Keeping Food and Food Workers Safe

by | Sep 1, 2020

It seems like every week, there’s another story about food processing plants shutting down for health issues—either from a food-borne illness or, these days, from a coronavirus outbreak among workers. Some plants have become COVID-19 hot spots, while also facing spikes in demand as consumers stock up their pantries.

All of this makes our food supply more vulnerable than we might think. Recently, when three major food production companies had to temporarily shut down factories because of COVID-19, 15% of U.S. pork production vanished overnight. The problem is so serious that John Tyson, Chairman of Tyson Inc., took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to address it, declaring: “The food supply chain is breaking.”

Food processing companies will need more than facemasks and social distancing to fight the problem. This is where Pulsed Light comes in. Germs and viruses are highly vulnerable to the power of Pulsed Light. Just a moment of exposure kills most known pathogens including E. coli and salmonella bacteria, and, of course, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Pulsed Light is already widely used by food processors for food safety. It’s commonly used to sterilize conveyor belts in-line, continuously and automatically, preventing cross-contamination without the need for chemical cleaning. It’s also used to sterilize food packaging, and it’s FDA-approved for use on certain foods to decontaminate and increase shelf-life.

Now, with the added threat of COVID-19 outbreaks, factories need other ways to keep their workers—not just the food—safe. Fortunately, there are many worker-safety applications of Pulsed Light that have already been proven in hospitals and other high-risk areas, and they can be readily adapted to food processing operations. Here are some examples:

  • Sterilizing PPE. Personal protective equipment is important, but it has to be either cleaned or thrown away after use. Factories can easily install a Pulsed Light unit to sterilize and safely recycle PPE, just as many hospitals do. A Pulsed Light unit can be set up in a changing area, for example, where workers drop off their gear at the end of the shift. A brief exposure to high-energy Pulsed Light, and the equipment is completely safe for re-use.
  • Floor cleaning systems. One company has developed small disinfecting robots that constantly roam throughout a building, even taking elevators. The robots emit Pulsed Light as they explore, killing or deactivating the pathogens that linger on ground-level, or those we track in on our shoes. Once again, this is an application already widely used in hospitals. Why not in food processing plants?
  • Room disinfection. When harsh chemicals aren’t an option, Pulsed Light can disinfect the surfaces and air of an entire room. A factory, especially one where an outbreak has occurred, might consider this option if it has some rooms or areas where many people tend to congregate. In this scenario, the Pulsed Light would be used between shifts or overnight, when no one is present.
  • Disinfection chamber. General-purpose disinfecting pass-throughs are available that use Pulsed Light to sterilize the surface of whatever can fit inside it. A food processing factory could use such a system to sterilize items that enter or leave the plant, such as packages or supplies. XENON systems can be stand-alone and as small as a portable refrigerator, so they are easy to install in most facilities.

Any individual measure of protection is good, but it’s even better when it’s just one layer in a larger defense network. By setting up as many defenses as possible, food processing companies can make it much harder for pathogens to infiltrate factories, infect workers, and disrupt the food supply chain.

I’ve discussed just a few ways that Pulsed Light can be used to keep our food processing plants safe and clean for workers. XENON fashions a unique approach for every client who wishes to take advantage of this technology. If you have an idea for how Pulsed Light could be implemented in your company, XENON can make it a reality.