Special new coatings being investigated by researchers are more resistant to bacteria and other microbes than food-contact surfaces used today, according to a report on a recent symposium hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). “Manufacturers already work diligently to keep their facilities clean, but we are creating materials that are even less likely to harbor bad bugs,” said Julie Goddard, an associate professor in the department of food science at Cornell University. “We have designed new polymer coatings that can be applied to food processing surfaces that resist microbial adhesion and can actually inactivate any microbes that do adhere, preventing them from growing and potentially contaminating our food supply,” Goddard said in a news release. The coatings may be commercially available in the next few years and will need to withstand some pretty tough treatment. “It’s a hard life for the equipment used in food production facilities because the coatings have to hold up to acidic and caustic cleaners, temperature extremes and abrasions from scrubbings. It’s a huge challenge to find coatings that will work under these extreme conditions,” Goddard said in the release. One specific coating works to resist bacteria in different ways, she explained. “It has been shown to inactivate 99.999 percent of Listeria monocytogenes, a microbe that is a significant threat to food safety,” Goddard said. Besides the food safety applications, such coatings can also help reduce the massive amount of food waste that occurs from spoilage. Goddard noted that other areas of food processing plants that might benefit from these coating include door knobs and HVAC vents and drains, which can harbor microorganisms. The coatings might also be used on handling and harvesting equipment for fresh fruits and vegetables.
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