The food industry relies on solvents to perform hydrocarbon extraction steps during the processing of foods and personal care products. Almost any industrial facility that uses solvents has an interest in solvent recovery systems for recycling these industrial chemicals.
The food-grade solvents common throughout food processing have approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for human ingestion or skin application. Food-grade solvents also play a role in cannabis processing. Edible cannabis products containing any residual solvents should pose no risk to health. However, many cannabis products result in inhalation of the substances by the user, and the presence of solvents could be unhealthy.
How Solvents Are Used In The Food Industry
Food processing companies can buy solvent recovery systems for your recycling needs. Industrial solvent recycling systems allow these facilities to reuse solvents, such as ethanol, heptane, or hexane.
Food-grade chemicals achieve many functions in food production. Solvents pull oils from nuts, olives, and other plants. Making sugar from sugar beets involves solvents to separate the sugar molecules from the fibrous roots. If you have ever wondered how coffee becomes decaffeinated, it is because of solvents. A hydrocarbon extraction removes the bulk of the caffeine present in the beans.
Other food processing activities, such as candy making, flavor extraction, and cake decorating, turn to solvents. These chemicals are also necessary to achieve the preferred consistency or stability needed for lotions or perfumes.
Cleaning solvents are also needed in food plants. Sanitation is of great importance in food production, and solvents remove grime and residue from grinding, mixing, or cooking equipment. To get the most value from money spent on solvents, companies sometimes integrate solvent recycling systems into processing systems.
Solvent Use In The Cannabis Industry
The cannabis industry resembles food processing in many ways because it is working with plant materials. To collect medicinal or psychoactive substances from cannabis, processors soak the botanical mass in food-grade ethanol. This results in a final liquid containing the substances and about 90 to 95% solvent.
The solvent then needs to be removed from the extracted botanical substances. Some producers accomplish this with a vacuum oven. It uses heat and pressure manipulation to boil off the solvent, but the heating and evaporating might not fully penetrate to the middle of bulk plant materials. This will leave residual solvent in the material that goes on to the consumer.
A more thorough approach to solvent removal uses wipe-film distillation. Solvent distillation takes place as small amounts of the solution are moved through a column. Solvent distillation systems like this heat and pressurize the material as it is spread into a thin film. Complete evaporation takes place, ensuring the removal of nearly all chemical residue.
The Potential Threat Of Inhaling Residual Solvents
Lingering solvent in cannabis edibles does not raise many concerns because the chemicals have already been proven harmless when eaten. The health impacts of cannabis products that are inhaled appear worrisome if solvents are not fully evaporated away during processing.
Inhalation of solvents, even food-grade solvents, can produce physical symptoms, especially after long-term use. When ethyl alcohol is inhaled irritation of the respiratory tract will result. Continued exposure leads to headaches, nausea, or drowsiness. Eventually, damage could occur to the liver and nervous system.
This problem could be further exacerbated because cannabis consumers often use products daily or multiple times a day. Heavy use happens because people who use cannabis as medicine need frequent relief. Recreational users have the potential to abuse the substance. Unless cannabis producers use the best solvent distillation systems, they could be exposing their customers to dangerous substances.