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On taking the 'moan' out of ammonia: safety training would offer some help.

Proposed regulations on use of ammonia in the USA are burdensome, but one that calls for safety training is actually a good idea. And there's more interest in indirect ammonia refrigeration for food products as a safety measure.

Those were the highlights of a session of the Refrigeration Research Foundation (TRRF), as reported by Will Stoecker of the University of Illinois in conjunction with the convention of the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia.

Safety training, as called for under a proposed edict of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is not only a good idea in itself but could save money for warehouse operators -- OSHA penalties for incidents or accidents involving ammonia could be reduced by 25% for any operator with a written and implemented safety program.

The proposed OSHA rule would affect any plants using 10,000 tons or more of ammonia. Any training program would have to be systematic and thoroughly documented -- it could not be just sending a fork lift operator to follow a new employee around the plant and show him the ropes. Among the elements of an acceptable training program would be study materials, documentation of the amount of time spent in training, and possibly test results.

Topics for such a program would include fundamentals of refrigeration, understanding of the type of plant (for example, two-stage liquid recirculation) being operated, and availability of process flow diagrams. OSHA wants employees trained in emergency response procedures, first aid for victims of ammonia contact and safe procedures for carrying out work. Participation in dry runs of simulated accidents is a plus.

Speaking of safety, another focus at the TRRF meeting was on chilling an antifreeze or brine with an ammonia refrigeration system and then using the brine to chill the air in a refrigerated storage facility. This isn't a new idea by any means, Stoecker said: "The reason for the recent interest is to keep ammonia completely out of spaces where its contact with the product could cause losses."

Using an intermediate fluid between the ammonia system and the storage area requires the compressor to develop a lower (by 5 to 10|degrees~F) saturated suction temperature than would be needed to deliver the ammonia directly to the air coils. That means reduced compressor capacity, and more horsepower per ton of refrigeration, he noted. Additional costs of a brine system also include the pumping, plus slightly larger pipes and the extra insulation needed to go with them. But perhaps the savings on insurance would offset all that; the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) has invited some insurance carriers to try to quantify costs for direct vs. indirect systems.

Indirect systems aren't the only alternative to traditional ammonia units, Stoecker reported: "Some exciting developments are afoot to facilitate low-charge units, especially through development of special evaporators to replace the traditional flooded evaporator which contains a large liquid charge. Of particular interest is a plate-type evaporator, which is an important feature in developing units that require an ammonia charge of only half a pound or a pound per ton of refrigeration." Other promising new evaporators include sprayed tube and falling film types, he said.

Increasingly Vital

With the main alternative to ammonia, R-22, being phased out by 2020 at the latest, the safer and more efficient use of ammonia (which doesn't harm the ozone layer or contribute to global warming) becomes increasingly vital to the refrigeration industry, Stoecker concluded: "At this moment, there is no replacement for R-22 -- except ammonia."

Two More Expansions For United States Cold Storage

Plant expansion is under way or nearing completion at two facilities of United States Cold Storage Co. in Milford, Delaware, and Nashville, Tennessee.

The 29,000-square foot addition at Milford, set to come on line late this year, will increase -- 10|degrees~F storage capacity by 816,000 cubic feet for a total of 3.1 million. It will also increase freezing capacity by 100,000 pounds a day, to 532,000; and add 50 more feet of refrigerated truck dock with four loading doors. The refrigeration plant features state-of-the-art computerized controls.

Work began in April for the 35,000-square foot addition to the Lavergne plant in Nashville, which will add 1,014,000 cubic feet to the facility when completed this fall for a total of 3.7 million cubic feet of -- 20|degrees~ F space. The addition also includes a 50-foot wide loading dock, with eight doors. As at Milford, the facility will be equipped with double-deep selective-type pallet racks.

Tempering/Thawing Bulk: 'It's Your Move,' Says TRRF

When it comes to bulk frozen foods like 55-gallon drums and five-gallon pails of juice or 30 to 50-pound blocks of fish or meat, there just isn't any reliable research on nutritive losses, drip losses, microbial hazards, etc.

The Refrigeration Research Foundation (TRRF), Bethesda, Maryland, USA, which tried to gather such research last year for its Commodity Storage Manual, threw up its hands: "little useful information was received, and often it was not satisfactory for recommending or even usable to warehousemen."

Previous research on thawing and tempering has involved small quantities like a turkey or a loaf of bread. Large quantities of frozen foods are presumably thawed only for further processing or to meet peak retail sales demand, but obviously present hazards the small packs wouldn't -- such as a whole stack of items on a pallet collapsing under its own weight.

Absent reliable research, warehousemen are being urged to consider such factors as whether the products have previously been frozen and thawed, how far they were from the end of their shelf life they were when originally frozen, what the freezing rate was (fast or slow), susceptibility of each product to bacterial contamination or mold, the density of the product, the condition of packaging material, the cleanliness of tempering/thawing areas, etc.

Produce, Processed Food Need Nutrition Standards

Nutrition information is beginning to be displayed for the 20 best-selling fresh vegetables and the top 20 fresh fruits in the USA, under a voluntary program that will become mandatory if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't see substantial compliance by September.

Either charts of texts posted in the supermarket section can be used to comply with the program, Adel A. Kader of the Department of Pomology, University of California-Davis, advised the Refrigeration Research Foundation (TRRF). But there is also another issue affecting fresh produce: microbial contamination. Such contamination, as with Escherida coli, Salmonell spp., and Listeria spp., can result from use of unsterilized natural fertilizers like chicken manure. Poor sanitation is another major source of contamination which can be dealt with through a Hazard Analysis Critical Point (HACCP) program.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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