8 Ways to Prevent, Respond to Food Manufacturing Plant Explosions

If your food processing or beverage plant houses an ammonia refrigeration system, an explosion is your worst nightmare. Because your facility is at risk for this type of emergency, it’s imperative to understand both the proactive and reactive measures you must take in the event of an explosion.

During my career, I’ve responded to two major ammonia explosions. Unfortunately, proper maintenance and simple actions could have prevented these instances, including:

  • Preventive maintenance (leak detection)
  • Mechanical integrity inspections
  • Explosion-proof motors and devices

In addition to the above items, here are eight additional ways you can prevent and respond to explosions:

  1. Determine standby facilities—If your facility does suffer from an explosion, where will you continue to process and store your product? Have a backup plan for standby storage and processing.
  2. Meet with the fire department—Invite the fire department to your food processing or beverage facility to show them how your ammonia refrigeration system works. They need to be familiar with all of its key components so that if they are responding to an explosion within your plant, they know exactly where to react, respond and treat.
  3. Formulate evacuation plans—Your process safety management (PSM) program already ensures you have evacuation plans for each part of your facility. Worker safety is an area facility owners cover pretty well. Personnel should know evacuation routes and procedures as well as what different alarms signify. Aim to have drills annually.
  4. Ensure proper fire extinguisher locations—Of course, ensure your fire extinguishers are up to fire code and are located in the proper areas of the plant.
  5. Aim for exterior valving—Keep as much valving and piping that you can outside. Older facilities typically have more ammonia system piping inside, while newer facilities have piping on the roof.
  6. Identify and mark all utility shutoffs—Ensure your piping and instrumentation drawings (P&IDs) are current.
  7. Form HAZMAT/fire response team—Form a team with individuals from each plant department to ensure everyone on the team is familiar with all areas of the facility.
  8. Develop a recovery plan—After immediate response is complete, determine which parts of the facility are in the best shape to start production again and what steps you must take to make that happen.


If you’d like to learn more about emergency response preparedness, email me at foodforthought@stellar.net.

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