The University of Guelph says a device meant to decontaminate fresh produce is now being used to sanitize N95 masks for health-care workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The technology, developed by U of G food scientist Keith Warriner, recently received approval from Health Canada.

The process is waterless and combines ultraviolet light, hydrogen peroxide and ozone to make compounds that kill pathogens.

Each device can sanitize N95 masks in 30 seconds and can handle 800 masks an hour, according to the university.

“It’s a game-changer,” Warriner said. “It combines the benefits of using hydrogen peroxide vapour and UV while overcoming the limitation of applying either alone.”

The units are made by Clean Works Medical in Beamsville, Ont.

They were developed in response to a listeria outbreak in the United States linked to candy apples but the university said a discussion began last month about adapting the produce-cleaning technology for sanitizing masks.

Clean Works has gone from making one unit per week to making several devices, known as Clean Flow Healthcare Minis, each week for hospitals and other health-care facilities.

“Once I heard about the mask shortage and the need to decontaminate them, my thought went right to this,” Warriner said. “It ticks all the boxes, and I knew the research could make a difference.”

Warriner said his postdoctoral student Mahdiyeh Hasani modified the process to handle masks instead of fruits and vegetables.

“She inoculated masks with a microbe and found the process completely eliminated the bug,” he said.

Warriner thinks the units could be used to handle other medical items, from catheters to medical gowns.

The devices are already scheduled to be sent across Canada, including to Hamilton and Nova Scotia.

Orders have also been placed by the Niagara Health Region, Toronto EMS and the National Research Council in Ottawa.

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