Fire safety in food processing facilities

Aegis Safe

By Randall Williams*
Thursday, 19 August, 2021

Fire safety in food processing facilities

Fire safety is critical in manufacturing. This is particularly true in the food processing industry. As food is being processed and packaged, there are ample opportunities for fires to break out. In order to minimise a loss of property, inventory and life, basic safety measures should be enacted. A comprehensive fire safety response should include risk assessments, preventative measures, educational components and clean-up procedures.

Establish your risk assessment

The first step toward ensuring fire safety at your food processing facility is to acknowledge the risks. You need to accurately assess the risks posed by your facility and its processes in order to draft an appropriate fire safety response.

Your facility is likely to have a lot of production equipment with various electrical enclosures. This specialised equipment is essential to manufacturing food. However, it is also susceptible to overheating and other fire risks.

Another area of risk is storage. Manufacturing facilities will have ample storage as a practical measure. Food items and packaging, in particular, can be especially flammable. Whenever there are large stocks of flammable materials, the risk of a fire is very real. Moreover, your facility may have numerous enclosed spaces, and the exits may be difficult to access from all points. This can become very dangerous for employees during an actual fire, and the ability of all staff to evacuate is an important element of your assessment.

A good risk assessment should be completed by a trained professional. A fire safety professional will be able to identify risk elements you cannot, and their outside perspective can identify issues you may have overlooked. The stakes are so high with fires that it is worth your time and money to learn where your weaknesses lie.

Taking preventative measures

After establishing your risks, you should take preventative steps to protect your food processing facility from fire. Start by establishing a system of responsibility. There needs to be accountability within your facility in order to ensure active participation in fire safety programs. This can also help streamline the implementation of other fire safety measures.

Take time to review your fire protection systems and ensure they are meeting compliance. Also make sure they are being routinely serviced and repaired. Consider the best fire safety options for your facility including water deluge systems, gas systems and portable fire extinguishers and hose reels. You should also be sure your fire extinguishers are readily accessible across the worksite. Your choice will relate to the materials on-site, the area covered and the amount of staff. Check local regulations to see what solutions are required.

Another key safety measure is signage. Make sure the signs are updated and accurate at your facility. These signs should clearly mark high-risk areas, travel paths and fire equipment. There should be obvious signage and exit lighting directing personnel to the exits. Be sure that all exit lights are connected to emergency power so they remain illuminated in case of electrical loss.

Also, include information outside the facility about any hazardous chemicals. The emergency response will vary depending on the potential hazards. You can check with local and federal regulations to see what hazardous materials need to be marked on your exterior signage.

Other measures to take preventatively include clearing your exits, proper storage, updated fire notification devices and more. Many such measures need to be regularly checked and maintained.

Working with educational programs

As you prepare for fire safety, remember that it is a group effort. When a fire breaks out, everyone in the facility needs to be prepared. Therefore, focusing on education is vital.

Start by actively reviewing your emergency response procedures. General response training should occur regularly in order to make sure that all employees know what to do in case of a fire. In particular, fire evacuation procedures need to be thoroughly addressed. First response fire equipment training and evacuation practices can greatly improve safety. If employees know how to use the available fire protection equipment, small fires may be contained and staff may be evacuated more effectively.

The emergency management plan should be documented and reviewed regularly. It should include shutdown procedures, fire response efforts, exit procedures and routes.

Cleaning and sanitising procedures

Even with good prevention and education, it is still possible for a fire to occur at your food processing facility. Therefore, also take time to prepare and document your cleaning and sanitising procedure.

In many cases, food onsite should be thrown out. Fire, smoke and heat can affect the integrity of the food. Most food items in the facility will not be salvageable. Additionally, any system that handles food needs to be clean and checked. This includes microwaves, refrigerators and more. These devices must be in prime working condition before they are put to use once more.

The entire facility must also be cleaned and sanitised after any fire. All surfaces and food utensils should be sanitised before opening again. Any items that are cracked or damaged must be thrown out. Any food-related items made from wood, plastic or rubber should be disposed of because they cannot be sanitised properly.

Following these fire safety measures will ensure the food processing facility will be safer in case of a fire emergency.

*Randall Williams is the founder of Aegis Safe, a fire service company. He specialises in building and fire safety services.

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