What began as a research project to prevent food-borne illness from fresh produce quickly — and successfully — pivoted to result in groundbreaking technology that allows for the decontamination of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment.
Since 2017, Mitacs Elevate intern and postdoctoral fellow Mahdiyeh Hasani had been working with University of Guelph Professor Keith Warriner on an ultraviolet light-based produce decontamination process for Canadian agri-food innovator Clēan Works.
The researchers developed a system that can decontaminate upwards of 50,000 cases of produce in an hour by deoxidizing microbes using UV light, hydrogen peroxide and ozone. When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in 2020 and Health Canada put out a call for technology to extend the working life of N95 masks, Hasani and the team quickly redirected their efforts.
By working together, it is possible to achieve rapid progress to benefit all involved. Innovation enables a company to diversify, thereby gaining a competitive advantage. — Mark VanderVeen, CEO, Clēan Works.
“We realized that decontaminating masks is similar to cleaning fresh produce in that microbes can hide in nooks and folds, and that the materials used in masks are sensitive to damage like fruit,” says Hasani. “We knew from studies by others that coronavirus is very sensitive to hydroxyl-radicals and is 10 times more sensitive than E. coli. We performed trials on inoculated masks, and it worked even better on masks than on fresh produce.”
Within three weeks, the Clēan Flow Healthcare Mini was born. Hasani performed the validation trials and prepared the reports for Health Canada’s approval, which was received. Clēan Flow Mini machines have now been supplied to hospitals, long-term care facilities, emergency medical services, the National Research Council of Canada and the Department of National Defense, and Clēan Works is working to further extend the units’ capabilities to include the decontamination of surgical masks and other PPE, as well as keyboards, phones, packages, bags, and shoes.
“By working together, it is possible to achieve rapid progress to benefit all involved,” says Clēan Works CEO Mark VanderVeen. “Innovation enables a company to diversify, thereby gaining a competitive advantage.”