Water is one of the most critical requirements for the successful running of a food industry and its abundant availability often decides the location of the processing facility. The Plachimeda experience of Coca Cola in Kerala where it was forced to close down the bottling operations because of grave allegations by the local people that the water resources in that area were being over exploited by the company, will be a forerunner of similar implosions in future. Both the government and the industry are equally to be blamed for this unfortunate incidence. The government while considering giving license did not bother to foresee the water problem, where as the Coca Cola used the under water resources without caring the consequences such action could have on the people settled around their facility. Most important lesson to be learned from this unfortunate episode is that water management by the industry can have far reaching repercussions beyond the walls of the factory and maximum care must be taken to minimize water consumption through better technology.
Though in India we do not have any reliable data regarding use of water by food processing industry, some of the norms established in western countries give some indications of the water intensive operations involved in manufacturing finished products from field sourced raw materials. For example, processing of beans is supposed to be highly water consuming with 45 to 65 thousand liters per ton of product, peaches and pears require 13.5 to 16 thousand liters, fruits and vegetables in general 3-32 thousand liters, beer 9-14 thousand liters, bread 1.8 to 3.7 thousand liters, meat processing 13.5-18 thousand liters and dairy 9-18 thousand liters of water. Water is required as an ingredient, for cleaning of raw materials and the facilities, as feed stock for the boiler, for cooling purposes, personnel hygiene, etc. Use of less water has many advantages which include reduced cost, better image in the society, cleaner environment, lesser pollution and slower depletion of water sources.
Some of the measures recommended by experts to save water by food industry include, installation of high pressure, low volume nozzles on spray washers, use of fogging nozzles to cool products, adjusting pump cooling and flushing water to minimum required, handling of waste materials in dry state wherever possible, use of pneumatic conveying system if possible, use of flumes with parabolic cross sections in stead of flat bottom troughs, optimizing depth of product on conveyors to maximize water efficiency, use of steam for water blanching, using evaporative cooling in place of hydro cooling, use of reclaimed water for flushing gutters and drains, use of solenoid valves to stop water flow whenever there is production stoppage, discontinuing use of water to wash side walks, drive ways, loading areas, parking areas etc. How far these measures can be implemented depends on the worker sensitivity to the value of water and management alertness.
As far as the actual processing operations are concerned, as an ingredient in the final product, there is little scope for reducing water usage. But there are other operations where water splurging can be avoided. One of the most critical operations in fruit processing is lye peeling and removal of lye and the peel for which enormous quantity of water is used. There have been reports that almost three fourth of the water usage could be cut down by using a mixture of water and air in stead of water alone without compromising on the peeling efficiency. Same technique may be applicable for cleaning of the raw materials, machinery and shop floor facilities. For each of the operation there has to be an optimum water to air ratio, working pressure and delivery mode which will have to be standardized. Necessary mechanized system to process large volume of raw materials also needs to be designed. There appears to be excellent scope in developing this concept further in a water starved country like India and food technologist and engineers would be doing a great service to the industry as well as the society if such a technology for water economy is evolved on a priority.