Water Pollution, Part 1: Specialization in the Food Industry

Water Pollution, Part 1: Specialization in the Food Industry

April 4, 2019

In modern food factories, foodstuffs are processed at staggering paces: 120 birds per minute at Tyson, 500,000 pizzas per day at Tombstone, 90,000 hogs per week at Smithfield.

The undeniable efficiency of these companies and countless others is a direct result of specialization within the food industry; indeed, production processes have been increasingly concentrated into relatively small locations since the invention of canning and the subsequent proliferation of large-scale food production during the 19th century. By utilizing the same or similar raw materials to make large quantities of a single finished product, producers realize lower production costs per unit, and the consumer enjoys lower prices.

For all the economic benefits, however, the concentration of production processes inherently leads to concentration of the by-products of food processing, which are released from food factories into the environment through various pathways. Because these releases can contain components that are detrimental to the health of factories’ immediate surroundings and the health of the globe as a whole, they are generally regarded as pollutants and are subject to regulations administered by the EPA and other more localized agencies.

One such pathway for the release of detrimental by-products is wastewater, of which enormous amounts are generated through food processing in particular. Two regulated and commonly elevated metrics of wastewater discharged from food factories are biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and total suspended solids (TSS). BOD refers to the amount of dissolved oxygen that must be present for microorganisms to decompose organic matter in the water, while TSS refers to the weight of solids in water that could be captured by filtering. If left untreated, wastewater with high levels of BOD and TSS will wreak havoc on the environment by lowering oxygen levels to the point of eutrophication, for example, which can kill aquatic life including fish, amphibians, and plants.

To avoid the negative environmental outcomes associated with BOD, TSS, and other elements of wastewater that are compounded by industrial specialization, the EPA requires municipalities and industrial sites to treat their wastewater prior to discharge into a receiving stream. BOD and TSS from food factories, in particular, are best treated with the introduction of targeted microorganisms. EnviroZyme is proud to serve this industry by providing high-quality microbial products and application expertise, helping meet or exceed standards set forth by water authorities and furthering progress toward the national goal established by the Clean Water Act of “eliminating the discharge of all pollutants.”

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