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Nipped in the bud

Swiss meat producer Micarna uses UVC radiation for air and surface disinfection in production rooms. The sterilAir AG disinfection units employed by Micarna reliably prevent the formation of biofilm on the lamellas of the room air coolers.

To guarantee flawless products that are contaminant- and risk-free, the food industry is subject to strict hygiene regulations worldwide. At Micarna SA, one of the leading meat, poultry and seafood producers in Switzerland, plant managers thus attach great importance to hygienic working conditions. Production rooms containing air conditioning units are particularly problematic. To prevent the development on lamellas of biofilms that could contaminate the air with germs, evaporators must be regularly cleaned by hand – a labor-intensive and tedious task. Micarna thus searched for a method that would sustainably minimize contamination at its production site in Courtepin and extend the manual cleaning intervals.

“Over two million end-users in Europe consume our products daily,” explains Dirk Voss, head of Micarna SA’s competence center in Courtepin. “This gives us a special obligation to supply hygienically flawless food and keep our production environment clean.” In the food sector, the temperature at which goods are processed is decisive. At Micarna, room air coolers installed on production room ceilings and other surfaces maintain a constant 4–6 °C. Conveyor belts and the air itself must be optimally hygienic and remain as free as possible from contaminants.

HEPA filters, which separate suspended particles from the air, are a common disinfection solution. However, they are usually expensive and consume much energy, resulting in above-average costs. Micarna’s managers were more interested in an environmentally friendly and efficient solution. In spring 2018, they began to consider installing belt sterilizers in the production rooms where hamburgers and deep-fried products are made because belt sterilizers offer better performance for the money than HEPA filtration. The company commissioned sterilAir AG, with whom it had successfully worked for more than ten years, for the job. The Swiss experts for hygiene processes specialize in high-dose ultraviolet (UVC) radiation disinfection and constantly collaborate with their customers as well as renowned Swiss institutes to further improve develop their equipment.

Overhead surface disinfection

“We also offer devices for direct belt sterilization. However, our in-depth analyses showed that overhead lamella sterilization in Micarna’s production facilities would exceed the effect of belt sterilization”, reports Flurin Alexander-Urech, Sales Switzerland at sterilAir AG. “We focused on the room air cooling systems that distribute air throughout the room but have cooling lamellas that are an ideal breeding ground for microorganisms. Installed here, UVC devices practically start disinfecting the air right from the outset.”

It is well-known that biofilm develops on lamellas, which is why they are regularly cleaned. The result is not only high personnel and labor costs but also expensive cleaning agents. In addition, lamellas can only be cleaned when production is stopped. “Our solution is to install the UVC tubes directly in the evaporator housing so that the formation of a biofilm can be nipped in the bud,” explains Alexander-Urech. “In addition, the escaping air is not contaminated by bacteria or other undesirable microorganisms. Our E series – especially the ET module – is suitable for this purpose, for example.” The emitter is housed in a stainless-steel tube with glass splinter protection and equipped with a reflector, which gives the ET module its excellent disinfection performance. Due to the protective tube’s one-sided opening, the radiation cone can be directed precisely onto the surface to be disinfected. This also kills germs that require a high dose to inactivate them.

Patented glass splinter protection

Disinfection with UVC radiation offers further advantages for Micarna: “Despite binding regulations and uniform, professional design, manual lamella cleaning seldom has uniform results. Ultraviolet radiation, on the other hand, is consistent and reliable. Measurability, after all, is essential for meeting food hygiene requirements,” explains Voss. In addition, disinfection with UVC radiation is a purely physical process requiring no chemical cleaning agents that pollute the environment. Food safety also plays a major role at Micarna. The company and sterilAir thus opted for UVC lamps with glass splinter protection. If a tube breaks due to manual damage, no food can be contaminated by glass splinters, for guaranteed product ­safety.

Good disinfection results

In March 2018, twenty UVC modules were installed in the evaporators. Because the results confirmed their promised high disinfection efficiency, eight additional modules with two emitter units each were installed in late November. In the future, Micarna also plans to install further E-series devices in other production areas.

sterilAir also supports the food manufacturer in the maintenance and replacement of the tubes. The specialists have developed a tool that alerts Micarna to a tube change after 12,000 hours of operation. Voss is very satisfied with the cooperation to date: “The disinfection performance and service provided by sterilAir continues to convince us, which is why we have partnered with them so long. We plan more installations with them in the future.”

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