written by: Rafael•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 11/17/2011
Mold spores are the reproductive bodies of fungi. Molds and mold spores that proliferate within food processing plants can be very dangerous. Learn how mold spores can be controlled and methods for eliminating mold spores in food processing plants
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What Are Molds?
The term molds refer to microscopic fungi. They may live in any substrate if certain conditions (food, humidity) are present. Molds can be found in any vegetable or animal substrate, live or dead, and on non living substrates such as dead wood, cardboard, cement, concrete, carpets, metals, etc. Experts believe that there may be as much as 300,000 or more species of fungi in the world. Molds are not unicellular but multi cellular microorganisms. They form threadlike structures and produce spores, the reproductive structures of molds. Spores are disseminated from one place to other by a variety of vectors such as air, water, animals, insects, people, etc.
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Are Molds Dangerous to People?
Molds are particularly important to the food industry because some of them are dangerous. Some molds present in food (especially cereals) may produce dangerous chemical toxins known as mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are produced mostly on cereals (corn, wheat, rice) and nuts (peanut, almonds, etc) but may present in mold-infected produce and vegetables such as grapes, apples, celery, lettuce, etc. Among the most dangerous mycotoxins are the aflatoxins, carcinogenic chemical compounds produced by certain molds present in foods and feeds, especially in corn and peanuts.
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Eliminating Mold Spores in Food Processing Plants
The food industry has taken notice of the danger that molds and mold spores pose to human health and of the public and financial consequences that mold proliferation within processed food may have on their business. Recent recalls on different food contaminated with mycotoxins (peanut butter, for example) are examples of such problems.
Government is also contributing to alleviate the problem by regulating and inspecting certain commodities. Aflatoxins are considered unintentional and unavoidable in food and feed contaminants. Good manufacturing practices must be followed to prevent mold spore germination and proliferation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have the mandate to monitor peanuts and field corn for aflatoxin content and have the power to mandate a recall on any food or feed that has a high level of aflatoxins.
Eliminating mold spores in food processing plants is very difficult. Prevention is the key. Special filters must be installed to avoid mold spores being carried inside the food processing plant by air or water. The quality of water and air should be constantly be monitored for the presence of molds and mold spores. Traditional cleaning agents used by the food industry (chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, iodine) are ineffective in destroying mold spores.
Cleaning with ozone is probably the best method of eliminating food spores in food processing plants. Ozone is a tri-atomic oxygen (03) that has a very high redox potential (energy). Ozone is more than 3000 times more powerful a disinfectant than chlorine and it is particularly helpful in destroying mold spores by virtue of its high redox potential. Ozone is used in Japan, Europe and Australia, but has been used with limitation in the US. Ozone can be used to clean air or to be incorporated in water (known as ozone charged water and used to clean pipes, tanks, floors , equipment, surfaces, walls, etc.
Mold spores represent a threat to human health and to the business of food industry. Proper mold spore elimination within the food processing plant and prevention (GMPs) are important to eliminate and control this threat.