Is Radical Water a sanitizing miracle? What if there was a completely natural way to safely and effectively decontaminate all areas of a food processing operation, on-site and without using chemicals, without altering the product nor harming the environment? A food industry fantasy? Until now, yes, but no longer – thanks to a small team of local scientists who has been quietly developing an innovative technology for the new millennium which offers almost unlimited applications to advance safety and hygiene in the industry.
The process is known as Electrolytic Activation of Water (EAW) and involves the activation, or energizing, of ordinary, potable water to the point at which it exhibits powerful microcidal and other cleansing properties. Trading as Radical Waters, the Gauteng-based development team has spent five years developing, testing, piloting and refining the technology, and is now making it available on a broader commercial basis. The applications of the EAW technology are almost unlimited, but Radical Waters is putting the emphasis on delivering the sanitizing miracle technology to the food production and processing sectors, where hygiene and product safety are of paramount importance.
Dr Robin Kirkpatrick, Radical Waters’ business development director, explains how EAW technology works: Water and a small quantity of salt (typically 0,2%), which acts as a catalyst to enhance conductivity, is run through a patented electrolytic cell where it is exposed to a high density electrical field and it emerges as two separate, activated streams of water: anolyte and catholyte. The anolyte is a highly positivelycharged oxidant solution with potent biocidal and disinfectant properties, used mainly to reduce contamination and prolong the shelf life of products. The catholyte stream is a highly negatively- charged antioxidant solution, with powerful surfactant properties. The properties of the different streams can be customised to suit the end use. He reports that in all the extensive research done to date, no single micro-organism has survived treatment with the activated solutions.
Furthermore, the mechanism for eliminating micro-organisms is different from conventional chemicals in that the EAW technology has a multifeature action that prevents the build up of resistance. Although these solutions have proven to be extremely effective against even the most resistant pathogens, they remain safe for humans, animals and the environment. “You can wash your face or drink the neutral solutions with no ill effect”, says Kirkpatrick. Additionally, the activated sanitizing miracle solutions have been approved by the Departments of Agriculture and Health for direct use on food for human consumption.
Other than the high efficacy levels and safety factors of this technology, a most exciting aspect is its ability to remove and control biofilm and consequently eradicate the costly and dangerous biofouling of products. “It’s far superior to chemicals and other electro-chemical technologies in removing and controlling biofilm, acting simultaneously as a biocidal and dispersant agent,” notes Kirkpatrick. “Chlorination, for example, is usually unsuccessful because it reacts only with the outer levels of the biofilm, leaving a healthy bacterial community that regrows and continuously recontaminates unless it is manually removed, and which becomes progressively more resistant to repeated applications of the biocide. Bacteria growing as biofilms are resistant to most antimicrobial agents, so methods for their control pose an ongoing challenge,” he adds. EAW technology has now been acknowledged by international biofilm experts as one of the most effective technologies available for its removal and control.
Apart from biofilm control, Radical Water’s activated solutions can be used for a variety of applications, from decontamination of incoming and process water, to sterilisation of surfaces, equipment, machinery, conveyor belts and workers’ hands. It also offers significant value for the shelf-life extension of fresh food products, as unlike most chemical products, it can be used safely and directly on food without harmful chemical contamination and residues. Although the company has only just begun commercialisation, application in different markets is expanding. This includes sea water decontamination for fish processing, chicken abattoirs for shelf-life extension, red meat abattoirs for carcass decontamination, packaging plants for the sterilisation of containers, and dairy processing plants for CIP and COP applications, among others. “These successes bear conclusive testimony to this new technology’s efficacy,” says Kirkpatrick.
User-friendly and cost-effective
In addition to being highly effective, the EAW technology is also user-friendly. The technology can be delivered in any quantity, from a five-litre drum of solution to a permanent on-site installation that can produce thousands of litres an hour for use when and where it is needed. The EAW technology can be automated and integrated into production systems, making it highly compatible with and complementary to existing or planned HACCP, hygiene and quality assurance programs. “On-site installation is an enormous benefit, as there are no transport, storage or special handling requirements,” says Kirkpatrick. “And on-demand production allows the generation of a wide range of solutions customized for different applications.” An effective method of application is introducing the solutions into the main process water, thus making a safe decontaminating agent continuously available. Another method of application is fogging or misting, as is being done in meat plant chillers to decontaminate carcasses. In addition, this fogging has been found to reduce carcass weight loss or shrinkage. “The problem in abattoirs is that meat is contaminated to some degree before it even touches a work surface or cutting implement,” says Kirkpatrick. “Hygiene programmes are far more effective if surface contamination of the meat is reduced before it’s processed.” When it comes to the issue of cost, Kirkpatrick says it’s hard to quantify because EAW can be supplied in such a variety of ways. Thus, he rather describes it as very cost-effective and economically feasible compared with other chemical solutions and given its benefits.
Rights & Protection
Radical Waters is taking every safeguard to ensure its intellectual property. It has sole rights to the globally patented EAW electrolytic cell technology in Africa and has patented the device used to produce the activated solutions, as well as the applications of these solutions across a diverse array of industry categories. In other words, beware of imitations – they are not legitimate. Radical Waters has also launched the trademarked EleQua “seal of approval”, which will identify and verify products/premises treated with the EAW technology. “Development and protection of proprietary information and the rights to it is the core of the company’s business,” says Kirkpatrick. Although Radical Waters is commercialising the technology in Southern African markets, ultimately it plans to be a licensor, not a direct marketer, of the technology into international markets: “We are not in the business of marketing the technology ourselves, but rather seek credible companies with a global presence to take the technology to the end-user,” he comments. EAW technology has so many “wow” factors, that it’s difficult to avoid the temptation to oversell it. Kirkpatrick maintains that it’s not a “silver bullet” to food industry hygiene, but adds it’s as close as we are ever likely to get: “While the technology offers considerable advantages over current remedies, it should not be viewed as the ultimate solution. On balance, its safety, user-friendliness, on-site/on-demand generation and availability, and the fact that it can be integrated into the “in-process” water supply system for “real-time” application affords us sustainable differentiation over competitive products,” he concludes. As the adage goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and perhaps the most convincing argument for this enormously exciting and truly local advancement is to say: “Try it.”
Biofilm is the chemical scale matrix of germs and microorganisms that form in wet conditions. The “slime layer” on children’s toys in the bath, for example, or on the surfaces and floors in food processing plants is a biofilm. Legionella and Listeria are some examples of diseases associated with biofilm. Biofilms form from the adherence of microbes to surfaces, colonies that often become progressively more resistant to biocides. Microbes have been shown to become over 100 times more resistant to traditional biocides within a biofilm. This high resistance factor, plus the mechanism of adherence to surfaces, makes biofilm extremely difficult to remove and control. Experts claim that the damage and cost from product recontamination, reduced shelf life and microbially-induced corrosion (MIC) ass- ociated with biofilm is grossly underestimated in the market and may account for costs as high as 3% of a country’s GDP. Most importantly, biofilm which is present in general water systems, food processing and working areas, within equipment, cooling towers, airconditioners and pasteurisers etc is often difficult to access and extremely difficult to remove. Additionally, persistent biofilm remains as a continuous source of recontamination in food processing and beverage plants and is the major cause of biofouling and biocorrosion.