Dealing With a Potent Threat: Protecting crops from mold, mildew and disease
Farmers are using chemicals to spray the corn plants on the fields
“Out of sight, out of mind!” is an oft heard refrain, and may be very appropriate in many of life’s situations. The idea is that, if you haven’t seen it, it’ll likely not hurt or harm you, or your environment. But when it comes to protecting crops and plants, and ensuring overall food safety, what you cannot see might do a lot more harm than you realize! And that’s why environmental surface disinfection is so important, not just for plants and crops, but across the agricultural and plant-based food industry.
The Importance of Sanitizing and Disinfecting
When it comes to protecting crops and plants against threats, that are too small to view without a microscope, sanitizers and disinfectants are likely the first and last line of defense. Disinfectants can also effectively eliminate oxysporum microorganisms that cause deadly plant/crop-based fungal diseases, like Fusarium Head Blight (FHB), in small grain crops such as wheat and corn.
But what about mold and mildew causing bacteria and fungi, that also pose a significant threat to standing, harvested, and stored crops and plants? Well, micro-organisms are everywhere in our environment, including on grain silos, food storage containers, agricultural implements, and crop farming tools and equipment. They’re on plant tissue, plastic boxes and bags, pipes, hoses, and in farm houses, back offices serving farms, and in living quarters used by farmhands and workers.
One might take every precaution and dust standing crops and seedlings with mold and mildew-resistant pesticides and chemicals – but without due consideration to other environmental surfaces, it’s highly unlikely that disinfecting protocols will succeed. Treating all environmental surfaces, with a highly effective disinfectant, is also necessary to minimize transference of mold and disease-carrying pathogens onto crops and fledgling plants that haven’t yet built their natural immunity to fight such threats on their own.
Crop and plant growers, harvesters and food produce storage facilities have several options to disinfect environmental surfaces, as part of their mold and mildew protection strategy. Quaternary Ammonium (Quats) based, and Ozone gas-based sanitization protocols are two common approaches used. However, they both have severe drawbacks when used for food-based surface and direct food sanitization and disinfection protocols.
Because of their chemical composition, Quants are generally considered unsafe for food surfaces and other food production environmental surfaces. It’s imperative that, prior to initiating the protocol, all food items (including produce, raw food and processed edibles) be removed from the surface. This adds an additional layer of complexity, time, and cost challenges to the disinfecting process.
Ozone, on the other hand, is not a stable solution – it is a gas, and as such, unsuitable to disinfect and sanitize food preparation stations, produce storage contact surfaces, and other food environment surfaces. Additionally, because of it’s potential to harm humans (and pets) – including causing eye, lung, and respiratory tract irritation and discomfort, Ozone may be used only in limited concentration. And that may reduce the efficacy of Ozone-based surface sanitization protocols.
Fortunately, there is a third way – a safer and more environmentally-friendly way to fight mold and mildew in the crop and agricultural industry. When protecting crops from mold, mildew and disease that may be transferred via environmental surfaces, hypochlorous acid (HOCL) – also known as electrolyzed oxidizing water (EOW) – is the most effective way to go. It is a powerful disinfectant that’s produced from commonly-used household items, and is free from harsh chemicals, like Ozone or Quants.
HOCL, which is a part of the human immune system, is found naturally in our bodies, and produced by our white blood cells to fight off infection and disease. It uses the principle of electrolysis – which has been commercially used since the 1870s. The more contemporary approach to manufacturing HOCL – by running electricity through a solution of saltwater – has been in use since 1970. Hypochlorous acid (or electrolyzed oxidizing water) is, therefore, is the safer way to disinfect and protect crops and environmental surfaces from mold, mildew and diseases.
Mold Protection – Doing it Right
Protecting crops from mold, mildew and disease isn’t as straightforward as simply choosing your disinfectant, and then inundating the field, farm, or crop storage area with the disinfecting agent. It’s also not practical to spray all environmental surfaces with sanitizers and disinfectant, in the hope of treating potential mold and mildew creation at source.
Ideally, you’ll require a thoughtful disinfection protocol which, when implemented regularly and frequently, prevents mildew and mold from forming and attacking your crops. Here’s an action plan to consider:
- Before you begin, make sure you have an adequate supply of hypochlorous acid (HOCL) on hand for the procedure. With in-house HOCL-making capability, for instance by using EcoloxTech hypochlorous acid-manufacturing machines, you can produce unlimited supply of HOCL as and when, and where you need it.
- Next, identify the environmental surfaces that require disinfection. Since these surfaces have the potential to contract mildew and mold, and because they interact with crop production, harvesting and storage, it’s important to “mold proof” them. These surfaces might be desks, grain storage silos, exposed surfaces of frequently used farming equipment, wooden or metallic boxes, gates and tools.
- Carefully clean, brush, blow, scrub or sweep away debris, rubble, soil, leaves, and other organic material from the surfaces. Doing so will ensure your disinfectant treatments aren’t wasted, and will – once you apply the treatment – coat and adhere to the target surface, and not be blocked by organic or inorganic layers on the surface.
Ignoring step#3, or performing it cursorily, may also have other deleterious side-effects. The HOCL you deploy, to disinfect the environmental surfaces, has a specific amount of mold-fighting active ingredient. Some inorganic and organic materials may absorb most of the solution, intended to treat the surface. This, then, effectively reduces the efficacy of your environmental surface disinfection protocols.
- Use the most appropriate applicator to evenly coat your surface with the HOCL solution. For counter and table tops, for example, using a sterilized wipe, dipped/soaked in HOCL solution, may be the most efficient way to disinfect the surface. has shown the use of EOW, for phytotoxic effects and pre-harvest management of gray mold disease on strawberry plant, as a very effective treatment. Therefore, crop farmers may optionally use mechanized or hand-held sprayers and foggers when disinfecting large surfaces.
One highly effective method, for mold-proofing the surfaces of small hand-held farm tools, and produce storage containers, is to submerge these items in HOCL solution containers. However, it’s important to do this right too! Typically, when you place items into any liquid bath, the action produces tiny air bubbles. While his is a natural process, it’s important to understand their significance, and to deal with them appropriately.
To be effectively disinfected, it’s important to fully, and completely, coat environmental surfaces with the HOCL/EOW solution. It’s the only way to ensure there are no mold-forming pathogens on the surface, that might then be inadvertently transferred to crops and produce. Air bubbles prevent that (the full and complete coating of the surface with disinfectant) from happening. To counter that eventuality, it’s important to vigorously shake or swirl the items in the bathwater, thereby dislodging the air bubbles.
A Perfect Fit
When it comes to environmental surface disinfection in the context of the food industry, farmers, and the broader industry in general, are wary about using harsh chemicals and pesticide-laced products. And rightly so! The issue isn’t that these chemical formulas aren’t effective against mold and mildew. Crop producer hesitation, however, relates to the safety of their use. Spraying chemicals, that are toxic for humans and other living creatures, isn’t a confidence-inspiring act for those who consume those crops!
A perfect alternative to this dilemma is hypochlorous acid (HOCL), and here’s why:
- There are no toxic chemicals used in its preparation – just water, table salt and electricity
- It is simple to manufacture in bulk, and requires no heavy-duty industrial infrastructure
- There are multiple ways to apply or distribute it, including spraying and fogging for mass dissemination
There has been significant amounts of research conducted regarding the practicability of using HOCL – and most of that research relates to the safe application of hypochlorous acid in the food industry. Since 2011, when the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) came into effect, there has been a paradigm shift in the focus of food safety – from an earlier emphasis on responding to incidents of contamination, to more proactive approach of preventing it.
“Significant” may also be an understatement to describe how thoroughly HOCL has been studied by food safety experts and legislators. Hypochlorous acid is probably the most well-researched food sanitizer in the industry, especially as it relates to food safety and environmental surface disinfection and contamination prevention. And the research conclusively proves HOCL as a safe and efficient sanitizer for consistently maintaining microbial counts that are below infectious levels on food and contact surfaces.
Ideally, therefore, when dealing with a potent threat like mold, mildew, and related diseases to crops and edibles, hypochlorous acid is the perfect choice for the industry. It has everything that farmers, agriculturists, and crop harvesting and storage experts require: Simplicity, efficacy, safety…and lots of credibility!