Production and Preparation Environments
Walk-in refrigerators and freezers, gas-powered stoves and cooking stations, soda fountains, and nitrogen packing equipment are all common systems in food and beverage production and preparation environments. These systems and others within these spaces can pose potential health and safety risks for workers as well as for customers in restaurants and food service.
Accurate monitoring and reliable alerts for leaks or unsafe levels of gases are necessary to maintain the safest environment for workers and customers.
Gases Found in Food & Beverage Production
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) is the most prevalent gas to monitor in food and beverage environments, and leaks can be very serious and even fatal. Exposure to carbon dioxide can cause headaches and dizziness, or difficulty breathing and an elevated heart rate or blood pressure. Coma, convulsions and asphyxiation are the more serious reactions to CO2 exposure.
CO (Carbon Monoxide) may be an issue in food production and preparatory environments when ovens, water heaters, burners, and other gas-powered appliances are not adequately vented. This can occur due to design, installation, damaged, or lack of proper maintenance. While a clean cook-top or oven can burn away fuel in an efficient and clean manner, once they become caked with grease, oil, dirt, or debris excess levels of carbon monoxide can be introduced into the environment. Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that can quickly build up to dangerous or even deadly levels.
CH4 (Natural Gas or Methane) is used to power many cooking, frying, and baking appliances. While we would always expect gas to remain in a sealed pipe or inside the burners, leaks and buildup can occur. Methane, or natural gas, has a lower explosive limit of just 5% in air by volume, and can buildup rapidly when a pilot light goes out or gas line is damaged. While natural gas is odorized in most instances, the odors and smells in a food prep or production environment can mask these smells. The use of specialized sensors to detect and warn of these issues before the explosive limit is reached can save lives.
N2 (Nitrogen) is used as a packaging gas in many dry bagged foods and coffees. Nitrogen gas is injected into the package to fully displace the oxygen in the package, thus preventing or delaying the off-taste and spoilage that can happen due to natural oxidation. Nitrogen gas is colorless, odorless and very non-reactive, making is a great choice for these applications. But, the nature of this gas also means that leaks can easily go undetected. Nitrogen gas can displace oxygen in a room and quickly lead to employee injury or even death due to asphyxiation.
Injuries and deaths related to CO2 leaks have unfortunately been on the rise in recent years, following an increase in bulk liquid CO2 delivery systems as the larger tanks offer cost and labor savings. Restaurant owners and operators of food and beverage buildings must consider the increased safety risks associated with these bulk tanks, and take preventative measures to reduce risk and avert leaks:
Bulk CO2 Systems
Bulk CO2 systems should only be installed by bonded and licensed contractors.
In addition to drink dispensers and food and beverage production processes that use CO2, high concentrations of the gas and others may also be found in loading docks, particularly if they are enclosed in part.
Proper Warning Signs
Restaurant owners should post proper warning signs (including posting NFPA 704 diamond placards on the exterior to indicate the potential danger to emergency responders) and ensure they are clearly visible.
Inform workers about the dangers of CO2 leaks and provide training for what to do if they notice the sharp, acidic odor that burns the sinuses that indicates a higher concentration leak.
Install safety alarms for carbon dioxide storage in breweries, wineries and soft drink dispensing areas in restaurants or venues in order to protect workers and customers.
While gas-powered vehicles produce carbon dioxide, diesel vehicles produce NO2 (nitrogen dioxide), which can cause respiratory irritation or longer-term problems if inhaled – especially at higher concentrations. There’s a risk of explosion with propane-powered equipment, so food and beverage production plants with loading docks should install sensors for carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, LELs, and hydrogen.