Researchers are investigating coatings that are more resistant to bacteria and other microbes than the food contact surfaces currently used.
The coatings are being researched but may be available commercially within a few years.
New polymer coatings
Julie Goddard, an associate professor in the department of food science at Cornell University, said manufacturers work diligently to keep facilities clean but they are creating materials less likely to harbor bad bugs.
“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.”
One new coating works on resisting bacteria in several different ways and has been shown to inactivate 99.999% of Listeria monocytogenes, she said.
“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.”
Other areas of the processing plant including door knobs, HVAC vents and drains, which can harbor microorganisms, or handling and harvest equipment for fruits and vegetables might benefit from the coatings, said Goddard.
Intelligent packaging growth
Meanwhile, Claire Sand, an adjunct professor of packaging at Michigan State University and owner of Packaging Technology & Research, said it was ‘just a matter of time’ before many different foods have intelligent packaging, in her presentation at the event.
This type of packaging has features that communicate information such as shelf life, freshness and quality.
Sand said intelligent packaging is already used on some medicines and food products, but will become more widespread in the next few years due to the interest in reducing food waste.
Dr Claire Koelsch Sand’s experience ranges from work with companies including Gerber, Pillsbury, Kraft Foods and Dominick’s and research institutes in Germany, Colombia and Thailand.
Time-temperature indicators have been around for a while and take into account time and temperature which are tied to deterioration.
Degradation sensors work better because they measure products’ decay, said Sand.
They can be integrated into the packaging to detect spoilage and help reduce food waste, so a package film may change color when certain chemical reactions, such as food decay occur, she added.
Degradation sensors or time temperature indicators may also be small tags that change color when the product is no longer edible, according to her presentation.