Biofilms – What you need to know

What are biofilms?

Biofilms are a consortium of numerous different types of microorganisms that accumulate on a surface and adhere to both the surface and the accompanying microbial cells. Biofilms form a sticky protective layer encompassing the accumulated cells which are referred to as an extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) matrix.

As a result of the slimy armour covering the consortium of microorganisms, the pathogens within become quite difficult to kill as the extracellular matrix provides protection from chemicals and the microorganisms form their own little ecosystem, sharing their defence mechanisms, nutrients and other resources to survive.

How do biofilms form?

Biofilms begin to form when free-floating microorganisms begin their attachment phase to surfaces through producing a gooey, glue-like substance referred to as an EPS. An EPS is a combination of nucleic acids, sugars and proteins. Now a foundation is established to the surface when other microorganisms land on the EPS they each go through a similar process where they produce their own EPS which ‘sticks’ that microorganism to the original microorganism. Biofilm structures vary in complexity dependent upon what microorganisms and the variety of microorganisms that are included in the biofilm. However, they can be quite thick and complex structures that can have a very strong ecosystem. The key factor in determining a biofilms complexity and strength is how quickly & how much EPS the microorganisms can produce.

Biofilms have the ability to form in a matter of hours. They go through a 3-phase process as the image below shows.

Why are Biofilms problematic in the food industry?

Biofilms are particularly problematic within the food industry for a number of reasons, varying from health reasons, business continuity, product recall, brand protection and financial repercussions.

The main problem with Biofilms is they are fast forming, difficult to identify and remove. At SKG we have an instantaneous Biofilm Identification kit which foams when a biofilm is identified – you can find more information here. Biofilms primary risk to your business is food-borne diseases as the microorganisms can contaminate the food being processed and, in many cases, cause an outbreak ruining an entire production run of food. As mentioned earlier this can see factories shut down, harm brands and be very costly from both a production and consumer level. The severity and risk are ultimately determined by the types of bacterial species housed within the EPS.

High-Risk Areas of a Biofilm Developing

Below is a quick checklist for the most common locations Biofilms develop in food plants:

  • Water, milk or other liquid pipelines
  • Pasteurizer plates
  • Tables
  • Employee Gloves
  • Animal Carcasses & direct contact surfaces
  • Storage Silos for raw materials
  • Dispensing tubing
  • Drainage pipes

How to Mitigate the risk of Biofilms in your facility?

The first step is to ensure your facility has regimented cleaning procedures and best practices within your facility. Due to the speed at which Biofilms can form, increasing the cleaning frequency will improve your chances of catching any potential biofilms in the early formation stages before they lay their roots and adhere to surfaces (making it much more difficult to remove). We would recommend a thorough clean nightly.

It goes without saying, the better your facilities cleaning practices, the fewer microbes in your facility = lesser chance of biofilm formation.

If you suspect or would like to check your facility for biofilms as recommended above, use our instantaneous biofilm finder – Biofinder. Once located, the key steps that should be taken are: aggravation with scourers to loosen and weaken the film, followed by chemical treatment.

SKG has two highly effective natural biotechnology solutions which are highly effective against biofilms. The first, BioProtect which is especially applicable for cleaning drains and/or piping. BioProtect will break down the film and kill everything inside it by out-competing the microorganisms for nutrients necessary for survival. The second, PhageGuard which can penetrate and destroy the infrastructure of a biofilm with assistance from chemical once the film is pierced.

In conclusion, biofilms can be extremely damaging to any business in the food industry and should not be treated lightly. once you have biofilm issues it becomes increasingly difficult to limit the spread and control the outbreak. For this reason we recommend emphasizing precautionary cleaning protocols.

We hope this information helps you in one way or another to become and/or stay biofilm free.

Thanks for reading – The SKG Team

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