Food is the culprit behind many preventable illnesses—and worse. Every year, roughly one in six Americans (48 million people) falls sick, 128,000 become hospitalized, and roughly 3,000 die from foodborne illness (aka, “foodborne disease,” “foodborne infection,” and “food poisoning”), per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most commonly known as “stomach flu,” foodborne illness is a serious health issue and economic burden. Just how serious and burdensome, you ask?
The cost of illness is based on the sum of treatment costs, the value of time lost to illness, and willingness to pay to prevent death. Annual costs from illness are estimated to be $14.1 billion , and are associated with 14 major bacterial pathogens including Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli non-O157:H7 STEC (2000), and others,  according to Hoffmann’s 2012 research for the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS).
Food can become contaminated through a variety of mechanisms. A major contributor is cross-contamination: the physical movement or transfer of harmful bacteria from one person, object, or place to another. Prevention of cross-contamination is vital to prevent foodborne illness, which has been a longtime challenge to food manufacturing and service organizations.
Over the past decade, food service companies started using more sealed, bagged and pouched food products in their manufacturing and preparation process. The idea was that tougher packaging would offer greater protection against cross-contamination from microbes and pathogens.
But an unforeseen consequence happened. More cutting tools were needed to open the bags (such as scissors, knives, razor blades, and carton cutters), which negatively impacted cross-contamination prevention and led to significant losses from laceration injuries.
Spellbound repeatedly heard the same request from many of the world’s largest food processing and service organizations: “Develop a bag-cutting device to help us reduce cross-contamination and lacerations.”
Develop a simple and safe tool to reduce cross-contamination issues.
Spellbound first sought to understand the end-user’s situation, face-to-face. Our field studies showed us how workers opened bags of raw food product (such as chicken and vegetables) with disparate tools including knives, scissors, razor blades… even car keys.
Employees would often place their tool on a work surface—without cleaning it. An hour or so later, coworkers would use the same tool on a different bag of food, then on a number of other bags before eventually cleaning it. Other times, the same tool was used to open boxes of chemicals and cleaning supplies. Consequently, every product the tool touched could be contaminated until it was eventually cleaned.
Since no appropriate existing solutions could be found, Spellbound focused on developing new ways to cut flat and thin-film substrates. After identifying novel cutting processes that could at least do the job of a knife, scissor or key, we explored the human component. We asked our team, “What would be a simple, effective solution for the user?”
Client feedback and team brainstorming provided the necessary inspiration to move a handful of promising ideas forward. It wasn’t long before Spellbound developed a product solution that proved to be extremely successful: the Viper® Bag and Pouch Opener.
This simple yet stylish solution provides a one-time-use tool that can be easily placed in cleaning solutions and sanitized after use. With a sufficient supply of clean, sanitized Vipers during the day, there’s no need to use the tool more than once.
In addition to lowering the likelihood of cross-contamination, the Viper reduces laceration injuries and the associated costs. Based on its demonstrated success, the Viper is now used by a many of the world’s largest food service and processing organizations, with millions of units sold.
- CDC Reports 1 in 6 Get Sick from Foodborne Illnesses Each Year. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention press release, December 15, 2010 http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2010/r101215.html
- Sandra Hoffmann and Tobenna D. Anekwe, Making Sense of Recent Cost-of-Foodborne-Illness Estimates. USDA Economic Research Service Economic Bulletin No. (EIB-118), September 2013 http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib-economic-information-bulletin/eib118.aspx