In Search of the most efficient, efficacious, and cost-effective food grade sanitizer: What researchers found

As a business operator in the food industry, have you ever wondered why, not all products used to sanitize, and disinfect food contact surfaces, are classified as a food grade sanitizer? And do you question whether routine wipe-downs, using commercial wet wipes, is a sufficient disinfection protocol at your establishment? After reading this post, however, you’ll wonder no more. Because we have those answers for you…and many others!

So Many Questions…and All the Answers!

We’ve reviewed a vast ocean of research from top scientific sources…just so you won’t have to! Our objective was to ascertain if the use of a food safe sanitizer has any impact on the safety, quality, and shelf life of various food products. These include fresh produce, poultry, and pork. However, the research results, and the conclusions derived from them, are equally applicable across the food industry – whether its producing concentrates, processed foods, food packaging, mixing or food preparation and serving.

Whether you operate a food processing plant, a poultry farm, pork, or beef producing facilities, a fresh produce packaging factory, a restaurant, diner or processed meat or poultry operation; chances are you’re always concerned about contaminants – and rightly so. Contamination in the food industry can not only damage your reputation and livelihood, but it can make customers, consumers, employees, and patrons sick – or worse! The use of an appropriate sanitizer solution, however, can allay many of those concerns.

The first challenge, for food industry businesses, however is: What’s an “appropriate” sanitizer to use in businesses in the industry? And, given the heightened need for disinfection and sanitization in today’s environment, another challenge is the cost-effectiveness of a food surface sanitizer. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We’ve addressed some of the most common questions that business owners from the food industry have. We’ll even tell you how to acquire an in-house capability to produce your own sanitizing solution, so you can conveniently, and cost-effectively, implement enhanced cleansing protocols.

What are the ideal qualities of a food safe sanitizer?

The most obvious answer to that question, is that any food grade sanitizer must not contain harmful chemicals. So, how does one define “harmful”? Well, here are some guidelines that the food industry should consider when determining if their sanitizers and disinfectants are appropriate for use in their environment. Is the product:

  • Food safe – does it transfer toxic elements onto the food
  • Human safe – is there a risk to humans who handle or consume the food products, once they are treated with the sanitizers and disinfectants
  • Pet safe – are pets susceptible to the products
  • Plant safe – does the product pose a threat to fauna and foliage

Researchers have also concluded that, when it comes to choosing a food surface sanitizer:

“Slightly acidic electrolyzed water (SAEW) is an attractive option for its disinfection capabilities and because it is environmentally friendly and inexpensive.[i]

This research also validates other similar findings, about the use of SAEW, in non-food-based environments. One set of research, in the use of SAEW in wound treatments, concluded:

“Peritoneal lavage and wound washing with SAEW have no adverse effects and are effective for preventing surgical site infection (SSI)[ii]

It is also quite easy, and convenient, to produce electrolyzed water, also known as hypochlorous acid (HOCL). And, because of its efficacy, it can be used to wipe down surfaces, sanitize produce and meats, and clean and disinfect equipment and utensils. Today, there are HOCL making machines that many sectors of the food industry use to produce electrolyzed water inhouse.

There is an endless range of EcoloxTech HOCL producing machines available for use as an optimal sanitizing solution for every sector of the food industry. Ranging in weight and size, these devices may have a footprint as compact as a kettle or coffee-maker, to larger units with dimensions of 12.5 x 6.5 x 16.5 inches. The devices require no special electrical requirements, and may be plugged into any residential or commercial power outlet.

How easy is it to produce your own food safe sanitizer?

Using a high-quality electrolyzed water making machine, food industry businesses, looking to make their own food grade sanitizer, can produce one liter of HOCL (@ 200 ppm) in sixteen minutes, or as much as six liters (at 40 ppm) per minute. There are also larger machines that generate 24 liters a minute (@50 ppm).  It all depends on what your needs are. And all it takes to obtain in-house capability to produce your own disinfectant and food surface sanitizer, is common salt, regular tap water…and electricity.

What about fresh vegetables, such as carrots?

One study[iii], that involved carrots, focused on the efficacy of electrolyzed water (AcEW) as a food grade sanitizer, and the role it played on dealing with pathogenic microorganisms on carrots.  The approach of the study was to first expose (inoculate) shredded carrots with:

  • Escherichia coli
  • Listeria monocytogenes

Typically, these bacteria would contribute to degrading the quality of fresh food produce, and hasten food spoilage and decay. However, the challenge was to see if a sanitizing solution could either prevent spoilage, or meaningfully slow-down the decaying process.

APPROACH

In order to verify the effectiveness of a food safe sanitizer, on the contaminated carrots, researchers then dip treated various samples of the carrots, at varying temperatures and different time exposures, in different solutions, including:

  • 1% citric acid (CA) alone or combined with of alkaline electrolyzed water (AlEW) and 1% CA (AlEW + CA)
  • 100 ppm sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl)
  • deionized water (DaIW)
  • alkaline electrolyzed water (AlEW); and
  • acidic electrolyzed water (AcEW)

In order to mimic real-world risks to food produce, from various contaminants, researchers exposed the carrots to the spoilage bacteria for various time – ranging from one, three, and five-minutes. They also tested an array of dipping temperatures, ranging from one, twenty, forty and fifty-degrees centigrade.  In parallel, they also maintained an untreated control group; and a group with an optimal exposure, of three minutes, at fifty-degrees centigrade was also tested.

The test was to see if one, all, or several of these solutions could meaningfully alter the decay trajectory, or even halt it completely. That would conclusively prove that, if the food processing industry is looking to minimize food spoilage, then the use of an appropriate sanitizer solution was the way to go.

EVALUATING THE RESULTS

When the scientists evaluated the results, after comparing each sample against the control group, they found that the sample treated with AcEW food grade sanitizer performed the best. It resulted in the most effective reduction in the numbers of total fungi, bacteria, and yeast on the carrots. A 3-minute exposure caused significant decline in the population of contaminants.

Another observation was, that increasing the temperature – from one-degrees centigrade to fifty-degrees centigrade, resulted in better spoilage protection. However, when these carrots were exposed to the dip wash for 5 minutes, it resulted in color changes, signaling that five-minutes was an excessive wash time for use of a food surface sanitizer.

The key takeaway, for the food industry: The ideal time to expose fresh food produce to HOCL/electrolyzed water disinfectants, therefore, would be 3-minutes.

Does HOCL do anything to increase fresh produce shelf life?

Back in 1999, researchers had confirmed the efficacy of using an HOCL/electrolyzed water-based food-grade sanitizing solution on fresh vegetable, to preserve their shelf life. They found (and reported) that dipping fresh produce, such as potatoes, bell peppers, fresh-cut carrots, Japanese radish, and spinach, in electrolyzed water, dramatically reduced total microbial count in those samples.

Most importantly, the research concluded that, treating these fresh vegetables with a food safe sanitizer solution, for approximately 3 minutes, did not have any material influence on surface color, didn’t impact the pH levels of the tissue, nor did it have any adverse impact on the state, quality, or appearance of those fresh produce.

Is a food surface sanitizer effective in the poultry industry?

The short answer – yes! Statistics indicate that approximately 30% of all meat consumed globally is poultry[iv]. Given that fact, ensuring the safety and quality of the poultry industry is a high priority. And a high-quality food grade sanitizer can help deliver that safety – from embryo to eggs, and from hatchlings and adult birds, to consumable poultry meat.

Through research[v], scientists know that, when used for disinfecting eggs, traditional chemical-based disinfectants do result in leaving behind toxic residue on the surface of the eggs. Unlike a safer alternative food surface sanitizer, these chemical-heavy products also adversely impact the quality of hatchlings, endanger the hatchability of the eggs, and pose grave risk for performance and growth of the chicks.

APPROACH

Modern research concluded that the use of Slightly acidic electrolyzed water (SAEW), as an alternative sanitizer solution, addresses all these risks and concerns. It has proved to be a highly effective egg sterilization disinfectant, and leaves no residue behind after its use.  Specifically, researchers noted exceptional results with regards to:

  • Hatchability
  • Quality of eggshells, and
  • Microbial counts

All three elements are of great concern for modern poultry operators, who constantly look for ways to enhance the quality of these variables on the poultry farms/hatcheries. Now, those concerns have been addressed – thanks to the use of an HOCL/ electrolyzed water-based food surface sanitizer.

EVALUATING THE RESULTS

The study conclusively confirmed that the use of SAEW, as the poultry food grade sanitizer of choice, consistently delivered favorable results on all three study variables. Researchers concluded that the sterilization efficiency of the solution improved, with a corresponding increase in the duration of sterilization, the volume of solution sprayed on the eggs, and the increase of available chlorine concentration (ACC) in the SAEW solution used.

Researchers also found that using electrolyzed water as the sanitizer solution on eggs, had no adverse impact on embryonic mortality, hatchability, as well as embryonic weight. The results of this research prove that, apart from being a low-cost disinfectant, electrolyzed water is simple to produce, highly effective, and a non-residue-leaving food surface sanitizer available for the poultry industry.

Does the research hold true for the animal-based food sector?

Once again, based on the research[vi] we’ve reviewed, there’s conclusive evidence that low concentration electrolyzed water (LcEW) acts as a powerful sanitizer solution, appropriate for use in meat production (animal farms) and processing facilities.

APPROACH

Researches performed controlled experiments to determine whether low concentration electrolyzed water (LcEW), and other fresh pork decontaminants, were effective against contaminants and pathogens such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes. As with the experiments involving fresh produce, scientists needed to ascertain which sanitizing solution was more effective as a decontaminant in fresh pork, including:

  • distilled water (DW)
  • aqueous ozone (AO)
  • 3% lactic acid (LA)
  • 3% calcium lactate (CaL)
  • Sodium hypochlorite solution (NaOCl), low concentration electrolyzed water (LcEW)
  • strong acidic electrolyzed water (SAEW); and
  • LcEW + CaL

Samples of fresh pork were then dip treated with each of these solutions, for five minutes, at room temperature, and observations recorded.

EVALUATING THE RESULTS

The clear front-runner, as a highly potent food safe sanitizer, was low concentration electrolyzed water (LcEW) + 3% calcium lactate (CaL). Additionally, this combination of treatments also resulted in dramatic increase in the pork’s shelf life – up by 6-days when stored at temperatures of 40C.

Because meat products are extremely susceptible to microbial contaminants, they are also highly perishable. In extreme cases, improper preparation, transportation, and storage protocols may lead to meat consumption-related food poisoning.

This research showed conclusively that electrolyzed water, when used as a food grade sanitizer – either alone or in combination with other solutions – can make meat products safer, and increases the quality and shelf life of fresh meat. It is also highly effective at controlling the growth of yeast, aerobic bacteria, and fungi on meat products during storage.

Is Chlorine bleach better or is electrolyzed water – also called hypochlorous acid (HOCl) – more effective as a food safe sanitizer to sanitize food surfaces and equipment?

In addition to sanitizing food contact surfaces, the food industry also uses chlorine bleach solutions in the sanitization of raw vegetables and fruits, produce, sea food, poultry, and meat products – though the popularity of this use continues to decline.  Sanitizers must be of sufficient purity to be classified as “food grade”, which is not the case for many chlorine bleach solutions. Some contain thickeners, others include fragrances, and many come with additives that aren’t suitable for the food industry.

Higher concentration of chlorine bleach, in some commercially-available sanitizing solutions, also results in solutions with higher ppm values, but that also increases the risk of corrosion in equipment and utensils, as well as eye, hand and skin burn and irritation.

To avoid the risk of over/under whelming the preparation of food grade sanitizer, many food producers and processors use EcoloxTech electrolyzed water – also called hypochlorous acid (HOCl) – machines to produce non-chlorine sanitizers in-house. A typical model E-240 System, for instance, can produce unlimited amounts of food safe sanitizer at concentrations between 10 to 200 ppm. With dimensions of 32 x 17 x 42 cm (12.5 x 6.5 x 16.5 inches), these machines run off 110V/220V, 50/60Hz power supply, and produce non-toxic sanitizing solutions through electrolysis, using regular municipal water, salt, and electricity.