Food for Thought

The use of stainless steel in food processing is growing rapidly, particularly in developing countries.

Food For Thought Photo

Nickel Magazine, Jun. 02 -- What is more essential to human health than having clean, nutritious food to eat? Providing sanitary conditions for the preparation, handling, storage and transport of food and beverages is one of the most important objectives of the global food processing industry. So choosing a material that provides the most sanitary conditions in a cost-effective, sustainable manner is essential. If one material is found to be better at this than others, it is considered the best-available technology.

By its actions, the food processing industry has found that nickel stainless steels S30400 and S31600 offer the best available means of producing hygienic food contact surfaces which resist the adhesion of process soils and from which potentially harmful bacteria and the resulting odours can be easily eliminated. Stainless steel is totally neutral in terms of taste and smell and does not taint food. Not only do these advantages mean there is less risk that food will become contaminated, it also means less food is wasted. Food production is more efficient as a result. Stainless steel also offers good wear resistance, which is important when solid foods are being mixed, ground, compressed and dispensed. Although the food processing industry has embraced this best-available technology, there remains a role for government regulation.

"Following the issuance of guidelines last year by the Council of Europe, new regulations to approve food contact materials are not yet in force in the European Union, but they're undoubtedly on the way," says William Molloy, NiDI vice-president, Europe. Manufacturers of food processing equipment  will need to evaluate all food contact materials and show they're fit for the purpose.

Various international organizations, including the European Hygienic Engineering Design Group and American Welding Society in the U.S.A., have responded with excellent guidelines and standards for welding and fabrication practices. In this issue, we report on the latest developments in the creation of new guidelines. "Authoritative standards will help to demonstrate that stainless steels can meet the most demanding design and fabrication criteria, which the food industry itself is insisting upon," Molloy says. They will also go a long way toward assuring the public that the food they buy is safe.

The food processing industry, according to Heinz H. Pariser, accounts for 5% of annual demand for nickel, while all food contact applications (including food processing, domestic cooking, cutlery, catering and kegs) accounts for about 15%, most of which is in the form of stainless steel. Stainless has become indispensable in various industries, including dairy, confectionery, meat and fish handling, wine and beer brewing and storage, and in the preparation of fruit juices and soft drinks. These markets are growing rapidly, particularly in developing countries. Equipment made of nickel stainless steels is not only easy to clean, it is corrosion-resistant, durable and when it finally reaches the end of a very long service life, it is totally recyclable, all of which contributes to a more sustainable economy.

The Nickel Development Institute works closely with associations that draw up guidelines and standards and ensure that the best science is brought to bear in product development. Recently, we have been closely involved in this process in North America, Europe and Australasia. We also work to ensure that these standards are implemented properly. In this, we are proud of the role that nickel plays in feeding the world.