Foodborne illnesses can be caused by food coming in contact with bacteria on surfaces in food-processing plants, restaurants, and households. When enough bacteria congregate, they create a “biofilm” that glues them to the surface. Biofilms are impervious to normal cleaning detergents, making them difficult to remove from food-processing equipment.
Dr. Carmen Moraru of Cornell University, Dr. Diana-Andra Borca-Tasciuc of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and their teams collaborated to develop a structural, non-chemical solution to the problem: a non-stick surface. The team covered a metallic surface with a layer of aluminum oxide, with nano-sized pores that are much smaller than bacterial cells. One nanometer is one-billionth of a meter and there are 25,400,000 nanometers in one inch.
The team discovered that nanopores of a particular size (15-25 nanometers in diameter) prevent biofilm formation. This is a relatively simple, practical, and science-based method to block attachment by diverse pathogenic bacteria to food-processing surfaces. This research provides the foundation of an innovative way to prevent foodborne illness and protect public health.
I went to school in communist Romania during the Cold War, and couldn’t really aspire to doing research. Fortunately, the communist regime fell as I finished my undergraduate studies. I received a scholarship during my PhD program in Germany. This opened up my world and resulted in my commitment to a career in research in order to deliver safe and nourishing food.
– Dr. Carmen Moraru