Killer Microbe

How IFC is Helping Processors with Their Microbial Decontamination Needs

June 18, 2021
We’re talking all things safety and sanitation in this special bonus episode of the Food For Thought podcast.

We have an information-packed episode on the books today. Join us as we talk to Leonard Mongiello, Business Development and Sales Manager for the Industrial Fumigant Company (IFC) about microbial decontamination, bioremediation, and a host of other safety and sanitation issues all food and beverage processors deal with.

We also talk about how IFC helps processors stay food and plant safe with its ProClean service line.


Food Processing: Before we really dig in, especially on the topic as important as what we're going to talk about today, can we define a few terms? What's microbial decontamination and what is bioremediation?

Leonard: Microbial decontamination is the process where pathogenic microbes or very tiny life forms are actually removed, disabled, killed. And there are a few different versions of it, and you've asked me about one of them. But it's essentially taking pathogenic, really small, we call them microorganisms, and removing them from a place where they are not desired. On your question about remediation, it's within the suite of decontamination solutions. It is more specific and it works on not just microbes, but some of the causal conditions for microbial growth.

Food Processing: Can we talk for a second about something IFC provides that helps with the microbial decontamination and bioremediation. I'm talking about ProClean. And what is that and why is IFC offering it?

Leonard: ProClean is our bundle of solutions that provide decontamination services. That's our branded name. We have provided two of them for a long time. When the virus that causes COVID-19 hit our country and our workplaces, our company and the other companies that we partner with that are associated with us in common brands decided that we had a demand out there for surface decontamination. So, we gave that a name so it could be marketed. And then we thought to group all three together as an offering that approaches all decontamination services. So, the need for surface contamination from the virus that causes COVID-19 had us say, "Well, let's give these all the same name." We were already doing two of them.

Food Processing: Can you tell me what kind of services are in IFC's ProClean service line?

Leonard: We offer ProClean services because our clients have a need to have a workplace in their food production or distribution facilities where pathogenic microbes or organisms are not present. They're swabbing all the time and if they get positive hits, there are different ways of dealing with that, primarily with sanitation. But when they've got an issue that won't go away, that's where the solutions are necessary. That's why we have in our offering, and that's why we provide them.

Top-down, sterilization is the first decontamination service. It kills all life forms, including spores. The second of the three is disinfection. This kills to a lesser degree, but it's a decimal point lesser. So, when there was a concern for the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted on surfaces. So, if somebody who was infected sneezed on a surface and somebody else touched it and we worried that the virus could be moved that way, there are solutions for disinfection that the CDC designed designated as acceptable with a certain kind of kill and certain modes of action. So that's the disinfection. That's the next down. And then the last is bioremediation that we mentioned. And that typically deals with organic waste, which is a host for microbial and other kinds of things that you don't want in your food plant.

Guest Profile: Leonard Mongiello

Leonard Mongiello oversees IFC’s Regional Field Sales Team, Bird Control Division, Advanced Fogging Systems, ProClean Chlorine Dioxide Sterilization and Disinfection Services business units. He joined IFC in 2012. 

Food Processing: I know that ProClean also includes chlorine dioxide. What kinds of microbial organisms does the chlorine dioxide treatment target?

Leonard: Chlorine dioxide is the sterilant. It is the best kill of all the solutions that we've mentioned. And we live among a sea of unseen bacteria and viri. We learned this, some of us did, when the virus that causes COVID-19 came and we became aware of all the viruses that go in and out of our homes and our businesses on our feet and on our bodies and our hands. We're worried about the pathogenic ones, okay?

In food processing, E. coli typically happens with fruit and/or vegetables. And that usually happens at the farm stage and not in processing. There's not a lot of processing in what we call fresh cut. For those of you that are listening, you probably have this theory concerns or salmonella concerns based upon what kind of products that you make. And those are the microbial organisms that come to mind that you get the positive swabs for that you really care about.

But the chlorine dioxide gas, which we'll speak about, is a sterilant. And it's for virus, and for bio, and for mold. And these are the kinds of things that food plants want to find out about by the process of swabbing and seek solutions to kill them.

Food Processing: I know that chlorine dioxide is a gas. Is it poisonous to humans and is it corrosive?

Leonard: It's highly toxic. Again, for those in our industry who may be familiar with fumigation and unlike fumigants, they're designed to kill particular life forms. So, we're included in the life forms that it is capable of killing. So, yes, chlorine dioxide is a gas that's produced at the site and as such, it is highly toxic.

Chlorine dioxide is also used as an aqueous solution, a lot of wash down in food processing or cleaning in place. IFC has chlorine dioxide. And there are concerns for corrosion with it. It doesn't say pure or a dry gas. And the only corrosion is with raw steel. If you have raw steel, it's probably been corroded by something and the corrosion is simply a change of color. People are typically thinking about, "Oh, my gosh. What if there's electronic equipment or computers or that kind of stuff?" And absolutely no worries whatsoever. So, the corrosive stuff that attaches to the chlorine dioxide typically goes with the chlorine dioxide wet solutions that are used in the food industry.

Food Processing: What kind of safety precautions need to be taken when using the chlorine dioxide?

Leonard: When we do a chlorine sterilization with chlorine dioxide treatment for a client, evacuation is what we do. We make sure that the entire facility is emptied, similar for those of you who know fumigation to what we do for fumigations. We post guards. We have the facility turned over to us. Even if we're simply doing a piece of machinery or a room within a facility, not the whole facility, we want to protect you and us, you, the client, and us, from having anybody exposed to the area treated and the toxic gas in it. We do that by making sure that nobody's there, period.

It can be a sticking point. The food business runs fast and runs a lot and shutting down for a period of time, in many cases, has a cost to it. We weigh that against the cost of having something microbial that's bad for your food and bad for your clients. But we are really firm on protecting everyone by having anybody from your business not there during the time of treatment.

About IFC

The Industrial Fumigant Company (IFC) is a national provider of pest management and sanitation solutions exclusively to the food industry. The company has worked directly with the food and commodity industries since 1937. Learn more about them on their website

Food Processing: If I'm a food processor and I'm anticipating this kind of chlorine dioxide treatment in my facility, what sort of preparation should I do, and what is the average projected treatment timeframe?

Leonard: As compared to the fumigations that I've referenced, which in many cases are 24 or 48 hours, front to back, in this case, we look at something on the order of 12 hours. And that's from when everybody's out the building until people can start coming back.

The preparation that the client does is enforcing that nobody comes to the building, and then making sure that sanitation is not forsaken, knowing that a really powerful sterilant is coming. We ask for everything in the treated area to be cleaned to the very best of your ability, because organic matter can make it harder for the gas to reach its target and it can also break down gas. There are many kinds of machines where there are organic matter in places that without a special or deep clean are going have organic metal left, and we encourage our clients to make sure that they take care of that.

We speak to you about ventilation, where the air comes from where it goes. We look at maps of your building. We do a site plan. But real handholding in terms of making sure that this is a team effort together, that you give us, the client, all the best conditions. We talk about relative humidity. The higher the better. So, we've got an actual plan that we do with you and the successful treatments are the ones where we get full participation and these kinds of helps from our clients.

Food Processing: Can we talk about efficacy? After my plant has been treated with this chlorine dioxide, how do I know that the microorganisms have been destroyed?

Leonard: That's a good question. And you the client typically have engaged us because you've been swabbing and you haven't been able to kill it or clean it away. You're going to swab after and have a yes or no is that pathogen still there. Because sterilization has a higher level of kill, and we call this a log six kill, we test, with the eyes, for a log four, five, and six kill. So, we actually bring a live bacterium in a sealed container into the facility that can't transmit, and we make sure that it gets killed through a validation process.

And the two things about efficacy are we shoot for A, those of you know fumigation know of CT or concentration over time. There's a particular concentration over time for chlorine dioxide that we have minimums and we try to go over. So, I think it's 360 million parts per million per hour. So, we shoot for 720 for the kill and we aim for over 1,000.

In the science of fumigation, you get so much gas into a space and it takes up the space and does it best when it's at its highest concentration. So, the first thing on efficacy is we measure and monitor that CT while we're doing the treatment. Then we use the biological indicators with the eyes.

And so the logs four, five, and six that I mentioned, if you see a TV commercial and somebody says, "99.9% effective," that's a log 3, 99.9. And that means out of a million starting population, there's still 1,000 alive when you're done. You've killed 999,000. I guess that's the right number. But there's still a ton left. Log 6 reduction, which is what we shoot and test for, out of a million starting population, if you do a log 6 kill, there's maybe one left. So, there are logarithmic functions that show that the level of kill is what we promised. 

Food Processing: Can we go back to bioremediation for a second? What are the advantages for this type of treatment?

Leonard: Well, without speaking legalese, it's a green solution. It's not a toxic chemical. It is something that is naturally occurring in nature, and it does its work on organic matter that you introduce it to. In the scheme of things, it's relatively inexpensive. It does not have to be applied by a licensed pest control operator. Your plant sanitation or maintenance or quality people can do it. And typically, this is for either drain and drain issues. We have organic build-up in and around dumpsters and waste receptacles.

If you can imagine, what is in our business fondly referred to as dumpster juice that's stuck around a dumpster that may be liquid byproduct of what you process, well, microorganisms live in that. The bioenzyme, the little bug, that say eats and excretes the pathogen, and it renders it something that is not to be worried about because it's been treated.

Food Processing: So, it sounds like what you're saying it definitely sounds drain safe. And is it suitable to be released in drains?

Leonard: Yes, and yes. That's one of the primary things in terms of it not being a regulated pesticide and being green are yes and yes for both. The label for every product speaks very specifically to any exceptions, but as a general rule, yes and yes, drain safe and suitable for release into drains, yes and yes.

Food Processing: I want to wrap up today's episode by asking you this final question. If a listener wanted to talk to you or someone at IFC about ProClean, how could they get in touch?

Leonard: My contact information is generally available. You can email me at [email protected] or call 424-400-9026.

Learn More: August 10 Webinar with IFC

Unsure about an Integrated Pest Management program? Get your questions answered during this upcoming webinar: Prevention, Control and Integrated Pest Management Strategies. In this August 10 webinar, IFC experts will breakdown the importance of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and how a solid plan can solve your pest challenges and prevent potential recalls or customer complaints. Sign up now for the August 10 event

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