A UK producer of prepared salads and vegetables could be the first in the UK to install a chlorine-free process, based on an enzyme found in breast milk, for cleaning products prior to packaging.
Pilot trials of a French antimicrobial technology are well advanced at the unnamed company, claimed the system's developer TMI Europe. It is a safe biotechnological 'processing aid' rather than an additive, and uses the enzyme Lactoperoxidase in water rinse systems to kill pathogens on the surface of produce. The Lactoperoxidase, which in breast milk protects babies from infection, is in this case derived from cows' milk.
Salad producers such as Geest are known to be seeking alternatives to chlorine treatment to extend shelf life, under pressure from UK retailers such as Sainsbury and Tesco and consumers concerned about potential health effects associated with chlorine. TMI is in discussions with several UK companies, including a processor of fish and seafood.
The Catallix process mimics the human natural defence mechanism of, for example, saliva, tears and mucous, said Lyon-based TMI, which has a UK agent in Cheshire. The process is said to be effective against bacteria, moulds and viruses. Hypothiocyanite, the active molecule that kills contaminants, is created by the Lactoperoxidase enzyme.
“The target is to reach the same shelf life without additives,” explained TMI Europe director Philippe Bordeau, who said there were three lines operational in France. However, Bordeau saw far greater potential for the process in the UK, where concerns about chlorine were “two years ahead of France”. He added: “We hope to have some [equipment installed] very soon in the UK and Ireland.”
The cost of equipment and consumables is less than 0.4 pence per 200g bag, dependent on the level of pathogen contamination. The system is designed to process 200-1,000kg/h of produce.
Catallix also has potential in other sectors, such as: fresh meat and poultry; cooked meats and pasta; fish and fish products; and cheese rind. However, it is not effective where ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) is present. While it is around four to five times more expensive than chlorine treatment, it is claimed to be much cheaper than alternative ozone treatment.
TMI claimed that 'challenge tests' carried out for it by Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association have proved the process's effectiveness, in particular compared to chlorine, at killing off E.Coli and Listeria contaminants on iceberg lettuce.