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UV Light Technology As an Emerging Tool For Food Safety

Tatiana Koutchma
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

May 11, 2020

According to 2019 FoodNet Report published by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), incidence of foodborne illnesses continues to increase. Infections from five common food borne pathogens such as Campylobacter, Cyclospora, shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Vibrio, and Yersinia are on the rise although infectious caused by Listeria, Salmonella and Shigella remain flat (

Infections linked to leafy green produce and the poultry industries are stressed as areas of special concern. Also, the report signifies the need of more widespread implementation of known prevention measures and of new strategies that target particular pathogens to reduce contamination during food production, processing, and preparation.

The use of ultraviolet disinfection or UV, is an emerging technology that is economically sound and an environmentally friendly, non-toxic, non-chemical, and non-thermal process to enhance the safety of many categories of foods and beverages that includes fresh produce, meat and poultry.

Numerous studies show UV in the germicidal wavelength range or “UVC” (from 200 to 280 nm) can inactivate a broad range of microbes destroy many food borne pathogenic bacteria, viruses, cysts and mold from air, water and surfaces. UV-C light can also extend the shelf life of foods safely with no negative impact on quality and nutrition value. It should be pointed out that each microorganism including viruses requires a specific UVC dosage for inactivation. Unlike other technologies, UV can effectively be applied along the food production chain from fields and farms to the consumers table.

UV is effective in mobile, transferrable, or wall-mounted automated units, such as those being sold to address the outbreak of the coronavirus. UV systems may also improve indoor air quality, and the performance of HVAC systems and air duct systems and disinfect any contact and non-contact contaminated surfaces.

In recent years, UV light emitting diodes (LEDs) have been developed offering multiple wavelengths, compact size, long life times, high energy efficiency, simple control of emission, no production of mercury waste and glass, flexible design and operation. The germicidal effects of UVC LEDs against Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia coli O157:H7 have been demonstrated and reported at 260-280 nm wavelengths in the applications on leafy greens and apples. Pathogens reduction were consistent with those commonly observed with chlorine washing, indicating that the technology may be suitable to replace or augment current disinfection protocols for fresh produce.

UV-C systems can provide additional sanitary safeguards in meat and poultry processing facilities to prevent cross contamination and correlate directly to increased profits in facilities that properly utilize them. By significantly reducing the total pathogenic load, UV exposure of air and critical contamination points, food contact surfaces, packaging and personal protective equipment can serve as an effective secondary barrier to cleaning and sanitation, especially in the fast moving work environments in poultry and meat production.

Acceptance and application of UVC as an effective germicidal agent to bolster existing preventive measures has become even more critical as a biosecurity intervention to check the spread of the Covid-19 corona virus. UVC disinfection measures are beginning to emerge as a mission critical means to mitigate worker to worker transmission and cross-contamination of infectious pathogens throughout many food processing facilities. It is foreseeable that the approaches to enable such disinfection in the factory setting will also extend to the food service sector, namely keeping food service workers and their patrons safe.

The IUVA Food and Beverage Group is working to develop reliable guidance information on the use of UV, please email for more information.

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