U.S – Researchers at Cornell University are looking into the use of superheated, dry steam to clean food manufacturing facilities in places where the use of conventional wet sanitation is constrained.

Abigail Snyder, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Food Science at Cornell University, is the study’s principal investigator. V.M. Balasubramaniam, Ph.D., an Ohio State University Professor of Food Science and Technology, is the study’s second co-investigator.

To determine the optimum way to employ the superheated steam (SHS) technology, the researchers will look at pack houses that process produce.

According to the researchers, there is limited data to support the efficacy of these conventional dry sanitation strategies in providing equivalent control over microbial hazard removal or inactivation when compared to wet sanitation. 

Additionally, organic operations frequently rely on a water rinse step following sanitizer application to remove residues, which is not feasible using exclusively dry sanitation methods. 

SHS represents an energy and water-efficient alternative to sanitation across food operations, but because it does not introduce moisture or condensation on equipment surfaces, its application to the treatment of dry produce handling surfaces is of growing interest.

Since neither soap nor water may be used, maintaining cleanliness and sanitation in produce packing is difficult.

Facilities that manufacture bread and snack items, spices, nuts and nut butters, chocolates, and confections, as well as milk powder and powdered newborn formula, are also affected.

When steam vapor is heated to a temperature of more than 250 °F(1210C), superheated, dry steam is created.

Since it is invisible and behaves like a hot gas, superheated steam is different from steam produced at lower temperatures.

On industrial surfaces, superheated steam is used to destroy bacteria without leaving behind moisture or condensation that could host diseases.

The current project includes an evaluation of efficacy against vegetative bacterial pathogens, sporeformers, and patulin-producing molds, as well as efficacy trials of this technology on a commercial scale.

“Moreover, we will expand this work to consider the practical application in production environments, including other key performance indicators beyond bench-scale microbial testing. 

“This includes the change to ambient relative humidity (RH) in enclosed spaces based on size, ventilation, and air handling; assessment of equipment damage under extended use of SHS; operator safety parameters and OSHA compliance; and evaluation of the industry’s willingness to pay for enhanced sanitation control,” say the researchers.

The effectiveness of superheated steam will be compared to that of often employed techniques including scraping, vacuuming, and brushing.

The research project will be finished at the end of 2023, having started in January 2022.

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