KANSAS CITY — Keeping facilities operational has become more difficult during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Sanitation is paramount, which means knowing disinfectants and what each one does has become more important.

Food and beverage company executives have much disinfectant innovation to digest.

Electro-Biocide, offered by PHM Brands, Inc., has non-toxic benefits in that it has achieved a category four ranking from the US Environmental Protection Agency. CleanWell botanical disinfectant sprays and wipes also offer non-toxic benefits in that they contain thymol, which is derived from the essential oils of herbs like thyme.

Disinfectants from Sterilex, Hunt Valley, Md., are especially effective at killing biofilm. Robots and UV light radiation treatment are other options for sanitation.

Most important is being approved for the EPA’s List N, which is a list of disinfectants that meet EPA’s emerging viral pathogen criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), said Alex Josowitz, president and chief executive officer of Sterilex.

“Published in 2016, the EPA’s emerging viral pathogen policy outlines a pathway for EPA registrants to make claims against emerging viral pathogens that are not included on the EPA-registered label,” he said. “This policy is intended to provide companies with an avenue to make claims against pathogens of major public health concern that cannot reasonably be added to a product label in a timely manner.”

More on List N may be found here.

Sterilex products are on the List-N for SARS-CoV-2. April disinfectant sales for Sterilex were more than double the April 2019 sales, and web traffic was up 200% over the same time, Mr. Josowitz said.

“Disinfection is certainly having its time in the spotlight,” he said.

Achieving Category Four

Denver-based PHM Brands has launched a company called Electro-Biocide by Guardian, LLC. Electro-Biocide, the disinfectant, has non-toxic benefits in that it is 99.98% water (with minor inert ingredients) and 0.02% chlorine dioxide. Electro-Biocide initially was introduced into the hospital and health care market in 2011.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, demand for the disinfectant has grown in several industries, including for use in food and beverage facilities.

“Customer interest has increased significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” said Brad Allen, president of Viobin Specialty Oils, a business of PHM Brands. “This is in large part due to the fact that the pandemic has forced people to re-think disinfection and disinfectants in general. The overall usage of disinfectant products has greatly increased, as has the frequency of applications.

“Due to this fact, it has become important to consider both the disinfectant product’s effectiveness as well as its toxicity, as toxic chemical build-up on surfaces and the potential for adverse impacts on people and animals has become a much bigger concern. The compatibility of the disinfectant formulas with various common surfaces has also become an important issue with the increased application rate.”

The EPA lists Electro-Biocide as category four, “which is basically the same rating as tap water,” Mr. Allen said.

It also is on the EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19).

Electro-Biocide has a 6-log kill.

“There are very few, if any, hospital-grade, broad-spectrum disinfectants that can be effective at only 0.02%, or 200 parts per million (ppm) of active ingredients like Electro-Biocide,” said Darin Jensen, assistant vice president of food safety and quality for PHM Brands. “Most other approved disinfectants rely on much higher active ingredient concentrations, often in the thousands to tens of thousands ppm in order to achieve an acceptable level of effectiveness. Many people may not realize that household bleach is normally bought at 6% or higher levels of hypochlorite, or 60,000 ppm active.”

Guardian uses patented processes and equipment to create an “energized” chlorine dioxide solution that does not need high levels of chemicals to be effective. After it dries on an area, the area is sanitized and ready for use, Mr. Allen said.

“It would probably be easier to list areas where Electro-Biocide couldn’t be used than where it would be applicable,” Mr. Allen said. “As the technology was originally developed to decontaminate and disinfect highly valuable and sensitive equipment for the US military, it was designed from the start for optimal safety and material compatibility. Based on this fact coupled with the extremely low level of any residuals left behind after application, the product is suited for multiple uses throughout the food and beverage industries.”

Companies using Electro-Biocide still must follow some rules put in place for legacy chlorine dioxide products. An example is having to rinse fruit and vegetables after treating them with the disinfectant.

Guardian is consulting with the US Food and Drug Administration to expand food products that can be treated without restrictions since there are no harmful residual effects. Guardian also is seeking approval from the EPA to add label claims for human contact that would be experienced if one traveled through a mist/fog tunnel with Electro-Biocide, Mr. Jensen said. The company also is explaining to customers how Electro-Biocide differs from conventional chlorine dioxide, he added.

 “We are trying to get people to understand we are different than traditional legacy chlorine dioxide formulas,” Mr. Jensen said. “We have a new method of chlorine dioxide that’s not harmful, that has an EPA category four toxicity.

“As we go out and talk about it, a lot of people will say, ‘We know what chlorine dioxide is.’ Well, you do, but this is a whole new ballgame.”

Time for Thymol

Thymol is the plant-based active ingredient in disinfecting sprays and wipes from CleanWell, said Stew Lawrence, chief executive officer of the Denver-based company. Thymol is derived from the essential oils of various herbs like thyme. Third-party testing data registered with the EPA proves that the 0.05% thymol formula, which is proprietary, kills 99.99% of the household germs and viruses botanically.

CleanWell sprays and wipes are on the EPA’s List N.

Mr. Lawrence said the products do not include potentially harmful chemicals like quaternary ammonium compounds (often listed as benzalkonium chloride or alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride), bleach, ammonia or parabens that can cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation; triclosan, which has been banned in soaps since 2017 and has been linked to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs; or alcohol, which is flammable and poisonous if ingested.

“All of these ingredients are common in conventional cleaning products,” he said.

CleanWell sold through a year’s worth of planned product sales in the first four months of this year.

“So clearly there are consumers who want to ‘clean green’ even in the face of the pandemic,” Mr. Lawrence said. “We are also gaining new consumers because the conventional brands they typically buy are sold out first, giving us an opportunity to convert them to our botanical formula long term.”

Killing biofilm

Biofilm is a grouping of cells that stick together, embedded in a self-produced matrix of extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) composed of proteins, polysaccharides and other materials, Mr. Josowitz said.

“The EPS acts as the first line of defense against factors such as lack of water, high or low pH or the presence of antibiotics or antimicrobials,” he said. “Research has shown that bacteria in biofilm are often up to 1,000 times more tolerant to antimicrobial treatment than their planktonic (free-floating) counterparts due to different mechanisms. Biofilm protects pathogens from disinfection and allows organisms injured by environmental stress and disinfectants to recover and grow, which can lead to improved resistance to antimicrobials and antibiotics over time as ‘stronger’ organisms continue to survive.”

Bacteria can repopulate in an intact EPS structure within 48 hours, but if the structure is removed completely, it will take closer to one week for the biofilm colony to reform, Mr. Josowitz said.

Sterilex’s patented PerQuat technology was the first chemistry to receive EPA-registered anti-biofilm claims for industrial and public health use sites, he said.

“It has the unique ability to collapse the protective matrix, penetrate the biofilm, kill pathogenic microorganisms, dissolve the biofilm structure and chemically scrub the structure from a surface,” Mr. Josowitz said.

To clean areas of COVID-19 and other viruses and bacteria, the company offers Sterilex Ultra Disinfectant Cleaner Solution 1 and Sterilex Ultra Activator Solution. Based on PerQuat technology, the products need to be mixed at the proper ratio and applied to a non-porous hard surface. The surface must remain visibly wet for 10 minutes to assure disinfection and viricidal activity.

Food-contact surfaces must be thoroughly rinsed with a potable water. Non-food contact surfaces can be wiped, rinsed or allowed to air dry as per labeled use instructions.

Surface preparation, volume and application method may differ based on the area being disinfected.

“When using in offices, lunchrooms, locker rooms or other areas where people congregate, we recommend preparing a stock solution in a smaller container, like a 5-gallon bucket,” Mr. Josowitz said. “The stock solution can then be used in a variety of ways, including with portable spray units or mopping.

“For food manufacturing areas we typically recommend applying product as a foam and foaming environmental surfaces, including both food contact and non-food contact surfaces. In these cases, Sterilex Ultra Disinfectant Cleaner Solution 1 and Sterilex Ultra Activator Solution can be added directly to a portable foamer and diluted with water at a 1:1:10 ratio.”

At a high level, the active ingredients in Sterilex Ultra Disinfectant Cleaner Solution 1 and Sterilex Ultra Activator Solution are based on quaternary ammonium compounds (commonly referred to as quat) and hyydrogen peroxide, Mr. Josowitz said.

UV light and robots

PreScouter, a global research company, detailed innovation involving UV (ultraviolet) light and robots in a report released in April called “Emerging disinfection technologies for manufacturers and consumers.”

Both the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries use UV light to inactivate bacteria and viruses, according to PreScouter. Seoul Viosys in South Korea offers Violeds, a brand name for a technology that uses UV LED technology that provides solutions for sterilization and deodorization functions. Seoul Viosys and Sensor Electronic Technology, Inc. achieved 99.9% sterilization of COVID-19 in 30 seconds. A research group of Korea University conducted the tests by using a compound semiconductor Violeds technology that is being mass-produced.

PreScouter also gave details on a UV-disinfection robot from UVD Robotics, Odense, Denmark. This company was formed in 2016 following a public-private project where Blue Ocean Robotics and Odense University Hospital, in partnership with other hospitals in Denmark, developed the robot.

The project integrates approved UV germicidal industrial solutions with robotic technologies to create products for eradicating pathogens and superbugs. The robot disinfects 99.99% of bacteria within 10 minutes. It is sold in more than 40 countries, including hospitals in parts of Asia and health care markets in Europe and the United States.

People may become infected with the virus by touching infected surfaces and then touching their mouth, nose and eyes, according to the report. PreScouter cited a study that appeared April 16 in The New England Journal of Medicine that investigated the survival rate of the virus, showing it was viable on copper for 4 hours, on cardboard for 24 hours, on stainless steel for 48 hours and on plastic for up to 72 hours.

Daniel Morales, PhD, technical director for PreScouter, and Paromita Raha, PhD, a researcher for PreScouter, wrote the report. Dr. Morales received his PhD in chemical engineering from North Carolina State University. Dr. Raha received her PhD in biotechnology from the University of Calcutta in Kolkata, India.

Making sure surfaces are clean

Food and beverage companies have ways to test whether their disinfectants are working, too. Food Safety Net Services, San Antonio, offers environmental swab testing for COVID-19. The test method detects the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral particles on environmental surfaces within production facilities, which helps companies better understand the effectiveness of their sanitation practices.

The viral transport swab kits come with instructions for submission to the FSNS laboratory. Once FSNS receives the samples, the turnaround time is 48 hours.

In the age of COVID-19, sanitation is paramount.

“While food manufacturing facilities are already well-versed in battling food-borne pathogens and keeping our food supply safe, COVID-19 has led to an increased emphasis on employee health and safety,” Mr. Josowitz said. “We’ve seen food manufacturers implement increased disinfection protocols into employee common areas and reinforcing personal hygiene GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices).”