While the term “antimicrobial” is well recognized in the medical and biomedical fields, it is a relatively new term for the food and beverage industry. Bacteria and biofilm buildup has been a continuing concern from manufacturer to consumer. These microbes originating from natural and external sources contaminate foods by contact, which can occur anytime between production and consumption. Microbial contamination of foods can have many undesirable consequences ranging from spoilage to food borne illness.
Two major concerns for the food and beverage industry in relation to bacteria and biofilm buildup revolve around the consistency of quality control as well as the regulatory environment. This continual battle for producers and dispensers of food and beverage products is evident in the passage and enforcement of laws. A prime example is found in the Connecticut Liquor Control Act. This law dictates that lines used in the dispensing of beer or wine are required to be cleaned once a week. (Sec. 30-6-A.23 (b) Sanitation, pg. 84)
Whether it is dictated by regulations or the need for quality control, a significant challenge for the beverage industry has been to assure adherence to the stringent cleaning standards required to eliminate the buildup of bacteria and biofilm in beverage delivery lines. It is recognized that businesses that dispense their product at the consumer level may not always follow these standards. This biofilm can adversely affect taste and the quality of the product at the consumer level. Because of this reality, the beverage industry has long sought after a solution to help increase consistency and quality of their product between cleaning cycles.
Many in this industry are recognizing that the weakest link in quality control has been in the tubing that transfers and dispenses their product. According to Matt Meadows, national director of field quality for a major craft brewing company in the U.S., the weakest link in quality control is the PVC (poly vinyl chloride) tubing that is used throughout the industry. Meadows states, “PVC tubing has been the weakest link in draught beer system design. Because of the challenges of PVC and the constant buildup of biofilm within the tubing, it is difficult to keep consistent quality from manufacturing to consumer.”
Meadows works for one of the largest craft breweries in the U.S. and, like most in the food and beverage industry, it prides itself on quality assurance at every level—down to the final dispensing systems delivering the products. And like most, the company has been hard pressed to find an alternative to the tubing that is currently the industry standard.
After hearing concerns from the food and beverage industry over biofilm buildup, researchers quickly discovered the same innovation that met the high standards for the medical industry could be effective in the delivery and dispensing of food and beverage products as well. The next step was to determine how effective this innovation would be against the bacteria common in these applications.
Initially, innovations in antimicrobial products were driven by the medical and biomedical industries because of the need to eliminate HAI (hospital acquired infections). This same antimicrobial technology is now being applied in everything from consumer products to industrial uses in order to create a cleaner and safer environment.
With the information stream constantly flowing from new media, consumers have never been more ready to embrace antimicrobial products. Antimicrobial solutions now go well beyond the medical and biomedical environment. New products are emerging for applications like electronics, apparel/footwear, personal care products, sports/fitness products, and now food and beverage applications.