Food Processors Adopt Medical Device Technology

Mark A. DeSorbo

SIOUX CITY, IA—A TECHNOLOGY USED to sterilize medical products has made its way into the food processing business, and professionals in and close to the contamination control industry say an electric pasteurization method unveiled by Titan Corp. (San Diego) will offer great opportunities.

The SureBeam food pasteurization system from Titan Corp.
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“It will be more socially acceptable because it is not a form of radiation,” says Hank Rahe, director of technology at Contain-Tech (Indianapolis) and a member of the CleanRooms Editorial Advisory Board. “A kind of technology that kills all the bacteria is something that will open up new opportunities in the processing business.

Unlike irradiation, a common practice that exposes food to gamma rays from radioactive material, Titan’s SureBeam process works by charging an electronic light ray that disrupts the DNA structure of microorganisms and sterilizes them. “It works a lot like a television,” says Gene W. Ray, company chairman and chief executive. “Electrons come out of a filament and instead of being projected on a screen, they are accelerated by our machine, which kills 99.9999 percent of the bacteria.”

Mark Klein, a spokesman for Cargill Inc. (Minneapolis), one of the larger red meat processing companies in the United States, agrees. Cargill, he says, has opted to send frozen ground beef patties and precooked, microwaveable pot roast to Titan's Sioux City facility for market testing.

“This is the next step in the evolution of food-safety technology,” Klein says. “Irradiation has been around for a long time and it uses radioactive isotopes, and what we like about the SureBeam system is that Titan provides the expertise.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 76 million Americans suffer illnesses from such food-borne bacteria as E. coli, salmonella and listeria, leading to more than 5,000 deaths and 325,000 hospitalizations annually.

“We approach this problem from many different aspects, from the farm to the dinner table,” says CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.

The process has also received the thumbs-up from the Food and Drug Administration, and acceptance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was expected at the time of this report. “The FDA approval of electronic pasteurization for various foods along with the anticipated USDA regulations for red meat are a big step up for food safety,” Senator Tom Harkin, D-IA, a ranking minority member of the Agriculture Committee, said during Titan's opening ceremony for SureBeam. “Electronic pasteurization is another step in ensuring that the link between the producer and the consumer is very safe.”

Titan specializes in the sterilization of medical equipment, the development and deployment of wireless telecommunications, and e-commerce enterprises. Along with tests conducted at the Iowa State University's Center for Agricultural Products, research was performed at two company facilities in Denver and San Diego, where medical products were sterilized using a similar process.

While medical product makers Baxter International Inc. (Deerfield, IL) and Guidant Corp. (Indianapolis) use the process to sterilize medical products, Ray reports that Titan already has contracts with other food processing companies to use the process once the Sioux City facility is operational and USDA regulations are final.

But Klein warns those emerging technologies, like SureBeam, are not “silver bullets.”

“SureBeam greatly enhances the safety process, but you still have to take precautions at home,” he adds. “It only takes a couple of E. coli cells to cause problems.”


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