What steam do I need in my food facility?

When considering a technology such as Steam Infusion, it may be easy to think that you’d be ready to hit the ground running as long as you have steam on your site. If I have a boiler I have steam, right? 

Although this is true, it’s not always so clear-cut. For example, did you know there are actually several types of steam? And that only certain types of steam are suitable to be used with our innovative Steam Infusion technology? This is because Steam Infusion works like direct steam injection, so it’s important that the steam is clean enough to be ingested by humans in the end product. Here, we take you through the different types of steam and help you get to the bottom of which one is right for your processes.

What steam do I need?

 Close Macro Drip Blue Drop Of Water Liquid Water

Although it might seem like ‘one steam suits all’ this is rarely the case. Different types of steam contain different levels of additives and chemicals, and it’s important to ensure you have the right type of steam before going ahead and integrating Steam Infusion or any other process/technology which involves direct steam contact with foodstuffs. 

The different types of steam are:

1. Plant steam 

Plant steam is the lowest-grade steam and is used in the production of paper, petrochemicals, laundries and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). It isn’t safe for human consumption in food or beverage products.

2. Culinary grade steam 

Culinary grade steam is the most commonly used steam in the food industry and is used in the production of food and beverages. 

3. Clean steam 

Clean steam is purer than culinary grade steam and plant steam, and is used in the production of cosmetics and organic food and beverages, as well as baby food in some countries, such as the UK. 

4. Pure steam

Pure steam is used in the production of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology to ensure the products are not cross contaminated with additives and chemicals.

Like the names suggest, as you move down the list the steam will get purer. Production of pharmaceuticals will require the highest-grade steam, to ensure that their products are not cross contaminated with additives or chemicals. However, this brings with it lower levels of efficiency, particularly for use in the food industry, as well as a very hefty price tag!

So we’ve ruled out two types of steam for a food facility; let’s take a closer look at the ones that can be used with Steam Infusion. 

Culinary grade steam

Culinary rated steam filter

Culinary rated steam filter

Culinary grade steam is the most commonly used steam in the food industry, due to its cost-effective nature and filtration requirements. Culinary grade steam can be defined as; 

‘Steam of culinary quality means steam that is free of entrained contaminants, is relatively free of water in liquid form and is suitable for use in direct contact with food products’

  • 3-A Standard 609-03 Definition of ‘Steam of Culinary Quality’ 

What this means is that culinary grade steam requires:

  • Use of a steam separator to remove excess water content

  • Installation of a hygienic steam filter that removes 95% of particulates of 2 micron or greater 

  • Steam distribution system downstream of the hygienic filter to be in stainless steel

  • Use of FDA approved boiler chemicals, which relates the use of non-volatiles within the formulation so that any impurity remains in the boiler with removal by way of regular blowdown as standard boiler operating practice

Steam of culinary quality means steam that is free of entrained contaminants, is relatively free of water in liquid form and is suitable for use in direct contact with food products.
— 3-A Standard 609-03 Definition of "Steam of Culinary Quality"

Clean steam

Clean steam is the next step up from culinary grade and has no additives or chemicals in the steam. It is typically raised from purified water and passed through a dedicated clean steam generator which ensures its quality is maintained and is suitable for direct contact with the product. On some occasions raw water may be used to generate the steam, but must be pre-treated to ensure there are no raw water contaminants.  

The design of the steam network is critical to ensuring the purity of the steam. Similarly to culinary grade steam, clean steam also uses a stainless steel system to ensure there is no corrosion which could potentially result in small particles in the steam. The system also needs to be crevice-free with self-draining products to ensure no microbial growth. 

Although clean steam is used in the food and beverage industry, it does not tend to be as common as culinary grade steam. That said, there are some food facilities that only work with clean steam. Baby food production in the UK is made with clean steam due to the importance of the food being of pure quality with no chemicals or additives. Organic food and beverages will also use clean steam for a similar reason. 

Download the full 3-A documentation for Accepted Practices for A Method of Producing Culinary Steam, Number 609-03

P&ID of example layout

Culinary grade steam vs clean steam

Both clean steam and culinary grade steam are suitable for use with Steam Infusion. So why don’t we use clean steam as often as culinary grade steam? Largely, the reason tends to be because of cost implications. Clean steam requires an additional generator to monitor the steam quality and purity and ensure they are kept at the appropriate levels. Not only will this require an additional cost upfront to build the generator, but it will also use more energy throughout the process so it’s only valuable to you if you’re working on an application that requires additional purity or if the source water needs to go through additional cleaning before it can be ingested.

Full steam ahead

So now you’re up to speed on your types of steam, why not go full steam ahead and explore the benefits of Steam Infusion? You can get in touch by visiting our website or download our Steam Infusion brochure here.