Ensuring that surfaces in food production units are kept free of contamination between scheduled cleaning presents a persistant and pertinent challenge for the industry.
Research is on-going to investigate new types of coatings that are more resistant to bacteria and other microbes than current food contact surfaces.
Julie Goddard, in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University, New York, recently announced that she and her team have created new polymer coatings that, when applied, will enable food-processing surfaces, to resist microbial adhesion. The associate professor said ‘the new coatings can actually inactivate any microbes that do adhere, preventing them from growing and potentially contaminating our food supply.’
The coatings do need further development and thorough testing to ensure that they will survive the rigours of continuous production and attack from acidic and caustic cleaners used to clean equipment within food production facilities. They will also need to survive temperature extremes plus wear caused by consistant abrasion and friction.
Julie Goddard, acknowledged the challenge of making the coatings fully functional within this arduous environment.
Clearly some difficult work lies ahead, but the current results hold much promise. For example, one new coating works on resisting bacteria in a number of different ways, Goddard says ‘it has been shown to inactivate 99.999% of Listeria monocytogenes, a microbe that is a significant threat to food safety.’
Not only will they improve food safety, the new coatings may even help to reduce the huge amount of food wasted due to spoilage microbes.
As well as food preparation surfaces, the new coatings could be applied to door knobs, HVAC vents, even drains, which can harbour micro-organisms that can make food spoil and cause humans to become ill.
The potential for the coatings is vast, including the possibility for them being used outdoors on handling and harvesting equipment for fruits and vegetables.