Shifting the Approach to Sanitation Treatments in the Food & Beverage Industry: Microbial Biofilm Monitoring
The safety of consumers of Food & Beverage products is constantly threatened by microorganisms lurking within the pipelines of industrial production processes. For this reason, considerable efforts are spent everyday, in any industry, to achieve microbial control, by routinely application of CIP sanitation treatments. With this respect, bacterial growth on surfaces in contact with liquids (usually known as “biofilm”) is often overlooked. Within biofilm, bacteria and other pathogens, such as Pseudomonas, Lysteria, Staphilococcus and Salmonella, find their ideal home. Moreover, in this sticky layer, microbes are embedded in self-produced EPS, which shelter them from the action of biocides. For this reason, eradicating biofilm can be up to 1000x harder than eliminating free-floating bacteria. Sampling and analyzing the liquid from production lines provides a limited view of the total problem. Indeed, 90% of bacteria live in this microbial slime, and not free in the liquid. No production line can be considered safe, as long as there is biofilm. Therefore, a shift of approach toward sanitation should take place, focusing on the removal of bacterial slime. Despite many chemical biocides and physical treatments are effective in removing this microbial contamination, they are often applied on the sole basis of experience. The use of innovative biofilm monitoring technologies, to assess the efficacy of sanitation protocols, , has been proven to be highly beneficial. A variety of techniques able to detect bacterial growth on surfaces have been studied, in the last decade. Unfortunately, most of them have huge limitations, which make them difficult to use in the industry. In order to be broadly applicable, biofilm monitoring should be conducted online, in real-time, and it should clearly indicate when it is necessary to apply sanitation treatments. Currently, the most promising technologies are based on electrochemical sensors, which are finding increasing application worldwide.