With substantial energy savings and a decade-long lifespan, LED lighting is brightening food processing plants across the country. However, due to the high upfront cost compared to traditional lighting and some confusion surrounding regulatory requirements, many food companies haven’t yet made the switch. We interviewed Erin Noonan, Director of Marketing at G&G Industrial Lighting, for more insight on LED certification and adoption in the industry. 

Based in Clifton Park, NY, G&G started in 2010, designing lighting products that could endure the water pressure and chemicals of car washes. Since then, they’ve ventured into other industries, such as transportation, agriculture, and manufacturing, specializing in quality lighting that’s built for harsh and hazardous environments. 

For the food industry, G&G provides food safe and certified LED lighting for processing, cleaning, and inspection areas. “One of our proudest things about our company is that it's all made in the United States,” Noonan says. “We engineer, test, manufacture, assemble, and ship all products from one facility in New York.”

The certification checklist

Noonan says most plants know what certifications their lighting should have, but they don’t always understand why those certifications are necessary. To put it simply, the required certifications depend on where you plan to install the fixtures.

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certification ensures that products are fully cleanable and free from areas that harbor bacteria or debris. To determine the level of cleanability required, NSF splits plant areas into three categories: 

  • Zone 3 describes dry applications that don’t come into contact with food.
  • Zone 2 includes areas that may occasionally come into contact with food or water.
  • And Zone 1 defines areas that come into regular contact with food and harsh sanitation practices. 

Equipment in Zone 1 areas should receive the highest Ingress Protection (IP) rating: IP69K. “IP69K is for high temperature, high pressure spray downs,” Noonan explains. “It has to be able to withstand temperatures up to 176°F for sanitation purposes.” It must also withstand a pressure level of 1450 psi without taking in any water. 

Common IP ratings for other areas include IP65, 66, and 67, which can handle the occasional splash of water without shorting out. The higher the level, the more water it can handle, “but you still have the possibility of intrusions,” Noonan says. A product with an IP68 rating can survive submersion, but it’s not suitable for the high temperatures and pressures that IP69K can endure.

Then there are the USDA lighting requirements, which set guidelines for light intensity levels in different food and cleaning areas. For example, where employee safety is critical, such as when using blades in food preparation, the USDA expects an intensity of 50 foot-candles (540 lux) or more.    

And while the lighting for general processing areas should have a color rendering index (CRI) of at least 70, inspection areas currently require a CRI of 85 or more. Noonan advises a CRI of 90 for inspections, “just to make sure that they can see the true colors of the meat. You want to be able to catch all the gray spots, dark spots, infection spots, anything like that within the product.”

Switching on LED for savings

LED lighting is an investment, and that’s primarily what’s slowing its adoption in the industry. “You can buy a light bulb for $5 or you can buy an LED fixture for a couple hundred dollars,” Noonan says. “So a lot of people hesitate to make that move because it's a lot of money upfront.”

But that upfront cost comes back to the buyer in a short period of time, primarily through energy savings and a much longer life. Replacing a conventional fluorescent lamp with an LED fixture, Noonan says, cuts energy consumption by 60 to 70%. 

Fluorescents also need frequent bulb replacements, and since food plants can’t operate in the dark, that translates to recurring costs in regular maintenance and stocking replacements. “Your standard T-12 lamp lasts about 20,000 hours. So, if you’re running around the clock, 24 hours a day, you're replacing those every other year, if not more.” With a 100,000-hour lifespan, it could be 10 years before an LED fixture requires any maintenance or replacement. “Between reduced energy consumption and savings in labor and replacement parts, your ROI on transitioning from traditional lighting to LED is typically around 1 to 2 years.”

The food industry is realizing the benefits of LED, and plants are increasingly jumping on board to make the switch. She adds that LED lighting has become more affordable and accessible over the years, which should speed up the adoption rate. “I would say that within the next couple of years, the majority of facilities would be using LED lighting.”

This year will mark G&G’s first time at PROCESS EXPO, where they’ll be showcasing their food processing product line, including a brand new fixture specifically for USDA inspection areas. 

“We've definitely seen a lot of success with that so far, and that's why we signed up for PROCESS EXPO,” Noonan says. “We decided this is the perfect audience for us. These are our customers, and we want to grow together with them.”

To learn more about the advantages of LED, you can find G&G Industrial Lighting at Booth #121 at PROCESS EXPO.