Pulsed Light: Making History in Food Safety

by | Feb 3, 2020

When you sit down for dinner at home or in a restaurant, do you worry if your food is safe? Neither do I. In modern societies, it’s easy to take food safety for granted. But a look back in history reminds us that it wasn’t always that way. Just a few hundred years ago, food safety was basically non-existent. Even a queen’s table was known to serve rancid meat. Take a look at what the Englishman Samuel Pepys wrote in his famous diary in the 1600s:

  • “…my stomach was turned when my sturgeon came to table, upon which I saw very many little worms creeping”
  • “At noon my wife and I dined at Sir W. Pen’s…on a damned venison pasty, that stunk like a devil.”
  • “…home to dinner, where a stinking leg of mutton, the weather being very wet and hot to keep meat in”

And this was a wealthy man dining in respectable and even royal homes! Interestingly, Pepys himself became a pioneer in food safety, creating the first food standards for the British Royal Navy in 1675.

We’ve come a long way since then. In developed nations we have regulatory agencies, like the FDA in the U.S., protecting our food supply. And, unlike in Pepys’s time, we have refrigeration to keep food fresh all the way to our tables.

There’s been another important advancement, too. These days, companies that process foods are committed to safety like never before, often going beyond government requirements. Whether that’s because of a growing sense of civic responsibility, or a desire to avoid bad publicity in this age of social media, the result is the same: our food supply today is safer than it’s ever been in human history.

XENON Pulsed Light helps this effort by providing an FDA-approved way to sterilize food conveyor belts and food packaging in-line, on a continuous basis. The technology is also approved for decontaminating foods, improving safety yet further, and even extending food shelf-life.

Pulsed Light works by producing high-energy light bursts that kill or deactivate a wide range of pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms, including fungal yeasts and molds, bacteria, and even viruses. There are no chemicals involved and it works at production speeds.

The FDA doesn’t require the use of Pulsed Light technology, but hundreds of companies in the U.S. and around the world are deploying it anyway. It’s often used as part of an approach called “Hurdle Technology” which the food industry is adopting to ensure greater safety. The idea is to use multiple safety processes and technologies to create more “hurdles” for dangerous pathogens to overcome. These voluntary efforts by the food industry are a good sign for us all. It means food safety is now “baked” into our societies. We don’t just want it; we expect and demand it, and companies are responding.

Of course, food safety is a never-ending quest for perfection. There are still many places in the world where things are just as bad as in Samuel Pepys’s time. Even in developed nations, despite everyone’s best efforts, there are all-too-frequent outbreaks of food borne illnesses. But we’re making progress. And, while Pepys probably wouldn’t understand the technology behind Pulsed Light, or even refrigerators for that matter, I’m pretty sure he’d appreciate the results.

So happy dining, and please pass the mutton. It smells delicious!