Fighting Germs Is Helping A Bristow Company To Grow

Thursday, September 21st 2006, 10:09 am
By: News On 6

OSU researchers are working on a safer, more effective way to clean food products before they reach consumers. Scientists are testing a solution marketed by a Bristow company called Unitherm.

As News on 6 reporter Heather Lewin explains, if the product is a hit nationwide, this Bristow business could really clean up.

In the past, Unitherm Food Systems specialized in creating equipment that uses heat to kill germs and keep foods safe. Now the Bristow-based company is marketing a new method of cold pasteurization-- to prevent food contamination like the recent e-coli outbreak that has stores pulling bagged spinach from the shelves. "This product would kill all those type of pathogens on contact." Doug Phillips says the key is electrolyzed water, a saltwater based solution run through an electric current that turns into a non-toxic sanitizer.

It kills bacteria, but is safer for workers than chlorine rinses often used on commercial produce. They call it San Aquel and it's not just for veggies. OSU researchers are testing several other uses. "We've looked at all sorts of things from meat applications to vegetable applications to cooked food applications to spraying the process equipment."

Phillips says the electrolyzed water can clean the food and the equipment that makes it, keeping bacteria from collecting on the plant floor. "Once the technology is accepted on a wide scale, I expect it will be hard for us to keep up with demand, it will be our biggest issue to deal with. It's a nice one to have."

In fact, it's generated so much interest, Unitherm is expanding. The company plans to purchase the old Kwikset factory next door, bringing industry and jobs back to Bristow. Kwikset, the area's biggest employer, closed up shop two years ago and headed to Mexico, taking away more than 1,200 jobs.

While they won't match that number, Unitherm-San Aquel expects a substantial increase. "And it's a fairly skilled workforce we're looking for because we're dealing in stainless steel, electronic controls, electronic systems and so we're looking for that higher value employee which I think there's quite a good population of that available to us in this area."

Officials are currently seeking federal approval to use San Aquel on a wider scale. Unitherm plans to move into the new building and start hiring next spring.