Systems Approach: Incorporation of Antimicrobials into Surfaces

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food is one of seven foundational rules proposed to create a modern, risk-based framework for food safety (1).

A key requirement of the FSMA rule is that vehicles and transportation equipment are designed and maintained appropriately to prevent microbial contamination of foods during transportation (2). Annually, more than 200 billion metric tons of food are transported globally, by sea (60%), land (35%) and air (5%) (3). The quantity and variety of foods transported, along with the multitude of container, temperature, and handling requirements for each food product, underscores the vulnerability of the food industry to possible contamination during transport and storage.

Risk factors for transit contamination include temperature abuse, unsanitary cargo areas, improper loading or unloading procedures, and shipping containers in ill repair. Poor transportation unit design and construction are among several food safety hazards identified by experts (3).

Safeguarding sanitation and microbial quality of equipment surfaces during food transportation is a complex issue that requires a practical, systems-based approach. This system includes risk surveillance, materials choice, routine cleaning and monitoring. Taken together, this collection of measures creates the best possible protection for food transportation.

In the systems-based approach to sanitation and hygiene, food conveyance professionals should initially evaluate the risks associated with each type of surface material (plastic, stainless steel, textiles) and the types of food being transported.


Choosing Surface Materials

Surface microbial counts for various surfaces and foods have shown that food sectors with the highest overall risk are raw seafood, raw meat and poultry, refrigerated raw and ready-to-eat foods, eggs and egg products, frozen foods, and fresh produce. While haulage of any type of food cargo requires care, extra precautions should be taken with these identified high-risk foods.

Choosing surface materials should be a decision that is informed by the ability of the surface to support microbial survival and growth. Materials with added antimicrobials protect the material itself against deterioration and often against pathogenic bacteria.

Different types of antimicrobials, with silver as the most popular, are added to various types of materials to create products that improve hygiene during the handling of food. A slow release of antimicrobial compounds from the materials is intended to give long-lasting protection against harmful microorganisms.

Different types of materials (steel, different polymers and paper) and different types of antimicrobials are used, and the antimicrobial compound may be incorporated throughout the materials or added as a coating on the surface.


Surface Cleaning

The importance of routine surface cleaning cannot be overemphasized. In a systems-based approach, incorporation of antimicrobials into surfaces supports risk assessment, proper cleaning and monitoring of surfaces. Microbial recovery is a useful measure for risk evaluation, choice of surface materials and monitoring microbiological quality of surfaces. Each measure in the systems-based sanitation of food transportation can only supplement, but not replace, the other three measures.


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  1. KEY REQUIREMENTS: Final Rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food,
  3. Ackerley, N., A. Sertkaya, R. Lange. 2010. Food Transportation Safety: Characterizing Risks and Controls by Use of Expert Opinion. Food Protection Trends, 30 (4): 212–222