New Alliance Benefits Food Safety

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year one in six Americans will become ill from a foodborne illness. The Alliance for Advanced Food Sanitation (AAFS) is a new consortium on Nebraska Innovation Campus conducting research on every stage of food processing sanitation.

“Sanitation is critical and complex,” said Rolando Flores, who served as head of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Department of Food Science and Technology from 2010 until 2016. Sanitation is expensive, he said, but without careful attention to sanitation, a company can go out of business.

The alliance, which involves research, extension and teaching, will develop improved sanitation practices and foster the development of new surface materials and procedures that can be implemented by the food processing and affiliated industries. The alliance’s office is in the Food Innovation Center where the Department of Food Science and Technology and The Food Processing Center are located.

Angela Anandappa was selected to be the founding director of the Alliance for Advanced Food Sanitation, beginning in June 2016. Anandappa earned a doctorate in Food Safety Systems from the University of Kentucky and most recently worked for KraftHeinz as a section manager in Supply Chain Safety Assurance.

Sanitation defined

Sanitation includes the proper materials and methods used in cleaning equipment in production facilities, Flores said. 
Not only are the surfaces and equipment important, but also the air in the facility.

The environment in which foods are processed is relatively high in humidity, which is ideal for the growth of certain microorganisms. The AAFS’s goal is to assist in maintaining a clean food-processing environment, Flores explained.

“In order to have a food-safe product, we need to guarantee that the facility follows sanitation procedures properly and depending on the material that you are handling there, the type of products,” Flores said.

Vision, funding

A senior faculty member in the Department of Food Science and Technology, Steve Taylor, generated the idea for the AAFS.

“It was brought up when we were having a retreat with industry members from ConAgra Foods,” Flores said. “In this meeting, this idea was brought up to create a consortium.”

The alliance is overseen by the director, who is responsible for all alliance activities and provides executive oversight for alliance programs.

The AAFS was funded by a group of nine major food companies and it is looking to increase the membership. Each company pays an annual fee, based on company size, to belong to the alliance. In exchange for this fee, the company can participate in deciding what areas of research are to be conducted.

As full members, they will have input in the alliance’s research agenda by recommending research proposals, acceptance, rejection and modification of proposals. Full members will also have the opportunity to be involved in hands-on workshops to receive training in new approaches to cleaning and sanitation.

“The industry has been very positive,” Flores said.

The current companies are: Hershey, Kellogg’s, Nestle, ConAgra Foods, Cargill, Ecolab, Neogen, Commercial Food Sanitation and 3M.

Growing ideas

Equipment in food processing facilities needs to be easy to clean. Traditionally, stainless steel surfaces have been used in food processing facilities. The research will look at developing bacteria-resistant surfaces and chemicals and techniques that may be more appropriate for the cleaning process.

A surface in a food processing facility is described as anything that gets in contact with food, intermediate products or raw materials, Flores said. To the eye, the surface may appear to be clean and smooth, but may look different when placed under a microscope.

“For example, if you put a piece of beef on a counter that is made out of high-density polyethylene, depending on the roughness of the surface, the food product is going to touch there and will leave some residual material there,” Flores said.

The group also will develop detection methods and solutions for issues related to equipment. For example, if a gasket in a pipe is not working well, it can allow for some accumulation of food material, Flores explained. “Microorganisms at the microscopic level find an environment conducive to growth and then it contaminates everything.”

Steam and chlorinated chemicals currently are used to remove leftover food or organic matter from surfaces in food processing facilities. The research will look at new and more effective methods of cleaning equipment parts and ensuring optimal function.

The Alliance for Advanced Food Sanitation will work to reduce cost and increase efficiency in sanitation procedures in production facilities.

“The cost of the labor, the cost of chemicals and the cost of water result in high production costs. It is a high cost for the food industry,” Flores said. Further research will be conducted on using less water, chemicals and energy in food production facilities.


Flores said finding a way to feed the world’s growing population is a constant reminder to the companies in the alliance.

“It is a matter of quantity of food produced, but also quality and safety,” he said.

“There are not only food scientists involved in this. There are chemists, physicists, engineers, biologists and microbiologists who are involved,” Flores said. “There is a lot of opportunity for the University of Nebraska to come out with very novel and timely research to benefit the consumer.”