Biofilms in a food processing environment can cause significant problems and be potentially devastating for a brand. When found, deep cleaning and disinfection is required for biofilm removal, which can be challenging because they are resistant to many standard disinfecting approaches. Understanding what a biofilm is and how it can be prevented is critical for maintaining a sanitary food processing facility.
What is Biofilm?
Bacteria can exist on their own in air, liquids, or on surfaces, or they can adhere to surfaces and create a biofilm. A biofilm is a group of bacteria that is surrounded by a matrix of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), which makes them more difficult to remove than free-floating bacteria. The biofilm also serves to protect the bacteria within it—including from chemical disinfectants—allowing it to grow and thrive. Although biofilms can go undetected for a period of time because they are not visible to the naked eye, when a biofilm gets disrupted or when food comes into contact with it, it can cause an unwanted outbreak.
Where Does Biofilm Come From?
Biofilms can be made of more than one bacterial species. The ones that are most commonly found in the food industry include Bacillus cereus, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella enterica, and Staphylococcus aureus. According to information presented in a recent study, biofilms form in a four-step process:
- Conditioning of the surface
- Reversible binding
- Irreversible binding and development of microcolonies
- Formation of the tridimensional structure and development of a complex ecosystem
When bacteria enters a facility through produce, animals, or other forms of cross-contamination, they can adhere to and form biofilms on surfaces such as wood, rubber, glass, and stainless steel.
How Biofilms Impact the Food Processing Industry
When biofilms form on surfaces in a food processing facility, they can impact the integrity of equipment and, of course, create potential health risks when they contaminate the products being processed. Where biofilms are located depends on the type of facility, but some of the areas that FSQA managers might not think of include pipelines, gloves, storage areas, and packing materials.
Persistent biofilms can plague a facility for long periods of time, especially when it’s not clear where they are located. This might prompt multiple recalls, lost productivity, and costly damage control to restore a brand.
Disinfecting to Remove Biofilms
Because biofilms are so diverse—they can form on a range of surfaces and be made up of a variety of bacterial species—it can be challenging to remove them. They can be resistant to chemical disinfectants and often require mechanical action to disrupt the matrix that binds them to surfaces. When the presence of a biofilm is discovered, deep cleaning and disinfection is required to remove it. This includes disassembling equipment, moving machinery to access hard-to-reach areas, and addressing every square inch of surface area. It’s also important to test for bacteria both before and after disinfection to confirm that the biofilm has been sufficiently removed. In some cases, multiple rounds may be required to achieve the necessary log reduction.
Preventing Biofilms in a Food Processing Environment
When the first few bacteria adhere to a surface, the connection is weak and easily disrupted through regular cleaning and sanitation practices. However, once a biofilm has fully developed, it is much more difficult to remove. This is why daily sanitation is so important for preventing the formation of biofilms. Applying an effective sanitizer that reduces bacteria to safe levels can help prevent the formation of biofilms, which naturally reduces the risk of contamination and the need for deep cleaning and disinfection. Daily sanitation in combination with periodic deep cleaning can help keep biofilms at bay.
Use D7 for Biofilm Removal and Prevention
One of the reasons biofilms are allowed to develop and flourish is because many chemical sanitizers also require mechanical action to effectively remove a biofilm. This can be a constraining factor for FSQA managers who are faced with aggressive production schedules and limited resources. D7 is an innovative sanitizer and disinfectant that kills biofilms without the need for mechanical action, thereby significantly reducing the manpower required. This makes it possible to implement cost-effective daily sanitation protocols. To learn more about best practices for efficient plant sanitation, read The Busy FSQA Manager’s Guide to Proactive Plant Sanitation.