Oxford-based Ozo Innovations claims a couple of of the “larger players” in the UK produce industry have adopted its “eloclear” fogging technology to keep packing houses clean, extending shelf life in the process and hopefully helping stem the tide of food waste.
CEO Rowan Gardner tells PBUK the advanced technology uses the antimicrobial chemical hyperchloric acid in very small doses, warding off bacteria, yeast, mould and viruses.
“We’re effectively achieving an airborne disinfection,” she says.
“You’re treating the airflow rather than treating the produce, and that’s how we’re trying to minimise the cross-contamination risk.”
She adds the groups that have adopted eloclear have requested they remain anonymous.
Fresh produce companies are able to manufacture eloclear on site with the easy-to-use, small fridge-sized “elocube”, which transforms food grade salt and cold water into the powerful cleaner and terminal disinfectant.
Fogging can then be applied with the handheld “elofogger”, sufficient for an hour’s application and capable of sanitizing large spaces in a way that is safe for staff to operate in recently cleaned areas.
“Moisture is often associated with mould and spoilage, but if that moisture is mould-killing rather than mould-promoting you actually suppress mold on the product and get really good control,” Gardner says.
“That means that not only are you able to put more consistent product out of the door, but you’re also making sure that any other product that might have come into the pack house from another site – the microflora, the microbiome – on that product isn’t cross-contaminating other produce that you have in your facility,” she said.
She claims Ozo Innovations’ next generation technology has certain “robustness advantages” over competitors in the space who “are still using very well proven but earlier technology that perhaps isn’t quite as robust”.
“But I think there are enough of us to suggest that this route forward has a lot of advantages for the fresh produce companies,” she says.
“Fogging is beginning to be used in the industry, particularly on difficult-to-wash produce, so if you think about some of the soft berries for example.
“It’s difficult to wash produce when you don’t want to bring a lot of moisture to the produce.”
She says other crops that lend themselves to eloclear’s fogging treatment include tomatoes, potatoes and “fragile” herbs.
“We’ve even done it with some of the leaves where we had pack houses coming to us who were suddenly having quality problems; inconsistency between batches and they couldn’t quite put their finger on of where the contamination was coming from.
“We found actually it’s been very effective in decontaminating the pack house environment, particularly the cold stores which aren’t always thought about as a source of contamination.”
She adds the company has also been trialling alternative applications of eloclear with foodservice companies.
“They’ve seen a shelf life extension of one to two days on prepared fresh produce going into ready-to-cook packs, and that’s obviously very exciting when we think of how much produce we lose to wastage every year.
“It’s significant, and we’d all be enjoying slightly better margins if we could use more of the produce that we grow in the food chain.”
Trials in India
Gardner says the group has also started on its “Jadoojal” project through the Newton Fund, working with partners in India in a bid to help them overcome growing climate challenges.
“On that project we’re using the technology but we’re also qualifying the quality and robustness of our kill using next generation genomic technology so we can look at the mixture of microbes that come in on fresh produce from the fields to treat them and to evaluate the sensitivity of these microflora to our treatments,” she says.
She says that will allow for the tuning of such treatments to either address spoilage bacteria for those who want to store crops for a longer period, or pathogen organisms that could potentially make people sick.
“That’s a project we just began just four months ago so the results of that will be coming out in about 12 months or so,” she says.
“They’re important crops locally and ones that they would have ambition to export subject to them meeting the export criteria, so things like mangoes, tomatoes, onions, a lot of the fresh herbs and some of the spices they produce and grow in India.”
She emphasises receivers will need to conduct risk assessments with the supply chain in terms of maximum residue limits (MRLs) as eloclear may have an effect on them, albeit miniscule.
“It does have an effect – it’s very small because we’re using very small amounts in the way that we’re delivering the chemical,” she says.
“It’s a layered process so when we’ve been working with NIAB (National Institute of Agronomy and Botany) in Cambridge in the past with the use of this technology, and the source of the chlorates in the produce can come from multiple stages.
“It can come from the irrigation water, residual plant protection chemicals that are in the soil, and rightly so people should be concerned because it can also come from the washing steps in the pack house.”
She says the challenge for the industry is in monitoring all the different potential sources of such chemicals in the chain.
“I think one of the missteps that sometimes happens is people look at the MRLs in the wash water for example, they get concerned that those levels are quite high, and equate those levels of chemicals in wash water with the chemical residue in the produce that they’re processing.
“Quite often the chemical that remains on the surface of the produce is minimal compared to what gets taken away in the wash water.
“Perchlorate is very soluble; it tends to leave the produce in the water. That doesn’t mean it’s out of mind because then it’s in the effluent, but in terms of MRLs on food it might not be a problem, and similarly chlorate is less soluble and it’s not particularly adherent.”