Utility piping design for food safe environments

Posted in: Food & Beverage

Utility piping design is often an afterthought while it should be considered early in the food plant design process. Process piping and equipment selection typically take a front seat.

E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella and Staphylococcal Aureus. To some these are hard to pronounce, challenging and sometimes frightening words. To food plant designers, operators and owners these are a source of constant vigilance and concern. These pathogens are constantly looking for a home in your food plant and there is a battle being waged daily to be sure they don’t succeed.

Utility piping systems can create food safety hazards in critical processing areas and increase maintenance and operating costs if not designed and installed properly. This is particularly important when constructing a greenfield plant or remodeling a production room.

Items to consider when specifying and designing utility piping systems:

  • Pipe material
  • Joining method
  • Insulation material
  • Jacketing and/or vapor barrier material
  • Pipe support design
  • Wall, ceiling, and floor penetration detail
  • Pipe routing

Best practice for sanitary utility piping installation in a process room is to provide corrosion resistant welded piping (often stainless steel) with a closed cell insulation, low-permeability vapor barrier (for cold systems), and white PVC or stainless steel jacket when insulation is required. This piping should be wall, ceiling or floor supported with sealed corrosion resistant round stock pipe supports, with the pipe routed so it does not directly pass over the food processing equipment or open food product. Wall, ceiling or floor penetrations should be properly infilled and sealed to eliminate inaccessible void spaces. This minimizes the opportunity for foodborne pathogens to find a home associated with the piping system.

Many projects have significant budget limitations and cannot afford the ideal piping system. Reasonable compromises can be made while still maintaining a food safe environment. When considering trade-offs, it is important to understand what alternate material and installation requirements will cost. For example, replacing stainless steel piping with carbon steel will reduce installation cost, however, this will lead to higher lifetime inspection and maintenance costs. Using an experienced mechanical piping designer familiar with sanitary food plant design will help the project team achieve the most effective balance between sanitary design and cost.

With proper sanitary piping system design E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella and Staphylococcal Aureus will not thrive in your plant.


Roger Porter, PE LEED AP, manages the Food & Beverage team to deliver quality engineering and architectural design services. His team develops custom innovative solutions for our clients. As a project manager he works one-on-one with clients to design advanced sanitary HVAC, mechanical, and refrigeration systems. When the weather is nice you may find him with a fishing pole in his hand or on the water in a canoe.

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