Putting Food Safety Under the Spotlight

by | May 1, 2021

The next decade will be full of advancements in food safety, with technology innovation driving new procedures to prevent contamination outbreaks. At least, that’s the goal of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, as these key government agencies are calling for more research into food safety.

Recently, The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) developed a listing of the top food safety areas of interest. Specifically, the USDA is calling to “Modernize Inspection Systems, Policies, and the Use of Scientific Approaches,” and to improve in the areas of “Pathogen characteristics and intervention strategies.”

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration is also focusing on the need for research into food safety. One of the department’s main priorities calls for research and modernization of antimicrobial technology used in food processing environments.

“Areas of investigation include, but are not limited to, microbiological, genomic, toxicological, and chemical research designed to evaluate the safety of products and to improve food safety practices in agricultural operations and food processing facilities.”

— FDA Strategic Plan

According to its web page on food research, the FDA is specifically interested in testing “for the presence of foodborne pathogens or unintended allergens in a food or food processing environment” and evaluating “the effectiveness of preventive controls designed to ensure food safety.”

Pulsed Light can play an important role in these efforts, thanks to its unique ability to destroy or deactivate a wide range of pathogens in food products and packaging—and researchers around the world are taking note. For example, at Penn State University, a new study led by Joshua Casser, animal science PhD candidate, has found that in chicken egg processing environments, Pulsed Light is an effective alternative to current antimicrobial technology.

“In the absence of water or other chemical sanitizers, [Pulsed Light] technology has the potential to achieve significant—equal or greater—microbial reductions than some currently available technologies.”

— Paul Patterson, professor of poultry science at Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences

This is important because chicken eggs are a notorious carrier of E. coli and salmonella. In fact, 9% of foodborne illness in the U.S. is associated with eggs. Currently, chicken egg processors use antimicrobial procedures that involve spraying eggs with sanitizer and detergents. Or, they might employ low-power ultraviolet light, which is far less effective. Pulsed Light is more effective that any of these methods. It’s faster, too: in the Penn State study, eggs were decontaminated within 27 seconds of treatment from a XENON flashlamp, resulting in a dramatic microbial reduction in a short period of time.

This scenario is commonplace in food processing, and illustrates why the USDA and FDA are focusing on the need for more research. Simply put, the old-fashioned methods are often far less effective and time-consuming than more modern approaches and technologies such as Pulsed Light.

What other opportunities are out there? XENON is ready to work with researchers to find out. We already know that Pulsed Light can clean food packaging and sterilize food handling surfaces and conveyors without the need for chemicals. Research is showing it can safely increase the shelf life of many foods, and even enhance the quality of fruits and vegetables. As more research is performed on Pulsed Light, it will uncover new and unknown benefits.

The USDA and FDA are calling for improved food safety, and XENON is ready to partner with universities and companies to find solutions. We offer a state-of-the-art bio lab, Pulsed Light products specifically designed for research, and a team of specialists to work with OEMs who want to develop new products. As food processing companies work to modernize their operations, OEM research will be a key part of creating the future of food safety.

The XENON team of Pulsed Light experts would like to help with your next research venture or product idea. Contact XENON to learn more about XENON products and resources.