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Is your IBC letting you down?

11 February 2018

Jason Waywell looks at the use of Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) in the food industry and offers advice choosing the right one for your application. 

While compliance with legislation for the food product is obligatory, it is important to go further to ensure you are doing enough to mitigate against the risks of product contamination.

Most IBCs have a similar set of components – a pallet base attached to a steel cage housing the plastic inner bottle. Traditionally, the pallets of an IBC have been made of wood. However, this is not the best solution when handling raw food ingredients or semi-finished products. Wooden pallets are prone to damage, possibly giving rise to splinters and exposing nails. They are porous, absorb moisture and their rough surface means it is difficult to get them clean. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) offers guidance that states that wooden pallets should be dry and clean. In reality, the only way to maintain this condition is to steam treat or wash down, which may clean the pallets but certainly does not leave them dry. Wood retains moisture and this can be a breeding ground for the growth of mould or other spores, even in a previously heat treated pallet. For this reason suppliers of IBCs for the food industry are turning to the use of more hygienic robust plastic pallets that are easy to clean and have minimal moisture/dirt traps. Metal pallets are also sometimes used, but these can be susceptible to rust when they are in contact with acidic foodstuffs.

Attached to the pallet is a protective cage which is often made of metal. It is important to eliminate moisture traps that can result in rust on the metal cage surrounding the inner bottle. This is achieved through the use of a vertical steel bar cage design.

Sustainability issues?
IBCs are robust units which are designed for multiple cycles. The capability of the discharge valve to perform to the design requirement for reuse is a key factor in IBC sustainability. The valve seal is often the weakest link.

Design for reuse cannot cover the human element of the life of an IBC unless a coherent system of traceability is in place. Making sure that a food or beverage IBC does not get used for other products is essential to maintain IBC value through reuse. Fillers, end users and the facilities of those who launder the IBC all have an important role to play in ensuring that the IBC can fulfil and deliver its sustainable potential.

There is no reason why an IBC with a durable piston valve with a well-managed loop, cannot continue to deliver value.

Valve design?
Although some IBCs are emptied by pumping out of the filling aperture, the contents of most are evacuated through the discharge valve. A valve system that allows a clean, effective positive cut off will enhance hygiene and accurate dosing, giving better control of costs and recipe consistency. Butterfly valves have been widely used for years. However, in my opinion it is not the best solution today, when safety, hygiene and sustainability important. Piston valves can deliver a much better solution with a clean and positive cut-off even when the IBC is re-used for several cycles.

The design of the piston valve is drastically different from a traditional butterfly valve. When the handle is turned to the off position, the piston is pulled into the body of the valve to create a strong, positive seal which prevents leakage. Any content in the IBC pushes against the piston to ensure the tightest possible seal. The piston valve has a double radial and axial seal providing a belt and braces approach against leakage.

Mitigating against interference
?The food and beverage industry needs to do it all it can to protect against ingress of foreign bodies or interference. Food tampering can take place at any point within the food supply chain. Users of IBCs can be aided by manufacturers who take steps to ensure any interference cannot go unnoticed.

There are two principal places in which an IBC is susceptible to malicious intervention. Firstly the IBC valve. Customers should look for tamper evident seals such as an aluminium seal covering the valve outlet. This can be further protected with a numbered tamper evident seal on the cap.

The second area of susceptibility is the filling aperture. When an IBC is received, it should also have a uniquely numbered security tag guaranteeing that the lid has not been opened. The integrity of the tags and unique reference should be checked. This also applies to when the empty IBC is received, as well as when the end user receives a filled IBC. When the IBC is at the end customer wherever possible the lids should not be left off, as this exposes the contents to the elements and foreign bodies. Air does need to be introduced to prevent a vacuum when discharging, but open apertures are not the way to go. To counter this issue IBCs specific for the food industry often feature a range of lids with venting options.

To avoid potential ingredient contamination it is important to examine the entire supply chain in addition to your own production facilities. IBC suppliers should be in tune with the ever-changing needs of the industry; including accreditation to Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards such as the BRC Global Standard or the FSSC standard. A suitable IBC is an important staging post on the way from farm to fork.

Jason Waywell is national sales manager at Werit UK.

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