A new foam product that has been found to kill anthrax spores also is being tested for application in the food and agriculture sectors.

Kansas State University researchers are testing the foam, developed by Sandia National Laboratories in
Albuquerque, N.M., to kill such foodborne pathogens as E. coli 0157:H7, Salmonella, Listeria, Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas (a spoilage organism) that may persist on equipment used to process food.

The product is non-toxic and non-corrosive, and looks like shaving cream. It also may be used to sanitize meat cutters' protective equipment, or possibly animal production units.

Sandia Labs developed the foam to decontaminate tanks and other military equipment that might be exposed to biological warfare agents. Jill Bieker, a Kansas State graduate student who is testing the product, points to early work revealing a “100 percent reduction” of unattached cells of common foodborne pathogens. But, she notes the product’s real test will come when it’s evaluated against cells that have attached themselves to hard surfaces in an environment in what is called a biofilm.

“Once microorganisms form biofilms, they may become up to 500 times more resistant to commonly used sanitizers,” says Bieker.

Kansas State food scientist Randy Phebus, lead project researcher, points out that the food industry’s daily operations make food biofilms on equipment a common challenge. “Even some of the most concentrated sanitizer solutions don”t get them off,” he notes.

“One thing we will look at is the foam product’s effect when used in the presence of organic materials,” Phebus says. Researchers also will look at using the foam solution as a mist in the air. The initial stage of Kansas State’s study will take 9 to 12 months.

The foam product needs regulatory approval before it can expand its use. Sandia Labs has licensed the product through a private company, which is promoting its use against anthrax.