Kirkonsult (Pty) Ltd
Winner of the Eskom Award for Excellence in the Management of Systems
Category for emerging enterprises
Keeping food and beverage-making clean and simple
When opening a bottle of beer or a can of soda, few consumers pause to wonder about the cleanness of the equipment used to make it. They shouldn’t have to: the laws around the cleaning of manufacturing facilities for food and drinks are stringent, and manufacturers are obliged to test their equipment for residual contaminants.
The downside for manufacturers is that it may take up to two or three hours to clean the equipment before starting on a new batch of product, and four to five days before the microbiological assessment results from the last batch come back. In the meantime, the products they have just manufactured sit in a warehouse under quarantine for four or five days until the equipment and process under which they were made receive the all-clear from the laboratory.
Through the ingenuity of Dr Robin Kirkpatrick of Kirkonsult, the time taken to test for possible contaminants can now be drastically shortened. He has developed and patented Carbotect™ to do the same job in a matter of minutes.
Colour-coded test delivers quick results
“It’s a quick, colour-coded diagnostic test that picks up residual contaminants in the equipment or the water used to clean it. My technology can pick up extremely low levels of contaminants and it can do it within five minutes instead of five days,” says Kirkpatrick, who originally trained as a vet before switching to Microbiology, in which he has a PhD. He was also one of the brains behind the development in South Africa of Radical Water, which uses electro-activation to treat water and is now used worldwide.
Back to food and beverage manufacturing and the cleaning of equipment: Kirkpatrick says that manufacturers use high-pressure, piping hot water and various chemicals to clean their equipment, and at the end of the cleaning process, use more clean water to flush everything out. “That final water is tested to see if it is clear of any residue.”
Apart from affording a rapid and highly sensitive result for the detection of organic contaminants, Carbotect is simple to use and can be administered by a relatively unskilled worker. “I developed the solution in close association with South African Breweries, whose requirements were for a low skills-based, rapid and reliable piece of technology,” he says.
Plenty of scope for expansion
His technology is well suited to other high-risk, perishable products too, from fruit juices, soft drinks, soups and sauces to pharmaceutical syrups and other liquid-based preparations. It has also been used at membrane-based water treatment plants.
There is also scope to upscale this colour-based diagnostic system for more sophisticated settings, such as by digitalising it, as well as the potential for growth beyond South Africa’s borders. “I am now finalising the product for the international market,” says Kirkpatrick.
He is on a constant quest to improve and enhance Carbotect, which was in development for several years and went through a number of versions before he was satisfied it was ready to patent and trademark. “I never stop questioning the status quo and looking for new avenues and new opportunities for fresh insights. So far, I have barely scratched the surface.”