May 26, 2022

New research highlights blue light technology on foodborne pathogens

New research highlights blue light technology on foodborne pathogens 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

Researchers from The University of Georgia’s (UGA) Center for Food Safety have begun a new study to examine the effectiveness of antimicrobial blue light technology to reduce the foodborne pathogens that cause food poisoning. The goal of the new technology is to deliver a new, low-cost, and environmentally friendly means of enhancing food safety. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne illnesses have increased over the years. It is estimated that roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases every year.

When used as a means of disinfecting surfaces in a hospital setting, antimicrobial blue light technology has shown promising results, but little research has yet been done to explore its potential efficacy to control foodborne pathogens. “The use of a dynamic and harmless light technology during downtime and close of operation could serve as a useful tool in preventing biofilm formation and persistence,” said Center for Food Safety Director Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, who will head the research team. 

Traditionally, food manufacturers use chemical sanitizers on food preparation surfaces to help control the spread of foodborne pathogens. While this is usually effective in easy-to-reach areas, some areas that are harder to reach may not receive the same degree of sanitation, leading to pathogen growth. These biofilms, which are clusters of microorganisms such as bacteria that are hard to eliminate, cause the spread of the microorganisms that can occur during food production. Finding new, innovative approaches could be the key to helping control foodborne outbreaks.

Through a three-year, $599,900 grant awarded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences researchers will test the technology to uncover possible applications in the food production process.

A 2020 study published in Foods by researchers at Massey University in New Zealand, discusses using blue light technology in the food industry The authors concluded that food properties affect the efficacy of antimicrobial blue light, with attenuation or enhancement of the bactericidal activity observed in the presence of absorptive materials. They recommend future studies, such as the UGA study, to characterize the amount and type of intracellular photosensitizers across bacterial species and assess the oxygen-independent mechanism of blue light.