Pieter Moolman, Afrox product manager for Packaged Special Gases, discusses the success of a two-year project to certify the Western Cape and Gauteng gas production and filling facilities to the FSSC 22000 Food Safety Management Standard (FSMS).
IN further support of its high-purity range of food-grade gases for use in modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), accelerated ripening, fast chilling/freezing and other food related processing applications, Afrox has now completed a two-year project to certify its Western Cape and Gauteng gas production and filling facilities to meet the FSSC 22000 Food Safety Management Standard (FSMS), which is the comprehensive certification scheme for food safety management that incorporates ISO 22000, ISO 22003 and additional sector specific technical specifications and requirements.
This Afrox certification project began in March 2020, when the world was just entering the anxious and unprecedented COVID-19 period. Following a successful audit on 29 November 2021, Afrox’s Kuilsrivier ASU and the Epping filling facility in the Western Cape Province were certified. This was followed in December 2021 by an audit of the Pretoria ASU and the Afrox Gas Operations Centre (GOC) in Germiston, which culminated in the additional certification of these two facilities in January 2022. These four facilities supply near 90% of Afrox’s national demand of food-grade gases.
While Afrox food-grade gases all conform to global food grade regulations and standards, FSSC 22000 certification of the production sites adds another widely recognised international standard for the food industry. “The consequences of unsafe food can be serious,” says Afrox’s Pieter Moolman. The FSSC 22000 Food Safety Management Standard helps us to identify and control all food safety hazards, providing reassurance to consumers and those responsible for the global food supply chain that all food packaged or processed using Afrox-produced gases complies to the highest safety and quality standards.
“We are particularly proud that our Afrox ASUs and gas filling facilities in the Western Cape and Gauteng are the first Linde Group plants in the world to be certified to this high-level safety management standard,” he adds.
The main Afrox gases used in in the food industry are nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide, which are all widely used in Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) applications, either alone or in combination with each other.
Afrox’s FoodFresh™️ range of MAP gases are used with modern packaging materials to extend the shelf-life of fresh foods, while eliminating the need for using artificial additives or freezing technologies. They enable fresh produce such as fruit, vegetables and meat to be sold to consumers as if they came directly from the food producer.
FoodFresh™️ gas mixtures slow down food decay mechanisms. “Carbon dioxide, for example, inhibits microbial activity that would cause food to decay in air, while nitrogen, an inert gas, is used in packaging to shield fresh food from oxidation-based deterioration,” Moolman explains adding, “but oxygen is also added to some FoodFresh™️ gas mixtures, particularly for fresh red meat where it preserves the oxygenated form of myoglobin that gives meat its fresh red colour.”
“We can supply food grade carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2) and oxygen (O2) as individual gases in cylinders as well as liquids in insulated vessels for mixing at food packaging machines,” he says.
Ripegas, a mixture of nitrogen and ethylene, is an Afrox’s food-grade gas solution used to accelerate the ripening of fruit. “Fresh produce is often harvested while green and stored in ripening rooms. Just before it needs to be shipped, an ethylene-based Ripegas mixture is pumped into the room to accelerate the ripening process,” Moolman explains, adding that fruit can go from green to ripe in a few days, enabling delivery to coincide with the fruit’s optimum texture, colour and flavour.
A range of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen gases called Suremix for dispensing sodas, draught beers, lagers and wines is another off-the-shelf Afrox gas mixture that conforms to all major drink manufacturers’ specifications.
Afrox’s food grade gases manufactured to the FSSC 22000 management standard can also be supplied for fast chilling and freezing of foods or juices using liquid nitrogen (LIN) or liquid carbon dioxide (LIC).
Describing where these gases come from, Moolman says that Afrox nitrogen and oxygen is separated from atmospheric air in Afrox’s Air Separation Units (ASUs), while carbon dioxide can be taken from natural wells, captured off fermentation processes; or from the by-products of industrial processes such as ammonia production. These individual gases are then mixed and packaged at one of Afrox’s regional gas filling facilities to the specifications of its food processing clients.
Citing the success of these first two Afrox FSCC 22000 FSMS certification projects, Moolman says that this would not have been possible without the commitment and dedication of the project’s task team, led by chairman Patrick Mohapi and his deputy, Hamilton Dlungele. “Both Patrick and Hamilton hold management roles within the onsite business area, while other team members: Nomcebo Masuku, Quality Assurance lead; Emile Thelander, SHEQ and sites support representative; and Barteld Botha from Sales and Marketing all made significant contributions to the project’s success.”
“The sites’ management teams: Malibongwe Nkunzi for the Kuilsrivier Plant; Pieter Smith for the Epping site; Mark Njeru for the Pretoria ASU; and Lungiswa Mali were also always ready to lend a hand and were a pleasure to work with,” he adds.
“During this project we saw a true spirit collaboration amongst Afrox departments, in keeping with our vision for continuous improvement and adopting best practices,” Moolman concludes.