Regardless of whether contamination is viral, bacterial or chemical, certain precautions can be taken to reduce risks. Stakes are evidently higher for the food industry which must consider contamination every step of the way, from packaging to transformation, including the production of foodstuffs and beverages.
Did you know that the Government of Canada records an average of 4 million foodborne illness cases each year? Food contamination can be caused by bacteria, viruses or even foreign bodies. In an effort to control food quality and avoid contamination, the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) has put measures in place. If a contaminant is identified, a costly food recall process is initiated. The CFIA oversees as many as 250 recall incidents each year.
In addition to the food production industry, the entire healthcare sector is also affected by potential contamination risks. Whether it’s in laboratories, pharmacies or the medical field in general, certain materials can be used to reduce these risks. Risk levels depend on two factors: surface cleaning and choice of materials.
- Surface cleaning: this step has a major impact on contamination risks. Since certain plastic materials such as polycarbonate or acrylic can be damaged by aggressive cleaning, plastic surfaces should be washed using specific methods.
- Avoid using cleaners that contain ammonia, solvents or alcohol.
- Use a damp wipe to remove dirt and avoid using a dry cloth which may scratch the surface of the plastic.
- Once dirt or dust has been removed, use mild soap and water to clean the entire surface.
- Use non-abrasive, absorbent and lint-free wipes to dry the surface.
- Choice of material: Although a great variety of materials are available, it is important to choose plastics that are suitable for the intended use. This is especially true for the healthcare and food industry. Here are 5 tips to help you choose materials that reduce the risk of contamination:
1. Use FDA Approved Plastics
Always use non-toxic materials. Indeed, choosing food grade materials that are compliant with FDA (Food Drug Administration) rules and standards significantly reduces the risk of contamination. For example, performance plastics such as NYLON NYCAST® NYLOIL® FG and UHMW TIVAR® HPV are highly resistant, which means they can tolerate aggressive chemical cleaning and frequent sterilization.
In addition, colour coding is an easy and highly efficient method to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Colour coding helps prevent cross-contact between food that are either in preparation or uncooked and safe food or finished products. Contact between different types of food is therefore kept to a minimum.
Cutting boards are a good example of colour coding. We suggest choosing cutting boards of different colours depending on the food category.
- Red for beef and red meat
- Green for fruits and vegetables
- Yellow for chicken and poultry
- Blue for fish and seafood
- White for dairy products
To learn more about colour standardization in food-grade plastics, please read the following article: https://blogue.polyalto.com/en/standardizing-food-grade-plastics
2. Avoid Using Porous Materials
In the food or pharmaceutical industry, porosity is a characteristic that must be fully avoided. Equipment such as basins, trays, containers or any other part in contact with foodstuffs or medicine should always be manufactured using non-porous materials. There is a simple explanation for this: porous surfaces are notoriously hard to clean. Irregularities in the surface of a material increase the chances of bacteria or contaminants becoming lodged and proliferating. Always choose smooth surfaces that are easier to clean or sterilize.
For more details on the impact of porosity in food grade materials, click here
3. Use Polycarbonate to Ensure Safety
Reducing contamination also means maintaining a safe distance. For example, this can be accomplished by installing transparent polycarbonate shields that ensure protection against splashing without interfering with vision. Polycarbonate is not only light but also highly resistant to impacts (250x more than glass).
For more details on protective screens, see our page: Acrylic and polycarbonate protections
4. Use Metal Detectable Plastics
Metal detectable plastics such as UHMW TIVAR® MD are high-performance materials containing a metal-based additive detected by standard industrial metal detectors. Therefore, possible contaminants such as fallen pieces or broken fragments during production are immediately caught by metal detectors.
To discover other advantages of metal detectable plastics, please read our article: https://blogue.polyalto.com/en/safer-food-production-with-metal-detectable-plastics
5. Choose Self-Lubricating Materials
Several food grade plastics are available in self-lubricating options. They naturally facilitate sliding and reduce friction during movement. They are enriched with vegetable oil, which allows for non-toxic, food-safe lubrication. Self-lubricating materials include NYLON NYCAST® NYLOIL® FG and UHMW TIVAR® CERAM P®.