Food manufacturers follow strict protocols of cleaning, sanitising, and disinfecting their food processing equipment in order to ensure food safety and public health, and to reduce the risk of recalls, which are costly and damaging to reputation. Many manufacturers even go beyond the minimum legal requirements.
Despite these efforts, one in six Americans get sick from contaminated foods or beverages each year, and 3,000 die as a result, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while foodborne illnesses in the US cost more than $15.6 billion a year.
In 2013 to 2014, undeclared allergens were responsible for 47% of food recalls in the US, followed by salmonella (25%), and Listeria monocytogenes (17%), according to an FDA report, which concluded: “It is recommended that all cleaning methods are evaluated for effectiveness. The development of food-contact surfaces and equipment designs that are more cleanable, particularly in dry food manufacture is needed.”
One Israeli startup believes it has come up with a solution to current industrial cleaning and sanitising methods that are flawed. Kiinns has developed a patent-pending technology that eliminates the need to clean food processing equipment after use in food production lines by coating the equipment with a biodegradable polymer.
The company has not revealed the exact composition of its spray-coating polymer but Tzvika Furman, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said it is made of a combination of food-grade and food-safe materials that are biodegradable and can be composted “causing no harm to the environment once its particles go back to nature”.
Inspiration for the concept came over a cup of coffee, which had become a source of frustration for Furman.
“I had an espresso machine, which had a milk frothing unit, and I just hated cleaning it at home. So, I said to myself, ‘I’m an engineer, I can find a solution,’” he told Fi Global Insights. “It was a complex and technical issue, so my father and business partner [Dr Ehud Furman] joined me – he has a PhD in physics – and we started thinking about how to create solutions."
“We soon realised the real cleaning problems are in the food and beverage industry […] so we pivoted from home solutions that solve hassles to solving the real issues and problems caused by industrial cleaning – food safety, environmental problems, and cost.”
The company’s first prototype was a pre-prepared liner sheet that attached to different parts of the machinery but, after talking to manufacturers, the father-and-son team realised the liner needed to be tailormade to fit on the spot. They then developed a sprayable liner to completely cover the equipment.
The spraying process is fully automated and performed by a portable robotic system on the factory floor that first scans the equipment’s surface, memorising its geometry and shape, and then coats the equipment.
“We understand the geometry of the food processing equipment and then 3D print this liner on the equipment,” Furman explained.
According to the company, it takes around one minute to apply and remove the biopolymer to equipment with a simple geometry design and between two and four minutes for more complex designs.
By completely covering the machinery-food contact area, it reduces potential bacterial or allergen contamination from one batch of food processing to the next, and will cost less current cleaning and sanitation processes, Kiinns said.
‘A world’s first alternative to cleaning’
The startup was selected as finalist in the Startup Innovation Challenge, held at Fi Europe CONNECT 2020, and is currently raising its seed round.
With a portfolio of patent applications currently pending, the startup is in the development phase but has already signed several letters of intent with multinational food manufacturers that are keen to try out its technology.
“The existing cleaning solutions only minimize some of the problems associated with the cleaning processes, but they do not address all problems of food safety and the high costs of cleaning,” Furman said. “Cleaning processes are also the source for a major negative environmental impact resulting in huge water waste and pollution caused by the use of detergents and chemicals.”
The entrepreneur describes Kiinns’ technology as the world's first alternative to cleaning.
“It’s a total disruption of the common practice of cleaning that for ages was considered a ‘necessary evil’ – a process that had to be carried out despite its drawbacks, as there was never a real alternative.”
Furman believes the global COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the trend towards more automation in food production lines for health and safety reasons.
“We already see, and will see more, focus on hygiene and sanitation processes. We will also see the industry moving towards more automated processes to enhance social distancing and reduce the potential of health issues in food production lines. There will also be a growing focus on efficiency of processes and the need to maintain lower costs.”