Hobart will use Microban's antibacterial system in its slicing machines. Although the technology has been available for years, Hobart will be the first manufacturer to include antimicrobial product protection in food industry equipment, hoping to capitalize on consumer fears over contaminated deli products. Other firms are likely to follow Hobart's lead, boosting interest in the company and in the sector as a whole.

The days of 'running the gauntlet' with a corned beef on rye could be over. Hobart announces it will begin incorporating plastics treated with Microban Products Company's antibacterial protection system into its food slicing equipment models, reducing the build up of odor and stain-causing microorganisms between cleanings.

Recent scares over food hygiene, including the death of one person from contaminated deli meat sold at a Midwestern supermarket in May, has highlighted industry and consumer fears over food safety and the hygienic handling of higher risk items such as meat and poultry.

Microban, an antibacterial ingredient that is built into plastics, liquids and textiles during manufacture to protect against the growth of contamination-producing bacteria, has been used for over 25 years in hospitals and in a wide range of products including toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant and soap. In the mid-1990s, UK supermarket chain Sainsbury's launched a range of reusable food containers incorporating the chemical. However, it has taken some time for the technology to reach the commercial food sector.

The antimicrobial product will be incorporated into the external plastic components of Hobart slicers, in much the same way as a colored dye, during the manufacturing process. By incorporating the additive during this stage it remains active for the life of the equipment, unlike topical antimicrobial products that wear off during regular equipment use. This will provide an added level of product protection when used in conjunction with normal cleaning practices, although the additive does not protect against food-borne bacteria. Hobart believes the incorporation of the additive will enhance the appeal of its products. It is also evaluating its use across its whole range of food service related equipment.

The sector is fairly saturated, with low annual growth. Slicing equipment has an average lifespan of 20 years, so the addition of antimicrobial additives is unlikely to result in a rush from customers. Still, the added hygiene benefits are likely to enhance interest in the company's products and the industry as a whole.

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