Brewery infection

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Toxxyc

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OK so I'm posting here as I guess it fits here. I make no-chill cubes that I sell to customers who then ferment it into beer at home. It's been going really well for over a year now, and I've never had issues in the ~7,500 liters I've sold to date.

That changed recently. I don't know what or how, but a few weeks ago a cube I made was just puffed up. I opened it and it's gone off. I don't know how or where the infection came from, but there's definitely an infection. My process has been pretty similar as always, mash and boil in the same big urn and then I connect a silicone hose to the tap (the default tap) and pour the wort into 2 x 20l HDPE2 containers, sealing them immediately. The containers are then shaken up to ensure the entire inside is coated with the boiling wort before being set aside to cool down. Once cooled I ship it to clients with a packet of yeast and a pressure release cap that acts as an airlock, so you can ferment the beer in the cube it comes in. Convenient and effective.

So a few weeks ago I made a blonde and only sold one from the two I make per batch. The other one I set aside and figured if I want to I can make a blonde I want for myself. However, that cube puffed up and I ended up dumping it down the drain. I then made a cheap beer for a party (bunch of commercial drinkers) and fermented it with Voss. It had that same off flavour and I had to toss it. I then made a Pale Ale and sent one to a client. Here though I decided to sanitizer the cube, as I thought the cubes had something in them from the factory perhaps. I made the Pale Ale, 2 cubes again, and shipped one off. 2 weeks passed and it was all well. Today though he sends me a message - his cube is swollen and looks like it's about to pop, he didn't pitch the yeast. I check mine and same story - also swollen.

Somewhere I'm getting infections, and it CANNOT be from inside the cube or the cap. It has to come from the equipment that I use. I'm fairly certain nothing survives the 30-minute boils I do, so it must be something else. I have pinpointed the problem to one of two things - either the tap on the urn or the silicone hose I use to tap the wort from the urn into the cubes. I was 100% sure that the boiling wort would kill anything, but it turns out something must be hardy enough to survive. The smell from the infection smells very off, rotten, like burnt rubber mixed with fermented cabbage and dirty feet. Disgusting.

So I've removed the tap and soaked it in a hot SPC solution. Essentially disassembled the tap, threw it into a jar, poured a lot of SPC powder over it and added hot (but not boiling) water. It fizzed like mad for 30 minutes and then died down, so the tap must now be pretty clean. I'll give the whole thing a proper boil as well.

The silicone hose I'll boil as well. It's pretty clean as I always clean it after use, but no point in not tossing it in the boil as well.

I want to know - what else should I be looking at here as a possible source of infection?
 
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Toxxyc

Toxxyc

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Nobody with any other ideas?

I disassembled the tap and SPC soaked it. Then I rinsed it and boiled the whole thing - nuts, washers, seals, the works. I can't seem to find the hose I used to use, I think I might have dumped it, so I'll cut a new piece.
 

yoop89

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I think your on the right track. What kind of tap is on the urn?

Ive only ever disassembled the ball valve on my boil kettle twice. The first time it looked disgusting and full of crud. After that is always practiced operating the ball valve while rinsing to make sure nothing is being held by it. Then in storage I always store it partially open(~45°).

This solved my problem with crud build up, the second time I disassembled the valve it was still as clean as it was when I did it the first time. This was in the span of ~6 months and approximately 10 brews.
 
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Toxxyc

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It's a crappy water-urn type tap. I know, I know, I should replace it. Let's not get into it now :p

Anyway, I'll brew another batch soon to see how it keeps up. IPL this time, to be going straight on a lager yeast cake I have here, working on an IRA.
 

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I'd agree you're on the right track, any gaskets and seals have been the source for me the 2 times I've ever had a problem. Lazy cleaning and / or just not realizing something could be further disassembled. I think in both cases it was trapped hop debris.

These days I'm always sure to remove every single o-ring regardless of how clean it looks, and do my best to clean ball valves and occasionally pull them apart to be 100% sure. The cleaner + hot temps should do it but be sure to do lots of on / off cycling and maybe run a pipe cleaner or small brush around as well.
 

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I traced the only infections I have ever had to my brew kettle ball valve. I assumed it could not get infected because of the heat from the burner during the boil, but apparently the heat shield on my Blichmann burner did too good a job. Then I read the Brulosophy article below, opened up my ball valve and discovered the source of the infections.
 

RufusBrewer

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Starsan does not kill everything that you might need to. Iodophore is better at killing a wider range of nasty stuff. Boiling temps do not kill everything.

I am going to think something has taken residency in your rig.

If it were my problem I would replace everything that is practical to do so. Hoses, valves, screens, what ever you can. Really comes down to cost of replacement vs what your time and aggravation is worth.

What ever is left over, disassemble and hit it with a regime of Starsan, and Iodophore, heat (direct heat, pressue cooker or put it in an oven).

Home brewers over look bleach as one option in the sanitation tool box. Expose material and items to a short dose of bleach, rinse it well with tap water, and the only thing you need to worry is whatever rode in with your tap rinse water. Follow up with exposed a dose of iodophore.

I would also treat your cubes. Just in case.
 

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Not to state the obvious but starsan is not a cleaning agent. I also occasionally run my brewzilla through with just water, say once every few months. I've not taken the valve apart, but I did have to take the pump apart for a clog and it was clean. I always run it clean after a brew with hot water.
 

IslandLizard

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So I've removed the tap and soaked it in a hot SPC solution. Essentially disassembled the tap, threw it into a jar, poured a lot of SPC powder over it and added hot (but not boiling) water. It fizzed like mad for 30 minutes and then died down, so the tap must now be pretty clean. I'll give the whole thing a proper boil as well.
With SPC (powder) you mean Sodium PerCarbonate? That's a major component in cleansers like Oxiclean (free) and PBW (at 70%).

PBW also contains 30% Sodium MetaSilicate (available as TSP/90 in the U.S.).
You may want to add that to your SPC for extra oomph where needed and where it counts. Especially when used hot, that mixture is a magnificent degreaser, and gunk remover. A small amount of lye (NaOH) added (~1-2%) can boost that even more.

The cleaning method you used should remove most if not all gunk build up inside that tap/valve, associated parts and areas the detergent can get to. But there may be crevices or other areas that can't get cleaned thoroughly. It's hard to believe but just heat from your burner and boiling wort won't kill tenacious microbes hiding there, such as Pediococcus, a common brewery "bug."

Really, start looking into a valve that can be take apart for proper and thorough cleaning inside. The $15-20 3-piece valves many of us use are meant for that. There are other options.
 
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Toxxyc

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Yes, with SPC I mean Sodium Percarbonate. I can get it for REALLY cheap so I use a lot more than I need to with hot water. Cleans the living daylights off pretty much anything. I usually follow it up with regular dish soap on dirty things, and then sanitizer. I also have KOH that I guess I could add - that would do a good job actually. I'll try that in the future, thanks mate!

And yes, I'm currently looking at upgrading the valve. After I disassembled the tap on the urn and I saw how stupid it is designed, I can't keep using it. I have to upgrade. I'll be looking at a 1/2" ball valve very soon (just waiting for payday).
 
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Toxxyc

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Starsan does not kill everything that you might need to. Iodophore is better at killing a wider range of nasty stuff. Boiling temps do not kill everything.

I am going to think something has taken residency in your rig.

If it were my problem I would replace everything that is practical to do so. Hoses, valves, screens, what ever you can. Really comes down to cost of replacement vs what your time and aggravation is worth.

What ever is left over, disassemble and hit it with a regime of Starsan, and Iodophore, heat (direct heat, pressue cooker or put it in an oven).

Home brewers over look bleach as one option in the sanitation tool box. Expose material and items to a short dose of bleach, rinse it well with tap water, and the only thing you need to worry is whatever rode in with your tap rinse water. Follow up with exposed a dose of iodophore.

I would also treat your cubes. Just in case.
Thanks man. Yeah I can't overheat everything, but I'm now going to do a bleach soak for everything as well. I haven't had issues with bleach in my stainless parts, so I am going to give it a shot.
 

IslandLizard

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I'll be looking at a 1/2" ball valve very soon
Not just any 1/2" valve, you want the 3-piece kind. The 3 segments bolt together (with 4 bolts). Another option is a butterfly valve, but they are pricey, and IMO, not paramount for good sanitation in a homebrew environment. We still got threads to deal with anyway.

That hose can be another issue, over time. I recirculate boiling PBW (with 2% NaOH) through the whole kettle> pump > plate chiller > whirlpool loop for an hour or so while my hop bags (used in the boil) are also in the kettle getting cleaned, and whatnot.

BTW, it's really interesting to read that wort in those no-chill cubes can last for several weeks.
Are those cubes firm or soft, more like an expandable bladder?
What are they made out of? LDPE, HDPE, or another polymer?
What's their oxygen permeability?
 

MaxStout

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Another vote for 3-piece stainless steel valves. Very inexpensive, about $20.

After each brew, I take it apart and clean the parts with PBW. A small test tube brush with nylon bristles works well for cleaning out the insides. Then I sanitize the parts in a tray filled with Starsan and reassemble.
 

RufusBrewer

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Thanks man. Yeah I can't overheat everything, but I'm now going to do a bleach soak for everything as well. I haven't had issues with bleach in my stainless parts, so I am going to give it a shot.
Do what you can. You never know which treatment is going to be the one that finally does the trick.

It is not a good idea to soak stainless steel in bleach, and it is not necessary. (eventually it can cause pitting on the surface, creating new places to germs to hide) Bleach is pretty much a few seconds contact sanitizer. I would not do more than 60 seconds. Bleach is cheap and easy to get your hands on. (can you say Everything For A Dollar Store). Use it full strength where you can.

There is a great book called "The Hot Zone." It is about the early days of Ebola Virus outbreak. All the technicians and doctors that worked with virus and in danger of getting exposed, kept a bottle of bleach nearby. First thing they did when exposed was douse the area with bleach. Considering how nasty Ebola is, that is literally trusting your life on the efficacy of bleach to kill a virus.
 

NightFlight

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I'm a bit of a neophyte here and I think a strong bleach solution should kill just about every bacterium. But also would like to toss in the idea of running through some anti-bacterial solution, if what you have is a bacterial infection.

In aquaria for example some algae like cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) are commonly knocked out with erythromycin since it can be hard to get rid of. Erythromycin is over the counter and used in veterinary medicine.

 

eric19312

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My guess is you are taking too long to get the beer into the cube. If it is over 200F when it goes into the cube any yeast or bacterial contamination picked up along the way should be killed. Yes there is a theoretical chance of spore based contaminant that can only be killed at pressure cooker temperatures, but that just doesn't seem to be an issue that has bothered the many many no chill brewers out there.

Traditional brewing (using heat exchangers to chill the wort) focuses on sanitization not sterilization. The brewer accepts some wild yeast and bacteria will contaminate the batch but by pitching say 6 orders of magnitude more yeast than contaminant organisms can make it into the batch the yeast quickly outcompetes the contaminants (many of which don't tolerate alcohol). There is a test out there you can google called the "wort stability test" You collect wort, ideally from the fermentor, right before pitching yeast, and put it in a sterile container and hold it in a warm location. If it goes 3 days without turning cloudy, producing gas, a film or other visible sign of biologic activity, your process is sufficiently sanitary to make beer. If you can get 4 or 5 days even better but 3 days is good enough.

But in your case you are storing that wort for much longer. You just can't allow anything living to survive into that cube. I do agree with getting that spigot fixed but mainly so you can get the wort into the cube fast and super hot. As close to boiling as possible and then close it up and make sure all surfaces get good and hot. A ball valve with a high throughput barb and 1/2 inch inner diameter silicone hose should make that easier to achieve.
 
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Toxxyc

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I tap into the cube literally while the rolling boil isn't even complete yet. Cubes are too hot to touch when they're filled and I have to cover them with a towel to move them.

But yeah faster would be better. The first step would be a ball valve to tap from. This spigot on the urn takes too long, and I know it. I'll make a small batch and run a test on it using that method you mention, the wort stability test, thanks man!
 
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Toxxyc

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Not just any 1/2" valve, you want the 3-piece kind. The 3 segments bolt together (with 4 bolts). Another option is a butterfly valve, but they are pricey, and IMO, not paramount for good sanitation in a homebrew environment. We still got threads to deal with anyway.

That hose can be another issue, over time. I recirculate boiling PBW (with 2% NaOH) through the whole kettle> pump > plate chiller > whirlpool loop for an hour or so while my hop bags (used in the boil) are also in the kettle getting cleaned, and whatnot.

BTW, it's really interesting to read that wort in those no-chill cubes can last for several weeks.
Are those cubes firm or soft, more like an expandable bladder?
What are they made out of? LDPE, HDPE, or another polymer?
What's their oxygen permeability?
I already have a 3-piece ball valve, yeah, I know the difference between that one and the 1-piece pretty well. I have the 3-piece on my still kettle, but it's too big to run on my brew kettle, I'll have to go 1/2".

I think I might have dumped the hose, so I'll just cut a new piece for future use. I doubt it's the hose though, it is proper silicone and although stained from use, never dirty. But anyway.

The cubes are made from food-grade HDPE-2. They're relatively firm, but not too hard. They're made from a non-transparent plastic with a "sight glass" section so I can check the level when I fill it. I have no idea what's the O2 permeability but I've ran a test before and had wort sit in it for 6 months in the garage, with absolutely no issues. Cube was still under vacuum when I opened it, the wort smelled slightly different (not as fresh) and the beer it produced was slightly drier than previous batches, but overall it was absolutely fine.

It looks like this (this is actually my site and product): Fresh Wort Kit | The Lazy Hunter Brewery
 

eric19312

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I've found my ball valves get very clean just by opening the lever to 45 degrees and recirculating hot (160F) PBW through then for a few minutes followed by a one way rinse cycle with similarly hot water. I've taken my 3 part valves apart a few times but never see any gunk in there so don't do it again until I read one of these threads and decide to take one more look.
 

IslandLizard

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I've found my ball valves get very clean just by opening the lever to 45 degrees and recirculating hot (160F) PBW through then for a few minutes followed by a one way rinse cycle with similarly hot water. I've taken my 3 part valves apart a few times but never see any gunk in there so don't do it again until I read one of these threads and decide to take one more look.
That 45° opening angle for cleaning is crucial, IMO.
The cavity behind the ball can get cleaned and flushed that way. I also move the handle from fully open to fully closed a few times while recirculating, hoping everything hiding gets flushed out that way. After rinsing I leave the valves open at 45° to dry.

I also use 1/2" and 3/4" test tube brushes to clean the inside of valves, mounted (male) Camlock stubs and hose nipples, as well as any exposed inside threads.

I've slowly gone to taking them apart only every 6-10 brews now (or whenever I think it may need it)* and have never found anything hiding in there.

* Such as when a whole bunch of grapefruit zest/peel added to the whirlpool had disintegrated to pulp, clogging my plate chiller as if there was no tomorrow. The resulting Saison was awesome, though!
 

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I make no-chill cubes that I sell to customers who then ferment it into beer at home...
Once cooled I ship it to clients with a packet of yeast and a pressure release cap that acts as an airlock, so you can ferment the beer in the cube it comes in. Convenient and effective.
I have nothing helpful to add regarding your infection problem, but just wanted to say that that is a clever, super-cool business model. I love it.
 

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I and several HB friends in Queensland Australia no-chill into 10L or 20L cubes with rarely a problem. But there were a couple of infection occasions a while ago, and the culprit was identified as the cube's cap seal. The solution? Remove the seal from the cap and soak both cap and seal in Starsan for a couple of minutes before reassembling. None of us has had a problem since. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. And perhaps it is worthwhile mentioning that sometimes these cubes are a year old before being emptied.
 
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Toxxyc

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Yeah my caps and seals are brand new, and sanitized before use. But not impossible. I'll look at it as well, thanks!
 

eric19312

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Yeah my caps and seals are brand new, and sanitized before use. But not impossible. I'll look at it as well, thanks!
Are these cubes one-time use? What do your customers do with them after fermenting the wort?

Perhaps boiling the caps and seals would be better than sanitizing with chemicals. They might even do ok in a pressure cooker cycle.
 
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Toxxyc

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@eric19312 they're one-time use for most, yes. Most recycle them or place them next to refuse bins, where the recyclers and trash pickers take them and use them to carry water around. I re-use mine over and over with no issue. Boiling water and SPC cleans them really well. This problem comes from new cubes and old cubes alike. For customers I use exclusively new cubes and new caps. I'll be boiling the caps a bit. Don't have a pressure cooker (yet).
 

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