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Applications of reverse osmosis in the food industry

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Thomas Jurkiewicz
No more water worries. Desaltek is your online supplier of spare parts and consumables for successful reverse osmosis, desalination and water filtration. Powered by Advanced Watertek, leaders in membrane-based water treatment systems since 1984.
  • Applications of reverse osmosis in the food industry

Ever eaten an Oreo?

Chances are it was manufactured with our water.

In 2017, Advanced Watertek landed a tasty job. A sweet gig! Our team was contracted to design and manufacture a large scale commercial reverse osmosis system for our client, one of the world's largest snacks companies. The multinational corporation had just broken ground on a massive undertaking - a $90M USD food manufacturing plant, specifically for biscuits.

Located in Bahrain, the facility was being purpose-built from scratch, and was filled with state-of-the-art technology and automation. 

Completed in 2018, the massive food processing facility stretches over 250,000m2. Biscuits produced are exported to a range of global markets including Australia. At peak operation the factory produces:

  • 60,000 tonnes per year of food goods
  • 10,000 Oreo biscuits every minute
  • That's 1,440,000 Oreos every day. Or just over 525 billion per year.

A worker on the factory floor inspects the production line.

Our client had two non-negotiable outcomes that they needed to achieve with their water supply. If you're currently working within the food production industry, I'm sure they will both sound familiar to you.

The first was to create a reliable source of water. Regardless of operating conditions, an 'always-on' facility like theirs requires a constant supply of high purity water. Our client operates in a very competitive market, and any hit to production capabilities would leave them unable to fulfil previously agreed upon targets.

Secondly, the quality of the product water had to be 100% as specified, with no deviation over time, and unaffected by external factors. Water used as ingredient water in the food industry must comply with all local standards, plus any government regulations and export market requirements.

Businesses in the food industry know the importance of water purity on food safety and risk control. For a global company, with facilities across the world producing the same product ranges, there's another benefit to claim from a consistent water supply. Homogenisation is key - the famous Oreo taste must be replicated across the world in all production sites. Whether the customer is snacking on a biscuit made in Europe, Indonesia or Bahrain, it should always taste the same.

Dual train design of a brackish water reverse osmosis system for the food industry.

The completed water treatment system uses a dual-train, skid mounted design. Designing commercial reverse osmosis equipment in a dual train configuration gives clients greater flexibility in arrangements. The system was assembled, customised and tested at the site.

High quality stainless steel is a hygienic choice for the skid, or skeleton. We pride ourselves on our craftsmanship - our welders are highly qualified and among the best in the business. There's no place for bacteria to hide in the joints. Systems located alongside food processing equipment must stand up to industrial washdown and regular sanitation procedures. By using cleaning-in-place protocols (CIP) the reverse osmosis membranes can be effectively cleaned with minimal disruption, using standard chemicals.

Multimedia filtration (MMF) pressure vessels filled with sand, gravel and anthracite form the first stage of prefiltration.

The water treatment system processes chlorinated feed water from a municipal source. Incoming water quality had roughly 400ppm of total dissolved solids, known as TDS. The two separate trains of the system use high quality brackish water reverse osmosis membranes, in conjunction with sediment prefiltration, to bring the product water down to just under 40ppm - suitable for all process applications. Chlorates, phthalates and bromates are also eliminated.

5 and 1 micron polyspun sediment filters are used in a 2.5" x 30" size, common for industrial sediment filtration.

Reverse osmosis, in essence, brings the salinity of water down to zero ppm, or as near to zero as operators require for their particular process. Water used as an ingredient in food and beverages must be free of any unwanted impurities, including undesirable tastes, odours and colours. We achieve this by building multiple layers of filtration into a water treatment system. Multimedia filtration tanks, filled with sand, gravel and anthracite layers, are the first step. Then, cartridge filtration takes the feed water through five, then one micron filtration. Finally, the water is passed to the reverse osmosis membranes, which prepares it for use in food production.

Oreos roll off the production line.

Membrane separation technology can remove a variety of dissolved solids, including salts, from water. Within the food industry, associated membrane separation technologies including nanofiltration and ultrafiltration are commonly used in milk and juice production, alcohol removal from spirits, or egg white concentration, to name a few applications.

The possible applications of reverse osmosis within the food industry are numerous - and growing. Reverse osmosis is become more common every year within food processing facilities. The beverage industry uses RO in the production of beer, wine and spirits, as well as soft drinks and juices. Infant milk production demands high purity ingredient water. Dairies and meat processing facilities, as industries adjacent to food production, also have many requirements for high purity water, including hygiene & food security considerations, plus regular washdown.

A food industry operator begins a cleaning and sanitation procedure.

Our client utilises their reverse osmosis water for three different purposes:

  • Food production
  • Food production equipment
  • Cooling towers

Food companies can find many benefits through investing in a reliable water supply. Consider the financial benefits that reducing your water footprint can provide. Efficient systems require little maintenance, lowering operational expenditure. Reverse osmosis can purify water without using large quantities of harsh chemicals, so your environmental footprint can also be reduced. The addition of a UV disinfection system can eradicate bacteria, viruses, algae and fungi. Removing these biological contaminants from your water will help your production environment stay clean and risk-free.

Reverse osmosis is a versatile technology. It allows operators in the food industry to generate high purity water from alternative water sources that traditionally may not have been considered economically viable. What could reverse osmosis help your business achieve?

Bonus for getting this far: please accept the tastiest Oreo recipe the team has found. Enjoy!

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