An Ontario company has developed a biodegradable organic sanitizer specifically to eliminate microbes on dry foods like seeds, nuts, and powders.
Foods treated with Neo-Pure are now sold in major grocers across North America, including Loblaw, Whole Foods, Costco and Trader Joe’s — and new technology for treating wheat flour is in the pipeline.
“Most food products go through some kind of preventive treatment to eliminate microbes such as yeast, mould, coliforms, and pathogens like Salmonella and E.coli. Dry foods, however, don’t lend themselves to conventional treatments because those treatments can change the taste, appearance, and nutritional profile of products like seeds, nuts and powders,” said Agri-Neo President Rob Wong, one of the company’s three co-founders.
Milk, for example, is pasteurized and fruits and vegetables undergo a chlorine wash, but for dry foods, there is no industry standard for microbe control. The only consistent measure for food safety to date is sampling.
“Every truck of chia seed, for example, is tested for microbes, but several small samples from a whole truckload won’t necessarily catch everything, so you do see a lot of recalls of dry foods,” he added.
Neo-Pure is a wettable powder that is combined with water and misted onto dry food products at processing. Once Neo-Pure comes into contact with a microbe, it destroys it instantly by breaking it down and then biodegrades completely — without changing the taste, appearance, or nutritional profile of the food it is treating, according to Agri-Neo.
The company got its start in Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District a decade ago and launched Neo-Pure in December 2014.
Today, Agri-Neo has offices and production facilities in Etobicoke with a growing team focused heavily on science, engineering and technical knowledge in food safety and microbiology. Its customers are food companies across North America, as well as a large sesame and chia seed producer in Paraguay. It is also making inroads to the European market.
“Ultimately, we want to help safely feed the world and in addition to dry foods like seed and nuts, we want to look at food categories where existing solutions are not meeting needs well,” said Wong.
“Ready-to-eat, like eating pumpkin seeds out of a package or putting chia seeds on salads, is a very important category, but we’re also looking at spices or dehydrated vegetables,” he added.
The application system Agri-Neo has developed for its customers to apply Neo-Pure has a footprint of about 1,000 square feet and can treat about 6,600 pounds per hour.
According to Wong, Agri-Neo is getting ready to launch a new technology specific to wheat flour in the next 12 to 18 months. Although most people assume flour will be baked before it is consumed, that’s not always the case. Wong cited examples like refrigerated or frozen cookie doughs, and cake or pancake mixes where the batter can be sampled before cooking or baking.
“At the end of the day, wheat flour is a raw product,” he said, adding the new technology could also be applied to products made from more traditional row crops, including corn meal, rice flower and oats to minimize or eliminate possible food safety issues.
“Do well by doing good is a broader theme for us, so if you can make food safer but in a way that doesn’t hurt the food’s integrity, that’s pretty powerful,” he said.
Over the years, the company has received support from Guelph-based Ontario Agri-Food Technologies as well as agribusiness accelerator Bioenterprise, and federal and provincial government programs.
– With files from AgInnovation Ontario