Cleanroom demand in the world food industry


BY Robert McIlvaine, President, McIlvaine Company

Food processing is a small but steadily growing segment of the cleanroom industry. Since total expenditures for food plants are increasing at 6 percent and cleanroom expenditures are increasing at a greater rate than total capital expenditures, it is likely that cleanroom expenditures will increase at 8 percent per year over the next few years. Higher-than-average growth will be experienced in Asia. East Asia is already the largest food processing cleanroom market, thanks in part to the role of cleanrooms. China is becoming a bigger exporter of processed foods. More importantly, the market within the country is growing rapidly along with changing eating habits. But the big growth is in less developed Asian countries (see Table 1).

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India expects to triple the size of its food processing industry by 2015. Other Asian countries are also expanding food processing. Asia and Europe will both spend more for food processing cleanrooms this year than will NAFTA. The growth rate in Europe is modest but a higher percentage of food processing facilities are already equipped with cleanrooms.

Several trends are driving increased use of cleanrooms in a variety of food preparation settings. Dietary concerns are resulting in increased emphasis on general food quality and consumption of fresh foods. At the same time, there is a strong evolution of preference away from the use of additives and preservatives.

Foods that undergo some type of treatment that alters their normal complement of microorganisms are especially vulnerable to colonization by environmental microorganisms. Examples include yogurt, cheeses and other dairy products, juices, flavored milks and entrees. The growth of mushrooms is also sometimes carried out in cleanrooms to prevent overgrowth of opportunistic spores.


Aseptic products already dominate the single-serving (250 ml) juice and drink market. This market is expanding into additional product lines, including dairy beverages, wine, water and tomato products, and one-liter size packaging.

Dairy products

Aseptic processing is frequently used for the filling or processing of yogurt, sterile milk or soft cheese in Switzerland, and for packaging sausages in Sweden.

Some large installations are in what can be classified as the plus-100,000 Class (ISO Classes 8 and 9). In the U.S., Jerome Cheese Co. built a $36-million, 140,000-square-foot cheese and whey products plant in Jerome, Idaho. The plant has four major heating and ventilation systems which deliver 130,000 CFM of 95-percent-filtered air. This provides 15 to 20 air changes per hour. The plant is pressurized; air is flowing outward from the process areas.

Institutional and commercial kitchens

There are benefits to utilizing cleanroom technology where large numbers of meals are being prepared. In Amiens, France, Sulzer Infra designed cleanrooms for the central kitchen where 12,000 meals are prepared each day for school children, senior citizens and city employees. Sulzer furnished the ISO Class 5 (Class 100) cleanroom, along with necessary heating and refrigeration, for the facility.


Breweries have found that, to protect their draft beers, it is necessary to control contamination in the environment surrounding the filling operation. There has been a movement toward cleanrooms with an enclosure of the filling operation and the use of HEPA filters in the ceilings along with the perforated floors.

Control de Contaminacion de Colombia, a South American company that specializes in building clean environments for the food, pharmaceutical and industrial areas, has added an ISO Class 5 (Class 100) and ISO Class 6 (Class 1,000) cleanroom for aseptic filling for beer, juices and soft drinks to its portfolio. Tunnel-type pasteurization in the traditional system submits the product to varying high temperatures, which generates a product with varying characteristics. Aseptic filling with controlled pasteurization and lower thermal punishment, by contrast, improves the product in several ways. In beer, it improves the organoleptic characteristics such as the aroma profile and freshness. It also ensures greater product stability, which results in longer shelf life. Juices are spared from denaturalization resulting from exposure to high temperatures for long periods, which occurs with tunnel pasteurization. As a result, organoleptic characteristics such as aroma, taste and color are improved.

Meat processing

A USDA study indicated that nearly 5 percent of the country’s ready-to-eat meats are infected with Listeria monocytogenes, a foodborne bacterium that can be fatal due to blood poisoning, meningitis or meningo-encephalitis (a disease that affects the tissues of the spine and brain). In pregnant women, listeria can cause the fetus to be aborted or stillborn. The expansion of the ready-to-eat meat market has been a factor in increasing the demand for cleanroom technology. Sweden has been a leader in this area.


Bakeries are now incorporating cleanroom technology. There are a number of examples in Japan. Chiyoda Construction designed a general food factory commissioned by Kobe city’s Nada Ward cooperative. The factory, an eight-floor building in Kobe’s Rokko Island with 3000 m2 of floor area, incorporates clean technology. The factory produces several types of bread and confectioneries, soy bean curd, noodles, and several traditional Japanese foods.

Biological cleanrooms are being utilized by the confectionery industry. The development of new, increasingly complex and decorated confectionery products has intensified the need for controlled environments (temperature and humidity, bacterial levels, etc.) and process automation in their production, so as to ensure better quality and durability.


The semiconductor industry and the pharmaceutical industry have increasingly used isolators to provide an ISO Class 4 (Class 10) or better local environment. Now isolator suppliers, such as LaCalhene, report that the food industry is also embracing this technology. The following reasons are cited:

• Hygiene-The isolator provides a sterile environment, which protects the product from contamination from both the environment and operators. It provides protection from pathogenic and alteration microorganisms.

• Marketing-The use of isolators means that natural preservative-free products can be produced without resorting to the traditional preservation processes, and therefore, neither the texture nor the taste of products are affected.

• Cost savings-The use of the isolator reduces installation and operating costs of ultraclean units and allows a natural increase of product shelf life. The most common and frequent applications are dosage, slicing, filling and transfer of products or components in sterile conditions.

Isolators can be used in sterile production lines, pilot installations and R&D laboratories.

The areas most directly affected are perishable drinks, dairy products, cold meats and seafood, ready-made dishes, bakery and pastries, and packaging of fresh products.

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The cost of cleanrooms for the food industry varies with cleanliness requirements. There are few, if any, ISO Class 3 and Class 4 (Class 1 and 10) installations. The cost of an ISO Class 5 (Class 100) cleanroom is twice that of an ISO Class 6 (Class 1,000) cleanroom. The cost decreases substantially with decreasing cleanliness requirements (see Table 2).

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Only a small fraction of food cleanrooms utilize ISO Class 5 (Class 100) space. Those that do are generally using ISO Class 5 in small areas such as filling lines. As a result the distribution of space in terms of area is heavily weighted toward the higher classes (see Table 3).

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The yearly expenditures for consumables and disposables per employee range from $790 to $7500 depending on the class (see Table 4).

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Even though the amount of ISO Class 5 (Class 100) space is small, the larger expenditure in consumables per employee and per square foot means that over 20 percent of the purchases are for these cleaner facilities (see Table 5).

Clearly, the food industry is an important segment of the total cleanroom market. There will be steady growth over the next decade with Asia leading the way. New processing techniques, consumer demands and regulatory requirements will be factors ensuring the growth. III

Robert McIlvaine is president and founder of the McIlvaine Company, Northfield, Ill. The company first published “Cleanrooms: World Markets” in 1984 and has since continued to publish market and technical information for the cleanroom industry.