Reducing bacterial loads in production environments and on food products minimizes foodborne illness risks and improves shelf life. GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices), HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points), employee training and plant sanitation practices have been the most effective ways to minimize bacterial risk...until now.

Last December, RGF Environmental received USDA approval for two of its three-part food sanitation processes based on Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOP). AOP increases the reactivity of ozone in water or air for sanitizing purposes. Forcing ozone to react with UV light in a water or air environment, or with a hydrogen peroxide/water environment, creates Hydroxyl Radicals, which in turn react with bacteria, oxidizing them into harmless molecules.

The FDA and USDA granted a testing protocol to RGF in June 1998 to test its processes at Sunshine Farms (West Palm Beach, FL), a poultry further processor and co-packer of tray-packed boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

The first process is a general air sanitation system using low level ozonation -- 0.02 ppm (half of OSHA standards) -- in food process work areas. Sunshine Farms uses these units adjacent to processing and packaging lines for maximum benefit. "We have seen an average 94 percent reduction of airborne bacteria, mold and fungus as a result," says Steve Braman, chairman/treasurer of Sunshine Farms.

Sunshine Farms' 11,000 sq.-ft. facility, manually de-skins and de-bones about 15 million lb. of chicken breasts per year. Co-packed products include both fresh and marinated pieces. This September it will relocate to a 35,000 sq.-ft. facility with anticipated production increases to more than 20 million lb.

The plant also installed RGF's Photocatalytic Oxidation Process (POP). Trayed products pass under this hooded system where ultraviolet light rays activate ozone gas forming a hydroxyl radical environment. This atmosphere "washes" over the product sanitizing the surfaces. "Here, product testing shows a 90 percent reduction of surface bacteria," notes Braman.

The third process, whose USDA approval is imminent according to RGF, involves washing chicken pieces in UV-activated ozonated water. (This would be the first time a protocol involving ozone in direct contact with food would be granted.) Tests submitted to USDA have shown an average bacterium reduction of 94 percent. Sunshine Farms plans to use Advanced Oxidation water as a component in its marinades.

In conjunction with standard USDA sanitation procedures, the combination of these three processes has the ability to reduce food bacteria by almost three-fold and considerably increase shelf life for Sunshine Farms' poultry.

RGF Environmental Group, 3875 Fiscal Court, West Palm Beach, FL 33404 Tel.: (800) 842-7771; Fax: (561) 848-9454.