Researchers at Kansas State University are testing a new foam product designed to combat the threat of bio-terrorism, in the hope that it can also be used to destroy foodborne pathogens on food processing equipment, such as E. coli 0157:H7, Salmonella, Listeria, Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas (a spoilage organism).

The decontamination foam, developed by Albuquerque-based Sandia National Laboratories, was designed for use by the military to kill anthrax spores and decontaminate tanks or other military equipment that might have been exposed to biological warfare agents.

Scientists working at Sandia will not reveal the foam's exact ingredients but they are believed to be similar to common household products. It is non-toxic, non-corrosive and looks like shaving cream.

One of the researchers, Reddi Thippareddi, told AgWeb that, "currently, peroxyacetic acid is considered to be one of the best products out there". However, he added: "The Sandia foam is more stable and more effective than other systems currently being used in the food industry."

Another researcher, graduate Jill Bieker, added that early tests had shown a "100% reduction" of unattached cells of common foodborne pathogens. However she stressed that it will be harder for the product to shift cells already formed as a biofilm, attached to hard surfaces (such as stainless steel within the processing plant).

"Once micro-organisms form biofilms, they may become up to 500 times more resistant to commonly-used sanitizers," said Bieker.

The initial research project, expected to last between nine months and a year, will also involve testing other forms of the foam, for example how the solution works as a mist.

The foam product would require regulatory approval before it could be used in the food sector.