Water Usage In Food Processing

Out of the fresh water withdrawn annually, agricultural, industrial, and domestic consumptions lead to 69%, 23%, and 8% of water usage, respectively.6 The food processing industry is one of the largest potable water users in the world. Some thousands to multimillions of gallons per day are used by individual facilities in the United States.6 Water consumption varies significantly among the different sectors. It is reported that 3 L-water/kg-product is required for food in general; however, meat processing requires 33 L-water/kg-product.

Water can usually be used as an ingredient, a solvent, and a principal agent for cleaning and disinfection in plants or transportation systems for delivering raw materials. Since water consumption will always be a part of the food processing industry, it has become the key target for pollution prevention and source reduction practices.

Water conservation, reuse, and recycling are increasingly being implemented. Some common practices have been applied in water conservation; for example, installing shutoff valves and flow reduction devices, choosing dry cleaning instead of wet cleaning methods, and so on. As the waste-water from food processing mainly contains organics, it can be treated biologically and subsequently reclaimed by a combination of physico-chemical and biological approaches. Application of the reclaimed water into food processing can in turn save cost and decrease the consumption of fresh water. Many successful experiences have been witnessed in the food industry; for instance, the starch industry has reduced the use of fresh water by 20%. This substantial cost reduction is attributed to process integration and the internal recycling of process water. Cooling water systems have also been optimized to minimize the cooling water requirement and use of fresh water.3 The concept and practice of "ecoefficiency measures" have been widely applied throughout business and notably in the food industry, which has been recognized to be helpful for both environment and business.3

In the food industry, water can be classified into several types: general purpose, process, cooling, and boiler feed. Its use starts with raw materials, such as soaking, cleaning, blanching, and chilling. Water use continues with cooling, sanitizing, steam generation for sterilization, power and process heating, and finally direct process usage. The water requirements for food products are different. Generally, a large amount of water is necessary for processing raw materials and converting them into products.7

General-purpose water: The application includes washing and sanitizing raw materials, processing equipment, plant facility, and ancillary equipment. The water must be free of contaminants since the water contacts food directly.

Process water: Water is used for cooking or is directly added into the product. It must be free of contaminants.

Cooling water: Water is used for cooling purposes, the requirement of which is not strict since it does not contact food products directly.

Boiler feed water: Water is used for boiling purposes, and is required to have low hardness in order to avoid scaling problems.

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