An eco-friendly solution to preventing listeria risks in food processing environments

26 August 2020

Guelph ON, 26 August 2020 - A Canadian dairy co-operative has teamed up with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to develop a chemical-free way to prevent the risk of listeria in food processing environments.

Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Limited (“Gay Lea Foods”) is working with Dr. Hany Anany of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Guelph Research and Development Centre to identify and test the effectiveness of natural antimicrobial agents – lytic bacteriophages or bacterial viruses that will specifically target only Listeria bacteria without harming other beneficial species.

The project is part of the Canadian Food Innovators (CFI-ICA) research cluster “Using science and innovation to strengthen Canada’s value-added food industry” through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership's AgriScience Program.

“Canadians and consumers around the world know they can trust Canada’s high-quality safe food,” said the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “This initiative is finding new and innovative ways to enhance food security in an eco-friendly way, which is a win-win for both consumers and the environment.”

Listeria monocytogenes is one of the most common food safety risks for humans, and outbreaks of Listeria-associated foodborne illnesses have been traced back to fresh and ready-to-eat foods like dairy, meat, eggs, vegetables, and seafood. Effective sanitation is key to controlling Listeria in processing environments, but this currently involves the use of chemicals that may have negative environmental impacts as well as support development of antimicrobial resistance.

“We take sanitation very seriously; we are also attentive to consumer demand for food safety as well as their growing preference for natural products. We know there is data available on using biological agents to reduce pathogenic bacteria in various stages of food production,” explains Anilda Guri, Senior Research Scientist at Gay Lea Foods. “So, we took this opportunity to be the first ones in dairy to support this type of research. This is not a mitigation situation, but a way to be proactive for the future.”

The research involves identifying different naturally occurring Listeria phages and evaluating how well different combinations of those phages reduce the growth of Listeria in a dairy processing environment. The goal is to have a new bio-sanitation agent that can be used to sanitize equipment, food contact surfaces and drains in food processing plants and serve as an effective natural alternative to chemical antimicrobial products.

“This innovation can be expanded to other bacteria-driven food safety concerns across the broader food processing sector,” says CFI-ICA Chair Joe Lake, Director of Innovation & Research at McCain Foods Limited. “Projects like this are important to enhancing the productivity, quality and competitiveness of Canada’s food and beverage processors.”

More information about the project, including a video, is available on this website

The Canadian Food Innovators was established in 2013 to enable Canada’s food and beverage manufacturing companies to jointly access federal innovation programs and successfully delivered the country’s first food processing research cluster.

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For more information:

Robin Redstone, Communications Manager, Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Limited
rredstone@gayleafoods.com or 905-283-5208 

Joe Lake, CFI-ICA Chair
joseph_lake@canadianfoodinnovators.ca or 506-391-8019