Indoor Air Purification Technology of Choice
The vast majority of customers are anxious to get back to their pre-pandemic routines, including indoor dining at their favorite restaurants. This desire to return to the traditional restaurant setting reinforces the need for thorough and rigorous hygiene efforts, including indoor air purification. Every effort must be made to destroy infectious contaminants and ensure enclosed environments are safe, to build customer confidence.
Scott Heim, President of Middleby’s Ventless Cooking Solutions Group and lead for the new Bluezone by Middleby tackles some of issues around indoor air quality.
Q: Has a scientific consensus formed as to the transmission of COVID?
Scott: Yes, over the late summer and fall last year, the CDC and WHO published reports and studies uncovering evidence that the worst COVID outbreaks were attributed to the tiny airborne coronavirus particles. These particles are only 1 to 3 microns (the diameter of the human hair is 100 microns) and accumulate in poorly ventilated indoor spaces. The contaminants linger, drift and float in the dining spaces, building in volume as the hours pass. Wearing masks certainly help to create a barrier and halt the larger contaminants from coughing, laughing or yelling, but the smaller particulates are the primary problem and are recognized as the greater risk for transmission. These highly infectious aerosols are the elements to address and attack in a hygiene protocol. It is crucial to actively cleanse the indoor restaurant air to make the environment safer.
Q: Is there really a road map for scientifically improving the indoor air quality?
Scott: UV-C, or germicidal lamps have been used for decades in healthcare and in other indoor settings to kill bacteria or viruses in the air and for sterilization of drinking water. UV-C light is tried and true technology for virus mitigation (as well as mold and bacteria elimination), and is the core technology recommended by the CDC and FDA. Other technologies such as ionizers, hydrogen peroxide generators and electronic air cleaners using reactive oxygen species generators have not been shown to be effective in treating airborne contaminants (and many are restricted for use only when the space is empty, likely when the restaurant is closed).
Q: What products exist today that can reduce airborne contaminants and make the environments safer?
Scott: There are really 3 methods for cleaning and making the indoor air safer (assuming there are limits to adding incremental fresh air and improving fresh air exchanges in an enclosed space). The methods to evaluate and scrutinize can be categorized into containment, insertion and killing the virus. Containment is based on the power of the HEPA filters, usually positioned in the central HVAC system of a building. The HEPA filters are independently rated and can successfully contain bacteria, molds and virus contaminants. While the HEPA filters do indeed contain the coronavirus, the filters must be replaced frequently and are classified as bioburdens during the removal process. The insertion products typically spray gases, add ions or inject ozone into the air and indoor space. Insertion of gases and ozone can be effective, but harmful health impacts can occur if humans inhale many of the insertion elements. Therefore, most insertion products are specified to be deployed during non-business hours. Finally, there is the virus killing process, based upon the use of UV-C germicidal lights operating at a precise 254 nanometer (or wavelength), is ideal for destroying the virus.
Q: How does a Bluezone by Middleby UV-C air cleaner work?
Scott: Over 10 years ago, the Bluezone team successfully developed food preservation units for the U.S. military. This tried and true air purification system was originally designed to scrub the molds, bacteria and even ethylene gas molecules out of the walk-in coolers. The ability to essentially control the atmosphere extended the life of fruits and vegetables, winning a U.S. Army Achievement award and contracts to be installed into all U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. Middleby repurposed this purification technology and the team created our virus killing product line. Bluezone pulls air (at the rate of 150 cubic feet per minute) into one side of the reaction chamber, where it destroys the RNA of the coronavirus and then exhausts purified air back into the restaurant space. Airborne contaminants such as virus, bacteria and mold are killed via exposure to the self-contained germicidal UV-C light. The circulation and cleaning of air through the unit provides continuous inactivation of microbial load in the space and dramatically reduces the risk of virus transmission. Additionally, the Bluezone units are safe to use during regular business hours.
Visit Bluezone.com for more information.
Listen to Scott Heim’s interview on Restaurant Safety: https://www.middleby.com/podcasts/restaurant-safety.