As the old adage goes, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” However, in the United States, the food and beverage industry is tightly controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In other countries around the world, similar regulatory agencies regulate the food and beverage industry.
To ensure sanitary conditions are always maintained, all appliances and equipment used in food and beverage facilities – including lighting – must adhere to strict manufacturing standards set by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF International). Food and beverage plants require lighting fixtures that must function optimally under hygienic and even hazardous conditions.
The compliance standards that apply to a specific food and beverage facility and the lighting fixtures used usually depend on the specific facility. Food production facilities, food processing facilities, food storage facilities, and food preparation facilities all require different types of lighting fixtures.
These plants have different lighting needs from industrial spaces like warehouses and manufacturing plants. For example, the lighting fixtures used in food processing areas must be able to withstand airborne dust, water, steam, grime, oils, mists, effluents, and other contaminants.
The Stringent Standards in the Food and Beverage Industry
NSF International has set strict standards that are based on a location’s condition and the extent of contact with food procedures. The NSF standard that relates to food and beverage lighting products is referred to as NSF/ANSI Standard 2, or just NSF 2.
It categorizes food facilities into 3 zonal groups: Food Zones, Non-Food Zones, and Splash Zones. Each zone represents specific surroundings which include locations where there isn’t any direct contact with food produce (like food storage areas), locations where there is direct contact with food, and wet-processing locations, those that need high pressure wash downs.
NSF International also requires that food and beverage plants use light fixtures with IP65 or IP66 Ingress Protection ratings. The luminaires must also have UL damp location or UL wet location ratings. Vapor-tight lighting fixtures must be used in hazardous locations (for instance, Class 1 Division 1 and Class 1 Division 2). The fixtures should also be cleanroom-rated.
Some food and beverage plants normally use the lighting fixtures that are found in other industrial settings. However, the fixtures used in these spaces must perform optimally under sanitary and even dangerous conditions. The types of lighting products used and the compliance standards that are applicable usually depend on the environment of a particular area – because food plants usually house different environments under one roof.
A food facility might have locations for processing, staging, warehousing, cold or dry storage, distribution, offices, restrooms, lobbies, hallways, cleanrooms, and a lot more. Each of these has its own lighting requirements.
Lighting products never come into direct contact with food, so only the NSF regulations for Splash Zones and Non-Food Zones usually apply to them. LED lighting manufacturers who would like to obtain NSF-2 certification for their lighting products must make sure that the products’ design, their materials, and the manufacturing processes used comply with the NSF standards for the relevant zone.
Some food plants, such as grain processing facilities, have areas with flammable gases or dust that can cause dangerous situations. In these locations, lighting products should fall under Class 2 Division 1 or 2 and group G.
LED Technology Meets All Stringent Standards of the Food Industry
Light-emitting diodes have unique properties that make them highly suitable for different operations in the food industry. They include:
- A long life expectancy
- Mechanical robustness
- High emissions of monochromatic light
- Low radiant heat emissions
Because of the way they are constructed, they may decrease degradation and thermal damage in foods and are suitable for cold storage applications. Recent research has shown that LEDs can preserve or even improve the nutritive quality of food in the postharvest stage and reduce fungal infections.
LED lights can be used together with photocatalysts or photosensitizes to inactivate pathogenic bacteria in food. Ultraviolet LEDs – which were introduced to the market not very long ago – can efficiently inactivate pathogens and preserve the freshness of food in postharvest stages.
High intensity discharge lights (such as high pressure sodium, metal halide, and xenon lamps) and fluorescent lamps have been popular lighting sources in food production and preservation facilities. However, these lighting systems have broad spectral power distribution and give off a lot of heat.
To control the temperature in various applications, such as food processing plants and food storage facilities, more energy is needed to remove the excess heat they produce. In addition, low pressure mercury lamps and fluorescent lights contain mercury and must be handled with utmost care to prevent damage and leakage of the toxic metal.
Light-emitting diodes are solid state lighting devices that produce light with wavelengths of narrow bandwidths, low thermal output, and high photoelectric efficiency. They are portable and compact and can be easily incorporated into electronic systems. As we earlier mentioned, LEDs have unique properties that make for the convenient manipulation of the luminous intensity, temporal settings, and spectral characteristics of the light produced.
In the 1970s, when LEDs were still in the early stages of development, they had very low power and were mostly used as indicator lamps. But as LED technology rapidly developed, new semiconductor materials were integrated, optics were improved, and enhanced techniques of thermal dissipation were implemented. Because of this, LEDs became universal and are widely used in different applications.
LEDs have low radiant heat emissions and their efficiency improves at lower temperatures, which makes them perfect for food storage facilities. Because food safety is a major concern in the food industry at all stages (production, processing, storage, and preparation), LEDs are used in these applications to ensure that food is not contaminated and is safe for consumption.
Thanks to their long life expectancy and their compactness and robustness, LEDs are a very economical technology to adopt. And as the technology continues to advance, LEDs become more efficient and cheaper. It is expected that more companies in the food and beverage industry will convert to LED because of the benefits it offers to food and also for compliance purposes.
Complying with Food Safety Standards
The great thing about LEDs is that they comply with the strict requirements that are set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and The Food and Drug Administration. The FDA defines adequate lighting in food manufacturing facilities as.
- 540 lux in areas where food employees work with food equipment or utensils and safety is paramount
- 215 lux in locations where packaged food is sold or provided for consumption and in self-service areas
- 108 lux at 30 inches above the floor in dry storage areas and walk-in refrigeration areas
Meat, poultry, and dairy processing plants that want to comply with the USDA regulations for inspections must follow specific illumination criteria. The lighting guidelines stipulate:
- 30 foot candles in all locations where dairy products are cleaned, produced, or packaged
- 30 foot candles in all locations where utensils are washed, produced, or packaged
- 50 foot candles in all locations where products can get contaminated. Additionally, the luminaires should be protected from breakage
- 50 to 200 foot candles for inspection stations (the foot candles required depend on the specific inspection area)
The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) has specific illumination levels for different food processing areas. For example, the illumination levels for food examination areas range between 30 to 1,000 foot candles, depending on the intricacy of the process. Locations for color grading must have a minimum of 150 foot candles, while packing areas need a minimum of 30 foot candles.
These are some of the requirements that businesses must observe if they want to adhere to the Food and Drug Administration’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices. The guidelines also stipulate that lights in facilities where food is present must be coated, shielded, covered, or provide shatterproof protection.
The Application of LEDs in Food Safety
The food industry depends on powerful lighting systems to enhance productivity and safety in the workplace. Food processing, manufacturing, and retail establishments are shifting from traditional lighting systems (such as high intensity discharge lights and fluorescent lamps) to light emitting diode products. This is because LED technology is able to meet the strict food safety guidelines set by the regulatory bodies in place.
According to research, by 2020, the adoption of LED technology in the food industry will reach $80 billion annually. The food plants that are currently leading in the adoption of LED technology are food processing and manufacturing facilities, because LEDs provide solutions to the complex and challenging working conditions in these environments.
The successful application of LEDs in food processing and manufacturing facilities usually depends on the types of fixtures used. Explosion proof LED lights must be used in facilities that deal with explosive dust and gases. The units must comply with the guidelines set by the National Electric Code. In case of an explosion, explosion proof LEDs contain the activity and ensure it does not spread.
Operators inspecting storage tanks and confined spaces should use LED drop lights as these units are designed for tasks that require portable lighting. These LED fixtures are usually shatterproof, shock-resistant, and devoid of glass. They have hooks located at their tops that enable people to easily latch them on various structures for support.
Businesses can use LED dock lights to meet the needs of hectic delivery bays when receiving products. Hinges or extendable arms can be attached to the units to create versatile lighting options for workers.
Supermarkets and restaurants normally use LED lights to adhere to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) guidelines. Most of the time, these units are found in the backend. Since LEDs are solid state lighting devices, they contain no fragile parts, which means glass and toxic chemicals cannot make their way into food.
They also have a very low heat output, which ensures that cooking processes are not affected by high temperature levels. This feature is very critical in baking stations as a minor change in temperature can quickly melt icing, cake batters, and chocolate.
3 Benefits LED Lighting Offers Food Facilities
The major reason LEDs are so popular is because they offer significant energy savings compared to conventional lighting technologies. Before LEDs were introduced to the market, metal halides and fluorescent lamps were used in many food and beverage plants. However, these lights are not energy-efficient, waste a lot of energy as heat, take a long time to warm up and cool down, and lose their brightness extremely fast.
LEDs can reduce energy consumption by as much as 75%. If they are paired with lighting controls, the energy savings can be as much as 90%. They have a high lumen output and do not need a lot of watts to produce adequate light. For instance, a 400W metal halide bulb usually consumes about 470 watts. A 150W LED bulb can easily replace this traditional bulb and offer better light because of its higher lumen output and Color Rendering Index.
Food plants that switch to LED don’t just save money on their monthly electric bills, they also save money during the conversion project as many utility companies and government programs offer rebates for installing energy-efficient lighting. Government programs are a big motivator in converting to LED technology. Most food manufacturers make the switch because of the rebates and incentives offered. The added benefit is that they also get better lighting and create a safer working environment for their employees.
Less Downtime and Reduced Labor Costs
While energy efficiency and compliance are the top motivators for converting to LED lighting, the real value of LEDs comes from their lower ownership costs. Most businesses don’t think of getting ROI on their lighting, but LEDs usually pay for themselves in less than 2 years.
While their upfront costs may be a bit higher than for metal halides and fluorescent lamps, the cost of ownership is considerably lower. LEDs last 10 times longer than traditional lighting technologies, meaning they have to be replaced less often. Their long lifespan lowers both downtime and labor costs.
Metal halide and fluorescent lamps have a very steep degradation curve. After one year, they may only produce 60% of their initial light output, and after 2 years they may only produce 40%. These lighting systems have no return on investment because they have to be replaced every now and then. You may pay $60 for the light bulb, $80 for the electrician, and $200 for the lift used to install the bulbs. The costs add up quickly.
But LEDs only lose about 2% of their original light output every two years. It takes approximately 10 years for the light to degrade 20%. In food processing facilities, LED bulbs can easily last 5 years and still offer sufficient illumination. The same cannot be said for metal halide and fluorescent bulbs which only offer adequate light for less than one year. When converting to LED lighting, the return on interest is more important than the initial cost of the product.
LEDs Have Excellent Color Rendition, Which Is Vital For Food Safety
LEDs don’t just provide high-quality light, they also render colors very well, thanks to their high Color Rendering Index (CRI). Color Rendering Index is a measurement that ranges from 0 to 100 which measures how precisely a light source renders colors when compared to the perfect light source, the sun.
The sun has a Color Rendering Index of 100, which means it renders the whole color spectrum perfectly. High-quality LED lights have a color rendering index of 70 and above. Those with a Color Rendering Index of 80 and above render colors very well.
The United States Department of Agriculture and the Food Drug Administration specify lighting requirements for food and beverage plants. The USDA requires food inspection areas to have a CRI of 85 and general food processing areas to meet a CRI of 70.
In the food and beverage industry, accurate color rendering is crucial for assuring product quality. It is also important for compliance because it is one of the things that are examined by food safety inspectors. In order to comply with the stringent standards that are set by the regulatory agencies, many food processing plants are making the switch from metal halide lamps to LEDs.
In days gone by, the Color Rendering Index for food inspection areas was in the high 70s. It was later changed to 80, then 83 and now it’s 85. If any changes are made in the near future, chances are that the number will be higher because a high CRI helps food inspectors to make very accurate assessments.
Forward-thinking LED manufacturers are now manufacturing LEDs with a CRI of 85 and above. They are not aiming for the current industry standards because history has shown that the standards will change, so they most definitely will.
Thinking of Switching to LED Lighting To Enhance Food Safety? Talk to Us!
At The Lighting Center, we don’t just meet your lighting needs, we also offer retrofits, replacements, upgrade parts, and industrial-grade power accessories. Our lighting experts can create any lighting plan or design to fit the unique requirements of your food facility.
Our commitment to quality, dependability, and honesty has made our company a leader in the lighting industry. Contact us today to get more information on our customized options for your specific industry needs.