Executive Commentary: Emerging Solutions For Pathogen-Related Food Recalls

By: Dennis P. Calvert, President and CEO of BioLargo, Inc.

The high priority of food safety constantly drives the food industry to search for new tools to reduce food-borne illness. The percentage of food that is recalled due to pathogens may be very small, but the volume of the food supply is so large that even when a rare incident of contamination does strike, it can be devastating — to companies as well as to consumers.

In spite of diligent food safety efforts, more than 48 million people suffer from food-borne illness each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  Robert Scharff, a professor of Consumer Science at Ohio State University, estimates the total annual health-related costs of food-borne illness at $77 billion. Food safety is therefore an area of great interest and is becoming big business.

A comprehensive study on recalls, “Capturing Recall Costs,” by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Covington and Burling, and Ernst & Young, revealed the following key results of a survey of 36 of America’s largest food companies:

– 81% of respondents deem financial risk from recalls as significant to catastrophic.

– 58% have been affected by a recall in the last five years.

– 78% manage the risk by procuring costly insurance.

According to Michael R. Kelley, who chairs the Insurance Recovery & Counseling group and practices in the Food Industry and Commercial Litigation groups, “Insurance premiums represent the third or fourth highest business expenses for most food manufacturers and distributors. But, even with all of those premium expenses, many food producers and distributors find that their food recall claims are denied by their insurance company.”

Dennis Calvert, President, Chief Executive Officer, BioLargo Inc.

An example of how catastrophic a recall can be took place in 2011, when Cargill voluntarily recalled 36 million pounds of turkey due to salmonella contamination. Details of how the salmonella contaminated the turkey aren’t entirely known, but new measures by Cargill have been implemented including adding more pathogen reduction steps throughout the production process; enhancing process control monitoring systems to ensure that the company’s food safety program is generating the best results; an increased number and frequency of tests for salmonella; and using high pressure processing to reduce numbers of salmonella.

Reducing pathogens is an essential part of managing a food business. Still, in spite of the Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) management system and other food safety procedures, large volumes of food are still occasionally susceptible to cross-contamination from smaller numbers of contaminated foods when they are processed in or on the same equipment.

The most commonly used FDA-approved method to reduce cross contamination is to add chlorine or other disinfectants to processing water or to equipment surfaces. The principal factors that influence efficacy are concentration, contact time, temperature and pH.  Altering these four elements for maximum efficacy and safety is useful, but is not always an effective solution.

High-pressure processing and UV radiation are both proving to be additional tools for managing pathogens, and these methods have the advantage that they do not add any toxic chemicals to food.  However, UV can cause undesirable discoloration of meats, and the increased costs of both of these systems must be taken into consideration before they are adopted. If these new systems add too much to a company’s prices, and their competition makes no changes and continues to use the old standard disinfection methods , the competitor will likely have a cost advantage.

Researchers at University of Alberta’s Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science validated unprecedented effectiveness of BioLargo’s AOS Filter, an electro-chemical filter reactor, in destroying highly concentrated contaminants in sample water, including listeria and salmonella. Although the testing is applicable in many areas, food safety was a primary concern of this recent work.

Professor Lynn McMullen evaluated the results and commented: “The AOS Filter technology could be highly efficient in solving food safety problems and may be applied to improve food quality with the potential to improve storage life. The potential applications of the BioLargo AOS filter in the food industry could be endless — from primary commodities to finished food products.”

McMullen further explained: “At the foundation of the AOS Filter is its efficiency in generating a highly oxidative state. The data supports its potential to accomplish high-level disinfection that can be useful in multiple markets including food processing and agriculture production. Extremely high levels of performance [disinfection] were achieved during testing, and we are excited to expand the work with BioLargo to other applications targeting food safety concerns.”

The AOS Filter uses molecular iodine and proven carbon filtration in conjunction with low-current electron flow. Depending on the application, the iodine could be added to the water as a nutrient or, if preferred, it can be removed in the treatment process to eliminate the delivery of residual iodine.

In earlier testing to remove toxic contaminants from produced water generated from oil sands recovery, the AOS Filter decontaminated the toxic produced water better and faster than ever seen before —while using only one-twentieth of the energy required by the closest competing technology. While energy studies have not been publicized on the disinfection studies, we believe the costs will continue to remain very low.

Water scarcity is a growing issue that is driving many industries to recycle and reuse water whenever possible. The food industry is no exception. Our science team recognized that our AOS Filter reduces water requirements by recycling and reusing the same water compared to current methods of adding chemicals to a constant flow of freshwater and then releasing the contaminated water back into the sanitation systems. The AOS Filter’s extremely high oxidation potential makes it possible to recycle and reuse water economically.

UV radiation and high pressure processing are additional measures that can effectively reduce pathogens in food, but their costs may be prohibitive. BioLargo’s AOS Filter, on the other hand, appears to not only yield unprecedented disinfection results, but its overall cost might remain low especially if it eliminates the need for costly chlorine-based systems. Manufacturers would likely be happy to be able to eliminate hazardous chemical systems, particularly if the new solution is cost-effective.

BioLargo intends to expand its focus to include commercial opportunities for its AOS Filter within the agriculture and food processing industry. The filter should be a major advance in disinfecting the water used in chill tanks for poultry processing, Clean-In-Process systems for poultry processing, and produce washing systems. We believe it will also be a cost-effective solution for disinfecting potentially contaminated water fed to livestock and a multitude of other applications in food processing.

This article was brought to you by BioLargo. BioLargo, Inc. designs and delivers nature’s disinfectant iodine. Its technologies include AOS Filter, CupriDyne, and Isan system.

Tags: Water

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