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July 2018 - Protection Risks in Food Factories & Refrigerated Warehouses

The large numbers of food factories and warehouses worldwide will continue to climb in the coming years. These food facilities have similarities in their construction that may put them at increased fire risk. Risk factors include the use of ammonia refrigerant, insufficient fire sprinkler coverage, and walls that consist of sandwich panels with combustible plastics. These features put at risk not only the plant's building and employees, but also the buildings and people near the plant. There are several steps that can be taken to reduce the risk and exposure to a severe fire.

Food factories typically use ammonia as a refrigerant to keep certain foods cold. But this ammonia can sometimes leak and lead to problems. One problem is that ammonia is toxic and corrosive, so exposure or contact with ammonia can lead to health issues for the employees. Another problem is that ammonia is combustible. When ammonia is compressed and exposed to heat, it can cause an explosion resulting in damage to the factory.

Another construction risk that many food factories face is having insufficient or underdesigned automatic sprinkler protection. A factory that utilizes ammonia, has combustible construction and contains rack storage but does not have adequate fire protection is at risk. A fire can spread and reach the ammonia, causing an explosion that would result in damage to the production equipment or refrigerated warehouse causing a stop in production. This loss can likely cause the food that is stored at that location to spoil or a Business Interruption (BI) loss to production. This could be a major financial loss and a loss in reliability to long term customers.

The walls of food factories typically consist of sandwich panels with combustible plastic, which will spread the fire and omit a thick, black smoke when burned. A plastic fire puts the company at risk of damaging the entire site. Property insurance companies typically charge very high rates for food factories that have insufficient automatic sprinkler protection and non-FM approved construction material.

There are several ways to provide adequate property protection at food factories. First and foremost, the factory must have a properly designed automatic sprinkler system. Automatic sprinklers significantly control fires, preventing them from spreading to the storage area, production area or worse where the refrigeration area and ammonia is stored. The factory should also have safety shut off valves (SSOV's) for the ammonia refrigeration system. The SSOV's stop the fuel source because if there is a leak the ammonia supply can be stopped immediately to reduce the chance of an ammonia-fueled explosion.

Another way to help reduce risk to the factory is by using FM approved construction material.

To learn more about the risks posed by ammonia and how to prevent against damage, see "Ammonia Refrigeration Systems," provided on the Risk Logic website.

Please contact Risk Logic as we can help assess the property protection systems at your food factory or refrigerated warehouse.