Drinks companies could be unwittingly putting production processes at risk of contamination by fitting mechanical seals which fail to comply with EU regulations, says Paul Green of AESSEAL. He explains how non-compliant seals might slip through the net and suggests how the issue can be resolved. Eliminating the risk of contamination and compliance with industry regulations is high on the agenda of every responsible brewer or drinks producer. Despite this, there is a shocking lack of awareness of the full implications of several pieces of legislation, including the FCM regulation, which covers materials and articles intended to come into contact with food and drink, and Regulation (EC) 2023/2006 on good manufacturing practices for materials and articles intended to come into contact with food and drink. As a result, mechanical seals manufactured from non-safe materials are routinely specified despite the fact they come into contact with consumable liquids, risking contamination and creating a health and safety ticking time bomb. Mechanical seals provide a simple but vital function - to effectively seal rotating equipment to prevent leakage and to seal thick sticky slurries and solutions capable of withstanding clean-in-place (CIP) procedures. They are a vital part of ensuring processing equipment and machinery continues to run reliably and that ingredients remain free of contamination. The regulations relating to mechanical seals in these processes couldn’t be simpler: every component must be 100% traceable and a statement of compliancy must be clearly marked on the packaging it comes in. So how are potentially unsafe seals creeping into brewing and beverage production lines which otherwise have highly stringent safety mechanisms in place? The answer lies in the complexity of source materials and supply chains, often compounded by lack of awareness, poor communication and simple force-of-habit. Many mechanical seal faces are made from carbon. There are around 15 grades of carbon commonly used, of which only a handful are compliant with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards. Of the remainder some are suited to chemical applications and don’t require FDA compliance, and finally there are antimony carbons, which are used in the oil and gas industry and, put simply, are poisonous. It seems blindingly obvious that these should never be used anywhere near the drinks supply chain but incredibly we have seen this type of carbon on sites where the implications of it being misapplied could be disastrous. The problem with these unsafe materials is that they all look exactly the same as a seal which is 100% traceable and compliant. You simply cannot differentiate between the two - unless you have its traceability clearly stated on the box it comes in. The potential risk implications of installing untraceable mechanical seals can’t be overstated. The more complex the drinks production process, the greater the number of seals – some plants may have as many as 15 to 20 mechanical seals and 60 to 100 static sealing joints across the whole production line. A company that carries out stringent checks at every stage of production might be blissfully unaware that there are in fact a number of points of heightened contamination risk along that line - one for every seal. Those responsible for compliance with FDA and EU regulations don’t always pass that information on to operatives at the lower ‘repair and replace’ end of the production line. And the need for expediency means that when repairs are required, the operative’s focus is on getting a production line back up and running rather than considering the compliance of the spare part being picked off the shelf. An engineer or purchasing department purchasing component seals currently being imported into Europe from Asia might take it for granted that the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) has bought the product from sometimes the lowest cost source. What they might not be aware of is that to achieve this low cost the product has often been through so many links in the supply chain that by the time it arrives at the end user all traceability has been lost. And if you have no traceability you have zero knowledge of the material the seal is produced from. In particular, those brands who work with an external supplier to maintain their equipment can find themselves dangerously far removed from compliance requirements, assuming - sometimes incorrectly – that the supplier has properly interpreted and implemented safety legislation. But Regulation EC1935/2004 is clear - if that traceability is not visibly evidenced on the packaging those claims carry no validity and the mechanical seal should not be installed on a beverage production line. There is a simple solution to what effectively amounts to building risk in to production processes at the same time as breaking the law. Look at the label. And if the seal comes in packaging that doesn’t clearly state its source, don’t use it. The brewing and beverage industry can rightly pride itself on its high levels of quality assurance and self-regulation, but the failure to understand or act on the laws and regulations around traceability and labelling is a serious chink in its armour. We estimate that very few mechanical seals currently used across the drinks industry actually comply with standards. We are working to bolster awareness of the compliance requirements which impact processing equipment and machinery to try and drive change within the industry before it faces another health and safety crisis. The risk is of contamination is very real – and with a solution so obvious and simple to implement there really should be no excuses for installing non-compliant mechanical seals in drinks production plants. 50 BREWING & BEVERAGE INDUSTRIES BUSINESS Paul Green is UK Sales Manager for AESSEAL, a global leader in the design and manufacture of mechanical seals and support systems whose products are used across the drinks industry. Paul joined the company in 2008 following a career in mechanical engineering in the Royal Navy, and in manufacturing service, product and reliability. He now heads up a 17-strong sales team across all corners of the UK. Mechanical seals - the hidden risk of contamination www.aesseal.co.uk For more information visit: Info PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT 50_Layout 1 16/05/2018 10:29 Page 1