Scientists researching the development of a bacteria-busting coating for kitchen surfaces and food preparation areas are being backed by the Food and Drink iNet.

Experts at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology have teamed up with colleagues at the Holbeach Campus of the University of Lincoln to try to develop a permanent spray-on coating technology that will kill or reduce the growth of bacteria, germs and other bugs.

The process could have major implications for food hygiene and safety in both domestic kitchens and commercial food processing environments, as well as potential use with food processing equipment.

The project is one of five Collaborative Research and Development grants worth a total of more than £235,000 announced by the Food and Drink iNet, which co-ordinates innovation support for businesses, universities and individuals working in the food and drink sector in the East Midlands.

Funded by East Midlands Development Agency (emda) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Food and Drink iNet is one of four regional iNets that has developed an effective network to link academic and private sector expertise and knowledge with local food and drink business innovation needs.

“This is an exciting research project between Nottingham Trent University and the Holbeach Campus of Lincoln University, with far-reaching potential,” said Food and Drink iNet Director Richard Worrall. “The development of a spray-on coating that can help kill or reduce bacteria could bring major benefits to the food and drink industry, as well as in domestic environments.

“The Food and Drink iNet Collaborative Research and Development support is designed to provide help for innovative research schemes that will benefit the food and drink sector in the future, and this fits the bill perfectly.”

The team, which also includes the School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences at Nottingham Trent University, has been awarded almost £50,000 towards the almost £66,000 cost of the research project.

The research is being run by Dr Fengge Gao, reader in nanotechnology at NTU, who led the NTU team that was crowned 2009 Food and Drink iNet Innovation Champion for its work on the development of an exciting new material for food and drink packaging. They successfully solved the problem of leaching in bottles and took the technology a step further to add antimicrobial properties which kill or lessen micro-organisms.

Now this research is being widened to look at how the technology could be applied to surfaces.

It has been sparked by calls from the UK Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and food and drink research group CCFRA for research to develop better hygiene technology for detachment of micro-organisms on the surface of food processing facilities and preventing attachment of food on the surface of the equipment.

“The success of the development of this easy spray nano coating technology could lead to immediate commercial application,” said Dr Gao. “The technology does not require sophisticated manufacturing equipment and hence is suitable for both small and medium-sized enterprises and large manufacturers.”

The team will first target domestic application in the home kitchen, as well as in restaurant kitchens.

“The application of this technology to food processing equipment may take a little longer since this may cause the interruption of manufacturing process,” added Dr Gao. “The coating materials for equipment coating application also need more tolerance to stress, friction and other health and safety requirements.”

The coating will exhibit antimicrobial behaviour, meaning it can kill or inhibit the growth of micro-organisms such as bacteria or fungi, non-biocidal leaching and also superhydrophobic properties. The superhydrophobic surface will expel water and other wet dirty species, which will further enhance the antimicrobial behaviour by reducing the chance for bacteria to be attached on the surface. The superhydrophobic properties will also reduce the shear stresses (frictions) between food and the surface of food processing equipment. The reduced shear stresses will lead to energy reduction in food processing – making environments greener.

The Food and Drink iNet aims to build on the tradition of innovation in the food and drink industry in the region by helping to create opportunities to develop knowledge and skills, and to help research, develop and implement new products, markets, services and processes. It is managed by a consortium, led by the Food and Drink Forum and including Food Processing Faraday, Nottingham Trent University, the University of Lincoln, and the University of Nottingham. It is based at Southglade Food Park, Nottingham, with advisors covering the East Midlands region.
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