Food Contamination: Ozone Answers Concerns

Jan. 22, 2004

About the author: Ed Jones is president and CEO for Tru-Pure Ozone Technologies, Green Bay, Wis. He can be reached by phone at 920-863-2444; [email protected];

Recent research has shown that ozone treatment has many advantages over chlorine and other available anti-microbial agents. A key advantage of ozone over chlorine is that it not only kills bacteria, but it also destroys viruses and waterborne parasites.

Ozone water treatment systems should become the next biggest sales category for water professionals. With ever-increasing media attention being focused on water quality and food contamination issues, consumers are more concerned than ever about water and food safety. People are always looking for more answers to how they can protect themselves and their families in everyday exposure to germs. The big advantage of an ozone system is that it not only kills bacteria and cysts in water, it also has been shown to kill bacteria on food.

A recent case involved a hepatitis A outbreak that killed three people and sickened nearly 600 others who ate at a Chi-Chi's Mexican restaurant. The outbreak was traced to green onions coming in from Mexico. This case highlighted the fact that more of our food is coming from foreign countries with less stringent sanitary standards. Consumers want more fresh produce, and they want it year round, resulting in more imported food. Also, there seems to be a sharp rise of food-borne illness from fruits and vegetables. In 2000, there were almost as many reported cases of food poisoning from produce as there were from beef, poultry, fish and eggs combined, according to an advocacy group's compilation of government data. Until recently, produce was the last place investigators looked for food-borne illness. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), less than 2 percent of produce that crosses the border is inspected for disease-causing bacteria. There is a real need to find better ways to combat food-borne germs that can lead to illness.

Water Treatment

More and more homeowners are looking for treatment of their tap water at home. Ozone is one of the common types of point-of use water treatment. Standard filtration can allow microorganisms to pass through. Super fine micron filtration may filter out cysts but can contaminate downstream when filters are changed. Reverse osmosis produces a limited amount of water per day and many systems may waste significant amounts of water flushing out contaminants. Reverse osmosis also can allow bacteria and viruses to pass into the drinking water and can produce a flat, "dead" tasting water. Ultraviolet light eliminates some bacteria only as long as the bulb is at full strength and does not provide residual disinfection protection downstream. None of the common water treatment systems offer the benefits of corona discharge ozone, which produces more ozone than ultraviolet light.

Ozone is recognized as the most potent bactericide and oxidant available for water treatment. Although ozone has been used in water treatment for more than 100 years in Europe, it has only gained acceptance in the United States in the past 10 or 15 years because chlorine has been more widely used. The fact that ozone has been used instead of chlorine in Europe for nearly a century reinforces that it is not new nor is it an unproven technology. Recent research has shown that ozone treatment has many advantages over chlorine and other available anti-microbial agents. A key advantage of ozone over chlorine is that it not only kills bacteria, but it also destroys viruses and waterborne parasites. Ozone also has been proven to kill germs up to 3,200 times faster than chlorine—with absolutely no chemical residue. Chlorine can produce a carcinogenic byproduct called trihalomethanes (THMs) when combined with organic matter found mostly in surface waters. Chlorine also leaves a taste and an objectionable odor when used in water treatment. That's important to consumers who increasingly are becoming concerned about all the chemicals that are used in food and water supplies. Another advantage of ozone is that all the water a customer uses for drinking, cooking, bathing and laundry can be treated.

Ozone Benefits

Ozone is considered to be nature's own purifier and sterilizer. Ozone is a condensed form of oxygen that is created by electricity such as when lightning leaps through the air. Oxygen molecules are split apart and condensed with three atoms instead of the normal two. When introduced into water, the extra atom attacks the impurities and pathogens leaving pure, fresh oxygen behind. Ozone must be generated on site to have active bacteria fighting benefits. Then the ozone reverts back to oxygen within minutes. Those using home or commercial ozone water treatment units can enjoy the delicious, refreshing taste of "pure" FDA-quality water with a sanitizing power to kill germs on contact.

An ozone system allows the user to rinse foods to kill microbiological germs and oxidize chemical contaminants on fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and poultry, as well as extend the shelf life of these products. Cold-water rinsing of sinks, dishes, cutting boards, meat storage trays and other food preparation areas kills bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. When ozone is still in it's active form, it will eliminate bacteria, viruses, yeast, molds and mildew on exposed surfaces and can even be used as a mouth rinse to kill harmful germs and bacteria.

The use of ozone as an antimicrobial agent for food treatment, storage and processing has been approved as safe by the FDA for several years. The FDA's review of data shows that ozone represents a safe and effective agent to prevent microbial contamination of food. There is increasing use of ozone in the food processing industry.

Today, many systems are designed and available for residential use as well as for the restaurant, food service and related industries, and for use with commercial ice machines. There also are units available for recreational vehicles, campers or boats.

Ozone systems are easy to install and easy to maintain. There is no hassle or cost of adding replacement chemicals. The units fit under or on top of a counter with a simple connection to the water source and are capable of producing up to one gallon per minute. The units run on a high-output, 15-volt DC, low temperature ozone generator.

The market for ozone water treatment is sure to expand throughout all categories. Particularly among better educated, more affluent customers, the chemical-free nature of an ozone system holds significant appeal. Maintenance is low, and there is no expense for chemicals. There are some potential customers to whom ozone appeals simply because it is state-of-the-art. But the overriding fact for the future of ozone is that it will help safeguard the health of consumers by preventing food contamination.

Ozone really will be the wave of the future for home and commercial water treatment, especially because it is a chemical-free process. It should become the treatment of choice among both water treatment professionals and their customers.

With the growing concern for pure drinking water and safer food products, an ozone water treatment unit promises to become a staple kitchen appliance. It will quickly join other necessities such as garbage disposals, microwaves, smoke alarms and security systems that all have become commonplace.

The need for effective water purification and sterilization will perhaps be even more critical. Unlike a security system that protects just in case of a break-in, germs invade our homes continuously. With an ozone water treatment system, consumers can protect themselves from germs and enjoy great-tasting water at the same time.

Ozone treatment offers an outstanding sales opportunity for the water treatment specialist simply because it allows you to offer so much more to your customer: nothing less than peace of mind.

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About the Author

Ed Jones