MARCH 8–CLEVELAND, Ohio–Muscle fatigue and joint aches and pains are common among people who work in the food processing, food preparation, food service, and related industries.
These individuals typically spend the majority of their workday on their feet. Historically, the attempted solution has been to equip these work places with rubber matting to reduce strain on the legs, lower back, and other parts of the body that are vulnerable to fatigue and pain.
However, rubber mats are very prone to attack by bacteria and fungi because their chemical constituents often provide an ideal source of nutrients that support microbial growth. Further, these mats are often used in warm, moist environments rich in microorganisms ¿ conditions that are ideal for proliferation of these life forms. Microbial build-up is not only unsanitary and odorous, but can create unsafe conditions resulting from slipping, tripping, or falling. It can also result in premature deterioration of the matting, which can result in expensive, ongoing replacement costs.
Milliken-Kex, a business unit of Milliken & Company, is successfully addressing these issues with a new line of rubber mats that feature outstanding antimicrobial and anti-fatigue properties for a wide range of demanding applications. Called UltraSan;, the new mats are made from Elastoguard; rubber, introduced by Milliken Chemical Speciality Elastomers (MCSE) in May of 2003. The new rubber compounds use a proprietary silver-based biocide called Antimicrobial AlphaSan; to control, if not halt, the growth of bacteria and fungi on the mats, while avoiding challenges that organic biocides have posed in the past. Combined with Elastoguard’s superior anti-fatigue properties, the material has made the UltraSan mats a hugely popular item among commercial kitchens, food processing plants, grocery stores, industrial shops, and other areas prone to microbial contamination where people need to be on their feet for prolonged periods of time.
According to Ryan Flaherty, market manager of the Milliken-Kex business, “We knew we were on track when we first developed the new mat, because we were giving our customers precisely what they had been asking for. But, we had no idea the product would be this successful. We hit the proverbial nail on the head with this one. Our customers love it because it’s a product the market has been demanding for a long, long time, but, until now, no one has been able to deliver.”
The UltraSan mats were developed jointly by Milliken-Kex and MCSE to address both anti-fatigue and antimicrobial concerns. These include through-holes and molded-in texture on both the mat front and back to provide cross channels to minimize water or solids build-up, while also protecting footwear from prolonged contact with moisture. Suction disks on the back secure and elevate the mat above the surface of the ground making it less likely to slip if the floor is flooded, where conventional mat designs would be at a much higher risk of slippage. Beveled mat edges help to further reduce the risk of slipping and falling. The beveled edges also allow side-by-side placement of multiple mats without adding flat surfaces that could result in potentially dangerous water or substance build-up areas. Further, the mats are 100% grease resistant. Cleaning requires only soap and hot water.
The rubber mats also provide excellent softness compliance and anti-fatigue comfort. At 14.5 lbs., the 0.25″ (6.4 mm) height and thin cross-section of the UltraSan mats make them extremely light and flexible, so they are not only easy to handle, but also conform to the varieties of floor topography found in the work environment. Their soft, sponge-like 3′ x 5′ (86.36 x 142.24 cm) surface minimizes mat wear and breakage, and they are able to maintain their surface integrity and designed-in, anti-slip texture over many washing cycles. Further, not only do the mats demonstrate superior resistance to microbial buildup, but they do so without incorporating substances toxic to humans or unsuitable for food contact, all of which is critical in food-related industries.
“The UltraSan mat has helped to solidify our position in the food industry by validating the fit for our Elastoguard rubber compounds in one of our key market areas,” said Scott McDowell, business development manager for Milliken Chemical’s Coated Products and Elastomers Business. “We studied this market for a long time and responded with a material that meets several needs at once. It’s very rare that a product achieves such success after only being on the market for such a short time, but everything we hear from our customers is extremely positive.”
Flaherty concurs, adding, “The design specs and answer to the antimicrobial issue provided by our UltraSan mat product were exactly what the industry wanted. This simply doesn’t happen all that often. We’re now looking at new food industry applications, and the potential range is amazing,” Flaherty said. “We’re confident that this is just the beginning.”
Elastoguard antimicrobial heat-cured rubber compounds can be used in the manufacture of mats, coatings, seals, gaskets, O-rings, wheels, casters, diaphragms, bladders, packings, liners, tubing, and belts. They are commercially available from Milliken Chemical in standard formulations ranging from natural rubber through EPDM and NBR grades, to high-performance fluoroelastomers, in Shore A hardness ranges from 40 to 90. Within these product families, the compounds are offered in a variety of presentations (forms), including slabs, strips, calendared sheet, granulated/pelletized, and preformed into specific shapes. Within each presentation offering, the compounds can further be produced in various thicknesses and sizes for customer convenience. The Elastoguard compounds can also be formulated for molding (compression, transfer, injection), continuous extrusion (LCM, UHF (where allowable)), autoclave and hot air, or for coatings.