One of the reasons I’ve reduced my meat consumption lately is hygiene. Opening, preparing or handling raw chicken or pork sends me on a frantic tizzy of spraying down every surface in my kitchen with Lysol.
New research findings out of the University of Missouri this month could eventually ensure that some of the surfaces in my kitchen are built to help prevent the spread of foodborne pathogens like E. coli and salmonella.
The study was conducted by Eduardo Torres Dominguez, a chemical engineering doctoral student, with guidance from Professors Heather K. Hunt and Azlin Mustapha. Together they developed a coating made from titanium dioxide, which, when applied to stainless steel and exposed to UV light, is highly effective at killing organisms like bacteria (more than UV light on a regular stainless steel surface). Given that, places like food processing facilities and commercial kitchens could use countertops, cutting boards and even knives made from this coated stainless steel to help deter the spread of harmful bacteria.
This is especially true for the overall sanitary conditions of surfaces found in food processing and preparation facilities. A counter might not get cleaned properly every time on every square inch of its surface, allowing a pathogenic biofilm to form. Having a surface with this titanium oxide coating could help create an overall less hospitable place for bacteria to multiply.
The results of this research are still very early on, and while the material has survived an autoclave, it hasn’t gone through rigorous testing over a prolonged period of time, and there are still questions to answer. For example, researchers don’t know yet how long the coating would last when scrubbed every day for year.
“It’s incredibly stable material,” Prof. Hunt told me by phone last week, “It’s Chemically and thermally stable,” so it won’t break down if you use bleach on it or heat it.
“Titanium dioxide is a food grade material,” Prof. Mustapha said. That way, even if the coating came off, it wouldn’t be harmful if ingested the way something like silver is.
With the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the world, there is a renewed emphasis on sanitation and hygiene, especially as it relates to our food. This research from the Univ. of Missouri comes just months after PathSpot raised $6.5 million for its device that helps ensure food workers have washed their hands properly and removed pathogenic material.
Researchers still have a lot of work ahead of them before they are able to make any kind of leap from the lab to commercial applications, let alone consumer ones. But I, for one, am looking down the line and towards the day when (hopefully) my cutting boards can do some of the work in staying clean.