Q&A: Ozone technology's potential
Five years ago, Jim Brandt retired from life as a surgeon and began focusing on a new interest — ozone technology. So Brandt launched Ozone International in Bainbridge Island, Wash., which now counts Pacific Seafood, UniSea, True World Foods and Heartland Catfish as major seafood-processor clients. Brandt talked to SeafoodSource on Wednesday about the benefits of ozone technology versus conventional chemicals and why it's so attractive to seafood processors.
What are the benefits of ozone technology?
The single most important thing is that it allows continual cleaning of a processing plant. It's very active as far as sanitizing and killing bacteria, viruses, mold, etc. We set it at very, very low concentrations, 2 parts per million, much lower than you would normally use chlorine. After it oxidizes bacteria it reverts back to oxygen, so you don't have to shut down the plant to clean. It can be used on conveyor belts, directly on product and the residue of the spray drops down to the floor. It sanitizes drains, the floor, etc. It shortens the cleaning time a plant would normally have.
It's also safer than conventional chemicals; there is no risk of chemical burns. Workers can use it on their boots, gloves, etc. You also don't use it with hot water so it saves energy.
Why is ozone so attractive for seafood processors?
The return on investment is so high because spoilage is so big in seafood, and it kills fish contaminants all the way down the line.
Seafood processors can apply it directly to fish. When the fish first come off the boat, there's a slim layer of biofilm that contains a lot of bacteria. There hasn't been a good way to remove this, and it's what really starts the degradation process of fish. So what the processors do is spray the fish when it first comes in, which removes the layer and then sanitizes the remainder of the skin surface so the bacteria are removed. It helps increase shelf life.
One of the biggest concerns in seafood is Lysteria, which can grow both in oxygen and outside of oxygen and at cool temperatures. Ozone is very effective against Lysteria as well as Salmonella and E. coli, so it's a very effective agent for food safety.
The seafood industry is definitely adopting the technology the quickest. It's currently being used on shrimp, lobster, catfish, halibut, salmon and more, and it's really effective across the board. The only thing we're not using it in is oysters because it's hard to get the ozone into the oyster. It's something that maybe with time we'll be able to do because I think it would be a great agent for controlling Vibrio.
How has the technology improved over time?
A major advance for us was to combine a high pressure water stream with our low pressure ozinated water stream. Those are the two streams that are applied to floor or heavy equipment during break times, not during production shifts. You're effectively able to remove the majority of debris and then come right behind and sanitize.
What's next for ozone technology?
It's a very, very attractive technology. I see that it will only increase. Within four or five years most food processing plants will probably be using ozone in some capacity.
For us, it's been spreading by word of mouth. What we find is that when you get into an industry, once one processor gets it, all of a sudden their competitors want it, too. They feel they need it to stay compete with someone already using ozone.
Is ozone safe and environmentally friendly?
It's the most organic way that you can do processing. Some of the European countries are taking a more aggressive stance on the use of chlorine, and I think that with time that will come to pass here. We may need more government regulation here in the United States to really make it happen more quickly, but the time will certainly come.