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FER FOCUS: Eco-Friendlier Cleaning Solutions

You've no doubt heard about "nonchemical” cleaning and sanitizing systems. Strictly speaking, the terminology is a bit of a misnomer, considering that by most definitions, all matter is chemical. But the thrust of the nonchemical idea is there: There are non-traditional chemical approaches to clean and sanitize everything from produce, fish and eggs to hard surfaces and hands. Not only are these alternative systems safer and better for the environment, but in many cases they can result in substantial savings on conventional chemical solutions as well. Not bad—more green. And more green.

ECA, or electro-chemical activation, has been around quite a while and is well tested. Originating in Russia nearly a half century ago, the technology has been big in healthcare for decades, and it has spread to other industries, including food manufacturing, as well. It’s been around in foodservice since the 1990s, and it’s now beginning to get some serious traction.           

ECA is based on electrolysis, the process of passing electricity through water to force a chemical change in the water that wouldn’t likely happen otherwise. Specifically, ECA applies electrolysis to change water into a sanitizer and a cleaner, and it does this one of a few different ways.

Two Main Types, Many Variants 

Chemically speaking, there are two main approaches, each with its own variants. One main type of system applies electricity and sodium chloride (common table salt) to alter the pH of water. The details of the chemistry could fill many pages, but the gist of it is this: Salt is introduced to the water, and an electric charge is applied. The chlorine is knocked off the sodium chloride and recombines in the water to form hypochlorous acid, which is a sanitizer, and sodium hydroxide, an alkaline detergent. Some of these systems produce the hypochlorous acid for sanitizing and cast off the lesser volume of alkali as a byproduct. Other systems create and capture the sanitizing and cleaning agents.

The second main type of ECA system takes a totally different approach. Instead of using the salt to create acid and alkali, it uses electricity and an ozone generator to convert normally diatomic oxygen, or O2, into O3, which is a strong sanitizer. 

Salt, Water & Electricity 

In the category of salt/water electrolysis, EcoLogic Solutions is carving its own path. Not only is its system different, but the whole company is, really. Everything it does is sustainability driven. It even markets its own lines of sustainable commercial cleaning products.

EcoLogic’s entry in the ECA category for foodservice is a compact, self-contained unit, 24-in. x 20-in. x 10-in., with an incoming water line and two output lines, one for the alkaline cleaner and one for the acid sanitizer. The fully automated system is rated at 330 gal./day, which is 110 gal./day of cleaning solution at a pH of about 12, and 220 gal./day of sanitizer at a pH between 6 and 7, very near neutral. In those ranges, the cleaner is good for washing produce and hands, for all-purpose cleaning and biofilm elimination, and the sanitizer is suitable for produce, sinks, hands, public facilities and more.           

The earliest significant salt/water electrolyzer in North American foodservice, Hoshizaki’s ROX line, traces back to the 1990s. The current model is the ROX-20, a compact unit that measures roughly 12-in. x 12-in. x 18-in. and operates on demand, remotely, through a faucet or into an optional storage system.

The ROX produces both alkaline wash and acid sanitizer, each at a rate of about 1.5-2.0 ltr./min., with relatively strong pH at more than 10 for the alkaline wash and less than 3 for the acid. The strength of the solutions, combined with lesser concentrations, gives a lot of flexibility. The ROX gives you an effective wash/emulsifier to break up fats and proteins first, and then the sanitizer does its work quickly, which can be especially important when staffers are in a hurry washing hands or cutting boards, or cleaning produce. The system offers the ability to produce cleaning and sanitizing solutions for a lot of uses around the facility, and a lease program takes the load off capital budgets.           

Another salt/water system, the Sterilox Fresh, offers a different approach. First, it’s focused on producing hypochlorous acid sanitizer, producing about 2.5 ltr./min. It’s a self-contained system like the EcoLogic, as opposed to a remote unit that feeds on demand through a faucet like the ROX. Just make the water connection, put in the salt, plug it in and push the button. The Sterilox really zeroes in on food sanitizing rather than hard-surface sanitizing. In the supermarket world, it’s often used for leafy greens.

Say Oh! For Ozone 

Ozone has been used for a long time in the sanitizing business. It’s a great sanitizer, significantly stronger and quicker than chlorine, for example, acting against a broader array of microbials, killing by oxidizing and rupturing cell walls. The challenge has always been how to harness it, and how to do it safely. You have to be able to make it and use it while it’s still there. It doesn’t last long. It’s inherently unstable as O3 and tends to revert to O2 at the first opportunity. That’s good news and bad news. It’s bad because it only stays effective for a limited time, but it’s good for the same reason: It dissipates quickly, leaving nothing but oxygen.           

Then there’s the matter of how to do it. Corona discharge and UV light methods both involve electricity and a gas that’s then injected into water. They work but have limitations in foodservice applications. Electrolysis remains the best option, and ozone made this way typically lasts about 15 minutes in water before reverting to oxygen.

If ever there was an application for ozone sanitizing, it’s probably icemakers. Keeping ice clean has always been problematic for a variety of reasons. First, it’s water, and things like to grow in it. Second, ice storage is always cold and damp. And third, ironically, is that most of us filter the chlorine out of the water going into the ice machine. Essentially we trade off sanitation for a particular flavor profile. And then we spend our time trying to keep the ice clean.           

Franke Foodservice Systems has recently developed an electrolytic ozone fix for that: its EcO3Ice Sanitation System. Named an honoree in the National Restaurant Association’s 2012 Kitchen Innovations Award program, EcO3Ice uses a proprietary technology including diamond-tipped electrodes, among other things, to generate ozone in an oil-filter-sized unit. The EcO3 installs inline with the incoming water line (downstream of any filters) and creates ozone in the water stream. In such a sealed system, the ozone doesn’t immediately revert to oxygen, so it sanitizes throughout the water flow, and once frozen in ice, it stays until the ice melts, gradually releasing as gas. That means it kills contaminants in the bin, too, before it dissipates to oxygen.

If you’re looking for an ozone disinfection system for washing everything from hands to hard surfaces, you might want to look at MVP Group’s GO3 system, which comes in many varieties. The IMS is for icemakers, the MCS is a mobile cart unit and the one with the broadest appeal in foodservice is the WMS, a wall-mounted system. The GO3 in any guise is a closed-loop system using a fuel (electrolytic) cell that gets its oxygen directly from the water and converts it to ozone. The compact WMS offers multiple concentrations: 4 ppm for hand disinfection, 2 ppm for produce wash and 1 ppm surface disinfection (and using 1 ppm of ozone is equal to using 50 ppm of chlorine, according to the company). At 4 ppm, the WMS can produce more than 150 ltr./hr.; at 2 ppm, it can produce twice that; and at 1 ppm, production doubles again. 

Payback, Care And Feeding 

Whenever you’re looking at new systems, the question of payback comes up, and rightly so. How long will it take to recoup the capital investment? In the case of these ECA systems, the math can vary quite a bit. What’s the price? The system itself is just a starting point. These aren’t fire-and-forget units, and most manufacturers will urge you to think seriously about a package of support services so all parties can be assured of reliable, safe operation and ongoing satisfaction.           

First, consider the consumables. Some of these systems use salt, so that’s a factor, although it’s more than offset by any purchased chemical supplies you’d be replacing.

Then there are other considerations. All these systems use components that will need to be replaced every few years. Then there’s maintenance and training. You need training support, and you need to periodically monitor the machine and keep it calibrated to be sure you’re getting the concentrations and/or pH you want for your applications.           

All these factors can vary widely depending on what type of system you select and how you use it, so the best advice is to sit down with your supplier and work it out.

As for the environmental issues? It’s tough to put a dollar figure on taking toxins out of the environment or on food safety or employee safety. But whatever it is, you know it’s a plus.                                                                      


UV Approach, No Water Added

Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is a disinfection method that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet radiation (UV-C) to kill microorganisms, disrupting their DNA and cellular function. Edlund’s Helios KSUV-18 Knife Sterilizer Cabinet uses ultraviolet light to sterilize knives without hand contact. The slotted knife holder inside the UV cabinet is clear and non-filtering. Combined with mirrored interior walls, the design eliminates all shadows so that every part of every knife is exposed to the UV light. The company says independent lab testing indicates a 99% reduction in E. coli bacteria in as little as 3 minutes. The wall-mounted stainless cabinet has a lockable, UV-filtered Plexiglas door and holds up to 12 knives, or 10 knives and two cleavers plus a steel. LEDs indicate when sterilization is in process and a belled timer (that sets to up to 15 minutes) goes off when the process is complete. The Helios runs on 115V and is one more option for nonchemical sanitation.

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