The term 'antimicrobial' is one that is well recognised in the field of medicine and biomedicine, but it is a fairly new term for the food and beverage industry. These days there is a lot of concern about hygiene standards in food plants, food service places, restaurant kitchens and other food related places, and so regulatory authorities are beginning to raise the required standards more and more. The concerns relate to the build-up of bacteria and biofilm that have originated from natural and external sources, and these can contaminate food at contact, at any point between manufacture and consumption. This contamination is a serious issue, as it can lead to many unwanted consequences, from spoiling of food to food borne illnesses.
There are obviously many major concerns in relation to bacteria and biofilm build-up within the food and beverage industry, but the two main concerns relate to the regulatory environment and also the consistency of quality control. It is a continuous battle for producers and dispensers of food and beverage products as is evident in the numerous laws which relate to this area. Whether it is dictated by regulations or the need for quality control, a significant challenge to all food-related businesses is the need to adhere to the stringent cleaning standards required to eliminate the build-up of bacteria and biofilm at any stage of food production. Biofilm can affect the taste and quality of the food product for the customer, and so those in the food and beverage industry have been looking for a solution to help increase consistency and quality of the product, as well as the cleanliness of the production areas.
As you can imagine, innovations in the use of antimicrobial products have been driven by medical and biomedical industries due to the need to eliminate such hospital-acquired infections as urinary tract infections, surgical site infections and pneumonia. However, the same antimicrobial products are now being used in all sorts of areas, from consumer products to industrial units as a way of creating a safer and cleaner working environment. Antimicrobial products have been shown to be safe to use, and the can positively impact items used on a day to day basis.
The most common antimicrobial agent used is silver. Silver has a history of antimicrobial properties, and new technology has developed which allows the ions to be slowly and steadily released over a period. This makes it ideal for use in the food and beverage industry, where bacteria can develop over time. The antimicrobial elements in silver target the microbes in the bacteria in three ways: inhibit the transport functions in the cell wall to prevent respirations, inhibit reproduction and disrupt the cells metabolism.
Innovations in manufacturing and developments within the polymers used to accommodate the smart technology for the silver has now made it possible for this technology to be used in the coating of PVC, which can then be used to coat walls and ceilings, used to from HVAC ducting to circulate air, or used in plastic door curtains to minimise the risk of bacteria entering the facility. PVC is the preferred material for antimicrobial coatings as it is highly resistant to strong chemicals and cleaning agents, very fire resistant, and qualifies for installation certification.