December 8, 2022
  • December 8, 2022

UCF Researchers Identify Food Products That May Reduce COVID Transmission

By on September 16, 2021 0


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Face masks and social distancing are both well-known ways to keep airborne pathogens, like COVID-19, at bay, but University of Central Florida researchers Michael Kinzel and Kareem Ahmed are working on a new possible – a combination of food products that affects people’s saliva.

The concept is based on new work from researchers showing that ingredients in food products can be used to thicken and reduce a person’s saliva, thereby decreasing the potential for transmission of airborne pathogens. The results were recently published in the journal Scientific reports on nature.

“This is a new concept in the context of source control,” says Kinzel, study co-author, assistant professor at UCF. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “There are obviously masks, but this is the first research to look at what comes out of the oral cavity or the mouth. “

The work builds on previous studies by Kinzel and Ahmed examining the effectiveness of masks in the classroom, characteristics that could make someone a super spreader, and initial studies of food ingredients to control the transmission of airborne disease. Ahmed is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UCF.

“The group has studied droplet formation for years,” says Kinzel. “When we heard sneezes carrying aerosols over 27 feet at the start of the pandemic, we realized they must be small aerosols, similar to what you see in a mist nozzle. Our thinking has been to focus on modifying these droplets so that they fall to the ground and don’t travel that far.

For the study, the researchers looked at characteristics of saliva, such as thickness and quantity, and their influence on how far droplets and aerosols travel from a human’s sneezing, which is factors related to the transmission of airborne pathogens.

High-speed cameras were used to capture frame-by-frame sneezing in the air, and image processing software was used to quantify droplets and aerosols. Subsequent numerical methods using computational fluid dynamics provided detailed quantification to better understand sneeze events.

The saliva has been altered using a range of food grade compounds including cornstarch, agar agar, xanthan gum, and ginger.

Researchers found that ginger reduced the amount of saliva expelled from a sneeze by over 80% and was as effective as a mask in reducing the distance between droplets and aerosols from a sneeze.

Cornstarch and xanthan gum increase the thickness of saliva by 5 and 2000%, respectively. They also reduced the distance between aerosols and a sneeze more than not wearing a mask. However, a mask was even more effective at reducing aerosol distance than cornstarch and xanthan gum.

A neck warmer combined with a surgical mask was the type of mask used in the study.

The results suggest that some food products may be adapted to both thicken and reduce the saliva emitted in order to reduce the transmission of airborne diseases. It can also be used in combination with a mask, or without the impact of the pandemic changing, and could perhaps allow for increased capacity, Kinzel says.

One of those products could be chocolate to provide the saliva-changing compound, the researcher says.

“Like vitamin candy, it wouldn’t be a candy, but rather a form to provide the solution,” he says. “It could perhaps be called ‘chocaceutical’. “

The research was funded in part by the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems, Fluid Dynamics of the National Science Foundation of the United States.

The co-authors of the study were Jonathan Reyes, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UCF who works in Ahmed’s laboratory; Douglas Fontes, postdoctoral researcher at Florida Space Institute; Alexander Bazzi, graduate student of UCF’s mechanical and aerospace engineering master’s program; and Michelle Otero, graduate of the UCF doctoral program in mechanical engineering.

Kinzel received his PhD in Aerospace Engineering from Pennsylvania State University and joined UCF in 2018. In addition to being a member of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UCF and the College of Engineering and Computer Science at UCF UCF, he also works with UCFTurbomachinery and Energy Advanced Research Center.

Ahmed’s doctorate is in mechanical engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is a faculty member at the Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research and is part of the Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion. He served over three years as a senior aero / thermo engineer at Pratt & Whitney, working on advanced engine programs and technologies. He has also been a faculty member at Old Dominion University and Florida State University. At UCF, he leads research in propulsion and energy with applications for power generation and gas turbine engines, propulsion jet engines, hypersonics and fire safety, as well as research related to the science of supernovae and the control of COVID-19 transmission. He is an associate member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a member of the US Air Force Research Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research.

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