Keeping the cold chain during the processing, storage, and transportation of food, medicine, and other products is not just about temperature. Controlling humidity during refrigeration processes is also critically important. This is because excessive humidity in environments such as refrigerated rooms can significantly alter the production process. In particular, during summer, interruptions can occur that cause delays and losses.
In the case of food preservation, for example, controlling humidity during refrigeration is essential. As hygroscopic compounds, the properties of foods can vary significantly with the humidity of the air in the environment where they are stored. In general, controlling this factor in industrial installations and processes helps to save energy and improve product quality.
Humidity intervention in refrigeration processes
First of all, it is necessary to define what humidity is, or more precisely, relative humidity. In summary, this is the level of water vapor present in an environment, expressed in percentages, and that in the correct measure manages to saturate the temperature of a space. In this sense, relative humidity is direct and fully proportional to temperature and, therefore, very sensitive to changes in it. That is if a refrigerated environment’s system manages to maintain a stable temperature, the relative humidity will also be stable.
It is essential to clarify that relative humidity is not related to liquids used in many production processes but to the amount of water present in the air in the form of vapor, compared to the maximum amount of water that can be preserved at a given temperature. Certainly, as the temperature increases, relative humidity decreases, and the air becomes drier. Conversely, as the temperature decreases, there is an increase in relative humidity, and the air is more humid.
The well-known blooming or fat-bloom effect is just an example of the importance of controlling humidity in refrigeration processes. This results from increasing relative humidity to a level higher than recommended. So, if a product like chocolate is stored under these conditions for an extended period, the humidity will accumulate on its surface and dissolve the sugar present. Consequently, when the moisture evaporates, the sugar will form crystals that appear on the surface, giving the chocolate a discolored appearance. Likewise, pharmaceutical products are highly sensitive to the factor at hand. Their processing and storage require controlled temperature and humidity conditions to avoid alterations in their properties.
Control of humidity in refrigeration processes of food
Undoubtedly, the main objective of the food refrigeration process is to prevent or control the appearance and spread of agents that alter these products. Excessive humidity can modify the consistency of food, in addition to facilitating the proliferation of fungi and mites that reduce its durability. From this perspective, controlling humidity in refrigeration processes is critical to ensuring the quality and safety of food according to its type. For example, in products with a high flour content, microorganisms present in humid environments can cause product agglomeration. This can significantly affect machinery performance and thus production delays.
The situation is more delicate for dairy products. In them, high humidity levels cause chemical reactions that change their taste and appearance. Evidence of this is cracks and fissures that appear in the crust of cheeses when they have been stored in an environment with insufficient humidity. In addition, the formation of ice during the cold chain of meat products is also a consequence of poor humidity control. In fact, the low temperatures of the refrigeration chambers combined with high humidity, cause the excess water particles present in the environment to freeze.
In summary, humidity control is essential to slow down microbial proliferation that causes reactions and food deterioration. In this way, it is possible to guarantee the quality of the products and avoid losses.
Advantages of controlling humidity in food refrigeration processes
Once the technology and measures to control humidity in food processing refrigeration processes have been implemented, the advantages are visible:
- It reduces the waste of raw materials, both for production and for already processed products in storage.
- On the other hand, the physicochemical properties of food remain for longer, maintaining their characteristic color, texture, aroma, and flavor.
- It allows the package structure to remain intact. Thus, it does not lose its resistance or make it difficult to place labels.
- Furthermore, it guarantees an environment free of microorganisms capable of altering the quality of the product and, consequently, endangering the consumer’s health.
- It ensures more reliable quality control, as well as compliance with health regulations.
- It eliminates sources of contamination due to condensation in environments where steam is generated.
- Moreover, demanding humidity control prevents the oxidation of refrigeration units. At the same time,
- It reduces the possibility of ventilation ducts being obstructed. In this way, it helps to better preserve equipment and infrastructure, prolonging its useful life and saving replacement costs for the company.
- It guarantees better air quality, which is essential not only for product quality but also for the well-being of workers.
What happens if humidity is not regulated in the pharmaceutical industry?
It should be noted that temperature and humidity fluctuations cause reactions in the liquid substances, powders, and granules used in the pharmaceutical industry. Even minimal alterations can lead to the loss of entire batches of medicines, as this modifies their properties. Specifically, inadequate control of relative humidity in these companies can lead to:
- Agglomeration of powder substances makes them unusable for making medications.
- Affectation of finished products during packaging and storage.
- Poor compression of tablets, making them easily breakable.
- Deficiencies in coating tablets and adherence between them.
- Loss of effectiveness of antibiotic medicines.
In practice, the manufacturing areas of pharmaceutical products require rigorous control of environmental variables. Among them, maintaining levels of ±1°C of temperature and ±2% relative humidity, which makes the use of dehumidifiers essential.
Some measures to control humidity in food refrigeration processes
To tell the truth, it would be ideal for food processing, pharmaceutical, and chemical companies to plan for temperature and humidity control in the design of their product processing and storage. This involves, among other things:
- The customized design and development of refrigeration systems, cold storage rooms, and refrigerated vehicles, among others. All of them must provide not only the required temperature levels but also the relative humidity levels necessary to preserve raw materials and finished products. The same applies to the HVAC system for processing areas.
- Depending on the required processes, raw materials used, and processed and stored products, it is important to have dehumidifiers or humidifiers available.
- Of course, it is essential to have thermometers and hygrometers in refrigerated and processing areas. Similarly, it is necessary to have sensors connected to a monitoring center, so that any alterations to the variables in question can be promptly managed. Such measures are basic for controlling temperature and humidity in refrigeration processes.
- Regulating the opening of doors in cold storage rooms, warehouses, and refrigerated vehicles to reduce external heat input. Air curtains could be a solution for loading and unloading operations.
At Intersam, we can help you
If your company requires precise control of temperature and humidity variables in refrigeration processes, at Intersam we can help you. For 28 years, we have designed and developed customized refrigeration systems for industry and commerce. Our products and infrastructures for large-scale projects incorporate advanced technology to ensure effective and energy-efficient performance. No matter where your company is located in Spain or in the world, contact us and request our advice.