With the growing concern that food contamination is on the rise, food safety has never been more critical. Fresh produce is a particularly high-risk commodity, a fact that lead the pioneering Clean Works company to develop a revolutionary process to clean fresh fruit and vegetables more effectively.
An interesting aspect of the cleaning method - called Clean Verification - is that it is completely waterless.
Clean Verification is a decontamination treatment and alternative to traditional post-harvest washing.
Traditional methods of cleaning produce using chlorine washes, only offer a 50% contaminant reduction. However, the company says this technology is up to 99.99% effective at killing harmful pathogens and mold.
In many cases, this is could be the measure that prevents someone from suffering from E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, or human parasites.
Plus, "it has the benefits of treating certain fruits and vegetables that cannot be washed with water - strawberries for one," says Joe Symons, general manager of Clean Works. "Our technology works for things like that."
Benefits extend to all major players in the agri-food industry – growers, packers and processors, wholesalers, and retailers.
The treatment also increases fruits' shelf life by up to 25%, according to Symons.
Additionally, customers can apply it to a wide range of crops more safely and effectively, he says.
Clean Verification's use along the supply chain
Two major players leading the way with this advance are Sunkist and Mission Produce.
The Clean Works technology is infiltrating the market beyond these big names, though.
"We're seeing grapes, citrus, and apples as being the first innovators using our products. And then we're actually seeing a lot of opportunity and great results with leafy greens, romaine lettuce, and things along those lines."
Plus, Clean Verification's developers have adapted the technology for easy use along each point of the supply chain, he says.
"We are able to treat the product as it comes in from the farmer's fields through either our Batch machine, which is a large chamber that we treat the product with in the initial stages.
"Then we have a certain sized unit that we can go in with the packers, people using the post-harvest treatment; plus, we also have a scale machine that can be implemented in kitchens or restaurants or even grocery stores for the fresh-cut fruit."
With so many advantages of Clean Verification, the global industry is taking note.
"We're seeing a lot [of interest] at the farmer level and from the producers or the packers as well. We have installations ranging from Southern Ontario, where we are, and California, and Australia.
"We have interests coming out of China, Southeast Asia, and Nepal. Africa is actually an emerging market for us as well ... We do receive a lot of inquiries coming in from the avocado industry and a lot of that is coming out of Chile and South America."
The company is also gaining a lot of interest from Europe. He attributes this to the "very high standards for pesticide residues on their products."
He explains that this ties into another key function of the pioneering Clean Works process.
"As a side benefit of our technology, we're able to reduce the pesticide residue by 25-50%"; this is an especially attractive capability for industry players who otherwise wouldn't be able to ship to the continent.
"We have certain products that are grown in North America that we're unable to ship to Europe because of their higher pesticide residue levels. So we have that advantage of being able to reduce that going into Europe," he explains.
As far as what this worldwide expansion looks like in the short and long term, Symons comments: "Short-term is North and South America and then spreading out from there.
"Within a year and a half to two years, we'll be covering Australia, New Zealand, and expanding east from there into Europe and the Far East."
For now, Symons says Clean Verification's most prominent market is in California.
"There's a lot of large scale farms [in the state] and they seem to be the early adopters tied in with Sunkist - the citrus side of things have been very positive for us. I think [California] will be the leader for a while."
Awards and Recognition
A number of associations have applauded the company for its trailblazing efforts.
In August, it will receive the International Association of Food Production Award for Innovation.
Previously, it won Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.
Symons comments: "The comments we get from academia have been great; the product in the process has been well received, and we see it as becoming an accepted science."