When Paul Moyer started making candy apples on his family farm in Lincoln 20 years ago, few may have thought he would be at the forefront of a food safety tech innovation.
But now, Clean Works, which Moyer jointly owns, has created a technique which can sterilize food, reducing pathogens, improving shelf life, reducing food waste and protecting the environment.
During the Agri-food Innovation and Food Safety conference hosted by the town of Lincoln on Nov. 3, Clean Works showed off its technology and how it could revolutionize the food safety industry.
Moyer’s candy apple business came under threat in 2015 when a fatal listeria outbreak on candy apples in America saw a huge reduction in sales of the treat.
In response, Moyer set about creating a machine that used UV light and a vaporizing fog to eliminate any pathogens, and Clean Works was born.
At its core, Clean Works uses ultraviolet light with a mist of ozone and hydrogen peroxide. According to Dr. Keith Warriner, a professor in the food science department at the University of Guelph who helped create the process, this creates free radicals, vaporizing any pathogens without damaging the food.
During a tour of the Moyer Apple facility in Beamsville, Moyer demonstrated the process. Apples are fed into a small box reminiscent of an airport security X-ray machine. It glows with a futuristic blue hue, and the apples remerge the other side, completely sanitized.
Moyer said the process can sanitize food to 99.9 per cent, creating incredibly safe food.
“(They’re) probably the safest apples in the world,” he said.
The process also extends the shelf life of the treated food. Moyer’s apples, for instance, have a shelf life of 35 days instead of 14 days without the treatment.
But it’s not just apples that the technology can sanitize. According to Warriner, it could be used for various applications in food safety and beyond.
“The application is only limited by imagination,” he said.
The process is so effective that during the pandemic, they used the machine to sanitize N95 masks to fight the mask shortage. It worked so well that Health Canada approved it.
And the technology may play an important role in one of Niagara’s most important agricultural products: wine.
Allan Schmidt, president at Vineland Estates Winery, is a Clean Works convert.
“This technology is a game-changer in food safety worldwide,” he said.
He’s hoping to use it on his vines, using a tractor-pulled trailer that treats the grape plants.
The hope is that it will protect against mildew, a fungal pest that can infect 5,000 tonnes of grapes in a bad year in Ontario, which is about six million bottles, or $70 million in value.
Schmidt teamed up with the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC) to test the possibility, and the results look good.
Andrew Wylie, research scientist for plant pathology at VRIC, said that the experiments demonstrated Clean Works technology increased disease suppression compared to UV alone.
It also carries some benefits over fungicides, which are currently used to fight mildew.
Mildew mutates very rapidly, so can develop resistance to fungicides. However, the mutation required to develop a resistance to the Clean Works solution would require a massive change in the organism rather than a simple mutation.
The fungicidal solutions are also very expensive, both financially and environmentally.
But since hydrogen peroxide and ozone are just made of hydrogen and oxygen, the only byproducts of the Clean Works process are water and hydrogen, meaning no harmful chemicals are produced, benefitting the environment.
“It’s extremely green,” said Moyer.
For Moyer, he’s proud that his candy apple business, which started right here in West Niagara, has helped spur an innovation that could change the industry.
“Out of caramel apples, we have a technology that will literally change the way we wash, sanitize and potentially grow our food,” he said.