Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Ultrasound cleaning for food factories

A new ultrasound system cleans industrial food processing conveyor systems using minimal water and energy. It will mean cost savings and productivity gains for business.
Ultrasound cleaning for food factories
Saving water via usage-reduction technologies in food industries is a major opportunity for Europe, offering large potential savings and productivity advantages for thousands of European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Cleaning is a major part of water consumption, and systems combining ultrasound with water-saving technologies offer a way forward.

To address this, the EU funded the 'Low temperature and lean volume cleaning system' (LOWTEV) project. This was a 2-year, EUR 1.1 million project uniting 7 engineering and food science partners from 4 European countries. It aimed to deliver a system for reducing consumption of water used for cleaning conveyor belts in food processing and manufacturing industries.

The resulting system relies on novel techniques of coupling low water usage equipment with ultrasound. Ultrasound had previously been used to clean disassembled machinery, but the new LOWTEV system allows non-removable conveyor belt equipment in food factories to be cleaned in place (CIP). The LOWTEV system consists of a minimal water-using ultrasound device integrated with an automated rapid hygiene monitoring system.

Early tests using cold water and no detergent exceeded common industry targets, particularly for shellfish. Tests for both dried-on and fresh food residues showed rapid achievement of a 'visibly clean' stage. They also achieved more than 99.9 % reduction in bacterial contamination. The system demonstrated low-temperature, low-volume CIP of biofilms, bacteria and food contamination (including allergens) using 5 litres of water per minute compared to the 20 litres industry standard.

This means less operational downtime as conveyor belts no longer need removing, meaning less factory disruption for cleaning. The system also has low impact: it can be easily retrofitted or built in to new factory systems.

The project's second year saw integration of the complete system and user validation trials in controlled environments. LOWTEV filed two patent applications in 2011, one for the cleaning system and another for its sampler.

Water and energy savings resulting from the LOWTEV system will be worth an estimated EUR 30 000 per factory per year. Factory installations will pay for themselves in less than one year. The system will also mean improved productivity and profitability for European SMEs.

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