As the province deals with a shortage of personal protective equipment, a professor at the University of Guelph has turned to food science as a means of boosting supply.

According to a release sent out April 20, Professor Keith Warriner and Niagara-area company Clēan Works have turned a machine used to sanitize food into one that can sanitize health-care gear like N95 masks.

The release says the machine’s application was approved for use by Health Canada last week, and the first “portable decontamination units were to be delivered to health-care providers across the Canada.”

The units are made by Clēan Works in Beamsville, Ont., and orders have been placed by Niagara Health Region, Toronto EMS and the National Research Council in Ottawa.

The process developed by Warriner combines ultraviolet (UV) light, hydrogen peroxide and ozone to make compounds that kill pathogens.

According to the release, when adapted to health-care use, each device can sanitize up to 800 N95 masks in an hour.

“It’s a game-changer as it combines the benefits of using hydrogen peroxide vapour and UV while overcoming the limitations of applying either alone,” Warriner stated in the release.

According to information on the company’s website, the process the machine uses leaves behind no odour or residue.

The release says Warriner began talking with Clēan Works about adapting its produce-cleaning technology for sanitizing masks last month.

Clēan Works has since gone from making one unit a week for produce decontamination, to making several devices each week for hospitals and other health-care facilities as well as the food industry, says the release.

“We’re very proud to be able to take this technology developed and tested at the University of Guelph and here in Niagara and be able to help with the COVID-19 situation not just locally but provincially and federally and potentially internationally,” stated Paul Moyer, co-founder and vice-president, in the release.

Warriner stated the health-care application made immediate sense.

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

In late March, his post-doc Mahdiyeh Hasani modified the clean-flow process to handle masks instead of produce.

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

Warriner thinks the units could be further modified to handle other health-care items, from catheters to surgical gowns. He said the research team still needs to get feedback from health-care users.

The release said Warriner developed the waterless sanitation alternative after he was approached by Paul Moyer, owner of Moyer’s Apple Products in Beamsville.

Clēan Works makes the portable units — resembling large, stainless-steel barbecues on wheels — for produce processors, growers and wholesalers. Larger units are used by companies now supplying fruit for packaged lunches sold by Starbucks outlets.

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