How to prevent and mitigate combustible dust explosions in food plants

Key takeaways from the Food Processing webinar on how to prevent and mitigate combustible dust explosions in food plants.


Key takeaways from the Food Processing webinar on how to prevent and mitigate combustible dust explosions in food plants. Courtesy: Stellar Food for ThoughtThough it can appear harmless and be overlooked entirely, combustible dust is extremely dangerous in food processing facilities. Any solid material composed of distinct particles can present a fire hazard according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

A range of food processing products, from wheat flour to sugar, cornstarch and other powders, are susceptible to combustible dust. In 2008, a Georgia sugar plant suffered the largest combustible dust explosion in recent history. Fourteen people were killed, with 42 injured. The secondary explosions that followed the first ultimately caused the catastrophic destruction, demonstrating the importance of preparing not only for an initial explosion, but the ones that follow.

Food Processing recently hosted a webinar on preventing hard-to-detect problems in food processing facilities, including combustible dust. Below are several guidelines from the webinar to keep your facility safe.

3 ways to prevent combustible dust explosions

1. Conduct a hazard analysis—The first step in mitigating combustible dust is identifying it through a hazard analysis. This process will help you determine the risk associated with the dust, and the appropriate control methods to prevent it from endangering your facility.

2. Define your dust—Not all dusts are created equal, so you must test for two factors to better understand what you're dealing with:


  • How quickly the dust burns and at what temperature (Kst)
  • The maximum pressure the dust creates in a controlled explosion (Pmax)


  • Minimum ignition energy (MIE)
  • Minimum explosive concentration (MEC)
  • Minimum ignition temperature (MIT)

3. Take preventative measures—Implement the following measures to ensure your facility is as safe as possible.

  • Maintain housekeeping—Keep your facility clean to minimize the accumulation of dust and the effects of a potential explosion.
  • Use control equipment—These are devices or controls that minimize the introduction of an ignition source into a process.
  • Implement safe work methods—Hot work permits and other processes reduce the introduction of sparks, flame or heat into a work process.
  • Educate personnel—A workforce that knows how to prevent combustible dust explosions is as important as any other safety measure.

4 key elements to mitigating combustible dust

1. Venting—Calculate a relief vent area that releases pressure at a given point. Flames and unburned fuel mix will be vented before an explosion can occur. This method should be used when the dust collector is outside and vent discharge can be directed to a safe area.

2. Flameless venting—This method releases pressure and extinguishes flames and can be used with an explosion vent. It eliminates the need for equipment relocation or ductwork for indoor venting.

3. Explosion suppression—This is a quick, safe method to suppress explosions, which uses pressure detectors, optical detectors, control modules or suppressant containers and nozzles.

4. Isolation—To prevent an explosion from spreading, you must isolate each process. Secondary explosions are what cause the most damage in combustible dust incidents; separating each process ensures the containment of the initial explosion. There are two forms of isolation to consider:

  • Mechanical isolation—this method uses automatic fast-acting valves designed to prevent backflow from one process to the next.
  • Chemical isolation—This method releases chemicals when activated by sensors to stop an explosion.

- Mike Keough is the director of Business Development at Stellar. This article originally appeared on Stellar Food for Thought. Stellar is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Erin Dunne, production coordinator, CFE Media,

Stellar is a CSIA member as of 11/30/2015

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me