MRO Q&A: Fruit and Vegetable Water Waste

We’ve assembled a panel of plant operations experts to answer any question you have on plant-floor issues.

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In terms of effluent and water waste, what does the fruit and vegetable sector have to measure for? Does the industry have to report this information to anyone?

The fruit and vegetable sector is one of the food industry’s larger users of water. Water has several purposes: It is used as a primary ingredient, it is used to move the product through the process, it is used as a washdown fluid for processing equipment and various plant production areas, and approximately half of the water usage is for washing and rinsing fruits and vegetables.

Given the advances in the development of pesticides and cleaning products used in the fruit and vegetable sector, most wastewater can be characterized as nontoxic, because it contains few hazardous compounds that would be regulated by the EPA. Given that the primary wastewater from fruit and vegetable facilities is therefore classified as organic, it can be treated by conventional biological technologies. The biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) value is used as a gauge to measure the level of treatment needed to clean-up the wastewater. A high BOD level indicates that a wastewater contains elevated amounts of dissolved and/or suspended solids, minerals and nutrients. Treatment facilities that receive fruit and vegetable wastewater with BOD values normally greater than 250-300 mg/L typically will add an additional surcharge for treatment.

If wastewater discharge exceeds the local treatment facility’s maximum permitted discharge level, then the company could be subject to fines by either their local, state or federal environmental enforcement agency. Due to these possible additional charges, most fruit and vegetable processors pretreat their wastewater prior to discharge to help ensure compliance.

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