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11th March 2011, 2:04pm  (updated 11th March 2011, 2:07pm)
Nanotechnology research has big effect on food nasties
Nanotechnology research has big effect on food nasties An expert in food safety from the University of Lincoln is researching the development of a bacteria-busting coating for kitchen surfaces and food preparation areas which could have major implications for food hygiene and safety in both domestic kitchens and commercial food processing environments.

The initiative has been sparked by calls from the UK Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and food and drink research group CCFRA for research to develop better hygiene technology for detachment of micro-organisms on the surface of food processing facilities and preventing attachment of food on the surface of equipment.

Mark Swainson, Senior Lecturer in Food Manufacturing at the University's Holbeach Campus-based National Centre for Food Manufacturing, is working with nanotechnology experts at Nottingham Trent University's (NTU) School of Science and Technology to develop a permanent spray-on coating technology that will exhibit antimicrobial behaviour, meaning that it can kill or inhibit the growth of micro-organisms such as bacteria or fungi. The superhydrophobic surface created will also expel water, further enhancing the antimicrobial effect by reducing the potential for bacteria to attach to the surface.

Mr Swainson said: "This particular application of nanotechnology may well prove invaluable to the food industry, serving to further support the quality and safety of products in food service outlets and supermarkets. Food manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to reduce product microbiological risks, and whilst this technology cannot address every problem associated with food production, it could certainly provide a significant safety aspect to help address such issues."

"What's very exciting is that this antimicrobial technology can be incorporated into factory materials that don't come into direct contact with the food product, but which are likely to be harbouring many of the microorganisms of concern, for example process area floors and refrigeration units.  There is massive scope for this technology to be developed further and used across a wide range of food sector applications."

Mr Swainson is working closely with Dr Fengge Gao, reader in nanotechnology at NTU, in a partnership that first formed whilst working upon the development of antimicrobial food and drink packaging materials. Now this research is being widened to look at how the related technology could be applied to process area surfaces.

The team will first target domestic application in the home kitchen, as well as in restaurant kitchens.

"The success of the development of this easy spray nano coating technology could lead to immediate commercial application," said Dr Gao. "The technology does not require sophisticated manufacturing equipment and hence is suitable for both small and medium-sized enterprises and large manufacturers.

"The application of this technology to food processing equipment may take a little longer since this may cause the interruption of manufacturing process," added Dr Gao. "The coating materials for equipment coating application also need more tolerance to stress, friction and other health and safety requirements."

The project is one of five Collaborative Research and Development grants worth a total of more than 235,000 announced by the Food and Drink iNet, which co-ordinates innovation support for businesses, universities and individuals working in the food and drink sector in the East Midlands.

Funded by East Midlands Development Agency (emda) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Food and Drink iNet is one of four regional iNets that has developed an effective network to link academic and private sector expertise and knowledge with local food and drink business innovation needs.

The Food and Drink iNet aims to build on the tradition of innovation in the food and drink industry in the region by helping to create opportunities to develop knowledge and skills, and to help research, develop and implement new products, markets, services and processes.

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