Surface sanitation in most retail food establishments is still done the old-fashioned way: with harsh, messy chemicals that need cleanup after they are used.
Do we really need to say it? Ozone does the job better, faster, cleaner, and with no obnoxious byproducts. This is not really news. You can find a brief argument in favor of ozone in the 2010 article in Food Safety Magazine by Angela Fraser and Melvin Pascall. This article includes a reference to the 2001 FDA approval of ozone as an additive to food to kill pathogens.
It’s In the Food Code
As the Food Safety Magazine article points out, some retail establishments are not very good at sanitizing food preparation surfaces. We think one of the reasons for this is that compliance with the Food Code regulations (download your copy of the new Food Code here, just under 9 megabytes and 769 pages) is burdensome and expensive.
We decided to check out the new Food Code to see if the issues of surface sanitation had changed. We haven’t had time to read the whole thing (has anyone?), but we have scanned the document, and it doesn’t look much different, proving that old habits are hard to change.
The crux of the matter in the Code is that surfaces have to be sanitized after they are cleaned, and on a prescribed timetable. Furthermore, the sometimes-toxic sanitation chemicals commonly used in retail food establishments are themselves subject to regulation if they can leave residues that corrupt food. In other words, you have to make sure the sanitizers are removed before you use the surfaces. If you have to go through this process every 4 hours (like you would in some cases), it is very expensive.
Some of the Devilish Details
The Code still defines “sanitation” (in section 1-201.10) in terms of heat and chemicals:
“Sanitization” means the application of cumulative heat or chemicals on cleaned FOOD-CONTACT SURFACES that, when evaluated for efficacy, is sufficient to yield a reduction of 5 logs, which is equal to a 99.999% reduction, of representative disease microorganisms of public health importance.
We have reviewed the science carefully in other applications, and we know that ozone meets the 5-log test for the common microbial threats. This includes bacteria, viruses, spores and biofilm. Ozone in known applications works on contact, kills the threats, and decays, leaving no residual in the environment.
Ozone is an Option
The theoretical case for ozone as a surface sanitizer in retail food establishments is totally solid. There’s no question that the improvement in sanitation would benefit both consumers and vendors. We hope retailers will begin to look for ozone solutions to benefit both their customers and themselves.