are protected at all times.

Multi-gas monitors like the Gas-Pro or PS500 are ideal for most food and drink production operations. You can configure the detector to monitor carbon dioxide and any other gases employees are likely to encounter, including LEL (Pentane), carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, and oxygen.

 

A Proven Gas Detection Solution

a1-cbiss have a proven gas detection solution with 4 of the UK's largest breweries and several food production sites.

Gas Detection 

A brewery typically requires two CO2 alarm levels (5,000ppm & 15,000ppm) in each detection zone. Gas sensors are positioned around all the hazardous areas which are cabled back to a central gas control panel. The gas control panel interfaces with alarm beacons/klaxons to provide internal alarm notification for those working in the area. In addition, a traffic light beacon system is installed at each entrance to the hazardous zone thus providing a pre-entry warning to workers.

Personal gas detectors are worn by workers that enter the hazardous areas within the brewery. The detectors are worn on a person within their breathing zone to continuously monitor the air they breathe. The primary function of a gas detector is to alarm if the worker is in imminent danger.

Datalogging

The fixed gas detection system communicates with CDAS data acquisition & reporting software which is used by the health and safety team. The data is displayed on a PC screen in the control room. This is configured to show a graphical view of each zone within the brewery, including alarms and a visual indication of current status ( traffic light coded).

Service

a1-cbiss allocates a dedicated service engineer to carry out scheduled service and calibration visits each year. This methodology means that the service engineer gets to know the site-specific processes and can optimise the gas detection programme more effectively. Personal gas detectors can either be serviced and calibrated on-site by the a1-cbiss service engineer as part of the service contract or sent to the a1-cbiss Service Centre.