A University of Massachusetts research group has teamed up with the USDA to look at whether combining physical changes to food contact surfaces with Food and Drug Administration-registered coatings may reduce Listeria biofilm formation and potential cross-contamination.
"Our primary goal is to find the right (food contact substance or FCS) coatings and also develop ways to modify the substrates," said Boce Zhang, Ph.D., who is leading the research at the university's Lowell campus for the project titled "Non-fouling food contact surfaces - prevention of biofilm and surface-mediated cross-contamination."
Despite produce industry interest in fouling of FCS, Zhang said the non-fouling properties have not been extensively evaluated. He said he hopes this research will fill in data gaps and provide the produce industry with applicable post-harvest preventive control measures to enhance the non-fouling properties of FCS against Listeria monocytogenes biofilm formation.
Resistance to sanitizer treatments
Biofilms have become the focus of more research recently because of their resistance to sanitizer treatments. Communities of microorganisms secrete glue-like substances, allowing them to adhere to surfaces. Not only does this film reduce the organisms' chances of being displaced but it also offers protection from some antimicrobials.
Nearly one year into the two-year project, Zhang said they have screened about 20 FCS coatings for efficacy against Listeria monocytogenes biofilm formation. To be candidates, the materials had to already be vetted and registered by the FDA for use in the food supply chain.
Fortunately, he said, many already are used by other parts of the food industry, such as meat and poultry processors. But they hadn't been screened for performance in a produce facility.