RGF upgrades surface sanitation tunnel and targets wider market reach

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: RGF's 360 degree treatment tunnel
Picture: RGF's 360 degree treatment tunnel

Related tags Ultraviolet

RGF Environmental Group has upgraded its patented PHI Food Surface Sanitation Tunnel treatment system and said it is looking to branch out into other markets.

It provides 360-degree surface application on exposed surfaces, which the firm claims, results in a 99.9% surface microbial reduction without without leaving chemical residues.

RGF has installed surface sanitation tunnels for meat, dairy and fruit and vegetable processors and said it has been strong in the beef and chicken industry but was looking to branch out into other markets. 

The technology has been validated by universities and during in-plant validations with USDA/FDA inspectors involved, for Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7 and Staphylococcus aureus, as well as mold, yeast and viruses.

System improvements and technology

Bill Svec, RGF’s VP for water and food products, said the changes are more about maintenance and making the system more user friendly than efficacy and efficiency.

“We have improved the vent to allow excess heat to escape the tunnel and changed the configuration of the UV lamps and connectors that seal against moisture intrusion,” ​he told FoodQualityNews.

“We also have NEMA enclosures [for electrical ballasts] and that is to do with water-proofing so when you do the washdown the electronics are not affected.”

Photohydroionization (PHI) is a chemical-free, oxidation technology using ultraviolet light rays targeted on a hydrated quad-metallic target in a low-level, humid ozone atmosphere. Characteristics and wavelength of PHI place it between UV radiation and X-ray radiation, said RGF.

The firm said its effectiveness as an anti-microbial on food surfaces is basically the same as penetrating radiation, so surface microbial reduction up to 6 log, but without penetrating packaging or the food.

Svec said PHI can be used as an air treatment in a factory and direct surfaces of product.

“Typically with the 360 degree tunnel, product is loaded on a stainless steel mesh belt and a combination of the tunnel UV lamps and PHI gas blown in maximises the effectiveness of both technologies to treat products in an effective antimicrobial process,” ​he said.

“We can make a tunnel more or less customized to the operation, we have made one to four foot wide ones to five foot long and 60 foot long.

“We look at the customers processing speed and make sure not to hinder that. So we can make the tunnel longer to get the exposure time we need for an effective kill. It depends on the product size and weight but it can be 30 seconds to two minutes of exposure.

“It is not penetrative radiation, it is not gamma or x-ray radiation, so you do not have to label the product and there are no warnings associated.”

Dr Marsden, a professor of food safety and security at Kansas State University and an adviser for the North American Meat Processors Association, said PHI is an oxidation technology that acts as an additional strategic intervention for trimmings and sub-primals.

“The PHI process does not affect the taste or appearance of the product, and the tunnel is unique in its ability to totally treat the product surface without the use of chemicals.”

Plant upgrade and future plans

RGF upgraded its manufacturing plant last year, removing the need for outside or overseas vendors.

“We purchased equipment for the plant to do the work in-house, we had previously had things contracted out but now we have in-house lasers cutting equipment, rollers for rolling stainless steel and forming equipment. So components we had to purchase we can do in-house which helps improve the control quality,”​ said Svec.

“One tunnel usually takes, from start to finish, about 12 weeks. We have a sales office in Beijing but products are made at the Florida facility in the US.”

Svec said convincing food processors had been a process of education, one of the reasons it does tradeshows, as they are not always aware this kind of technology is available.

“Once we explain how it would work in their facility we get their interest. The reception from industry is to do with the desire these days to eliminate the use of chemicals due to corrosive problems or comments from customers on the taste or colour of the product.”

When asked about impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act, Svec said it had started to see sales increase in Mexico as the region supplies a lot of product to the US.

“They are looking for technology and equipment to meet the new standards that they can use straight away and the same will happen in other countries,” ​he said. 

“It will open up markets – look at cold storage facilities and transportation - for our technology as there is more focus on the role of the whole supply chain.

“We have been strong in mostly beef but also the chicken industry and we are looking to branch out into other markets and make them aware this exists.”

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