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Ozone: a cleaning staple of the future?

06 November 2016

Beatrice Martin looks at ozone – its purpose and potential as a sanitising agent in the food and beverage sector. 

Regarded as a broad-spectrum biocide, ozone was first used as a disinfectant for drinking water in 1893; as a food preservative for the cold storage of meats in 1909 and was found to prevent the growth of yeast and mould in the storage of fruits in 1939.  

Ozone is tri-atomic oxygen (O3), the strongest single-acting disinfectant and sanitising agent available on the market.  Generally ozone gas is created on-site by a generator and pumped into water as a rinse, mist, spray or bath. The ozone then decomposes into ordinary oxygen within a few minutes. Over time, the use of ozonated water in food production plants can also remove or even prevent biofilm.

Ozone works by oxidating harmful micro-organisms and is an effective treatment for the disinfection of all types of bacteria, viruses, yeasts, moulds and spores including Adenovirus, Alicyclobacillus, E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria and viruses.  Because it works by oxidation, not as a poison to micro-organisms, it is impossible for organisms to build up a resistance to it. 

Water companies have been using ozone as a treatment process for many years and the food and beverage industry is increasingly finding applications for it in bottling applications. Many bottlers are employing ozonation technology for sanitising plant equipment, treating process water and sterilising bottles and caps. By using ozonated water to sterilise bottles and caps, manufacturers can achieve assured of a high level of disinfection but with zero taste or odour left behind.

For the bottling industry an average residual in a bottle of between 0.2g/m3 to 0.4g/m3 is advised yet in the municipal sector there are applications with up to 2g/m3. Even at these concentrations there is no effect on taste. Indeed some brands are actively marketing the use of ozone in their products – one example being ‘oxygen water’ where there is a very high dosage of ozone. However, in beverages that contain biological substances, such as beer, milk or juices, ozone can affect the flavour of the product.

When compared to conventional chlorine based products, such as chlorine-dioxide – which would normally be used for the disinfection of water – ozone offers a more effective cleaning solution. With its high oxidation potential, ozone is more than 50% stronger as an oxidiser and acts 3,000 times faster than conventional chlorine-based biocides. In a very short contact time, an ozone dosage as low as 0.2 mg/l can achieve up to 2 log (99%) pathogen reduction in water by completely destroying the pathogens’ cell membrane.

There are many potential benefits for ozone in the food and beverage industry, particularly when high volumes of water are used, such as in the brewing and distillery sectors, for example. Smaller businesses can also benefit from the technology but the returns will be dependent on the ozone demand for the water and application. 

When used in process water disinfection applications, such as those adopted at bottling plants to avoid microbial contamination in the product the use of ozone can help reduce water costs as well as the quality of water flushed down the drain.

There are many benefits to the use of ozone in food and beverage applications. It can be economically produced onsite using a generator, power supply unit, injection system and control panel all of which can be constructed on a skid or as a bespoke pre-tested/pre-commissioned system. Relatively small in footprint, they can help businesses to make the best use of space when compared to the space required for storage of other chemical solutions. Once installed, the ozone-producing system will require only minimal maintenance. 

Ozone can offer a powerful, efficient and cost-effective sanitising agent, and has much to offer the food and beverage industry – space-savings, costs-savings and water efficiencies – while delivering greater levels of sanitation than traditional chlorine based products. 

Beatrice Martin is treatment sales manager for Wedeco, a Xylem brand.

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