(Aug. 31) Rockville, Md.-based AirOcare has about 400 installations in North America and more than 5,000 worldwide. Now the company is making a push into a new segment of the U.S. food industry.

The company announced Aug. 28 that Tyler Refrigeration Corp., Niles, Mich., a division of Carrier Commercial Refrigeration Inc., Charlotte, N.C., will distribute AirOcare’s air purification equipment to retail grocers, wholesalers and other distributors.

“They’re the first major company to handle an entire segment of our industry applications,” said AirOcare president and chief executive officer Bob McDonald. “Our plan was to work our way up the food chain. We’ve established ourselves with grower-shippers, and we feel like we’re ready to move on to retail grocery stores.”

McDonald said more than half of AirOcare’s U.S. customers are produce-related businesses, including more than 100 grower-shippers. The company already has a presence in South American grocery stores — including more than 270 Chilean outlets — and McDonald thinks Tyler’s customer base and distribution network will give AirOcare access to retail coolers and display cases across North America.

AirOcare’s organic system uses oxygen ions to sanitize air and surfaces, eliminating odors and killing mold, mildew and bacteria, including salmonella and listeria.

A study earlier this year by Food Safety & Process Technology, Turlock, Calif., reported that AirOcare reduced levels of listeria monocytogenes by more than 99% in 30 minutes and virtually eliminated all bacteria within 24 hours.

Tyler will resell, install and service AirOcare equipment. McDonald said the new distribution method will not increase costs for customers.

While AirOcare is targeting new business, it hasn’t forgotten about grower-shippers.

Mendota, Calif.-based Stamoules Produce installed AirOcare equipment in its 300,000-square-foot facility in February, and owner Tom Stefanopoulos said tests showed the system was killing about 80% of pathogens.

“It’s another measure to extend the life of the fruit by minimizing bacteria or fungus of any kind,” said Stefanopoulos, whose company ships more than 14 million packages of melons, broccoli, sweet corn and bell peppers each year. “This is for the safety of our consumers, and we thought it was right to do it.”

Like AirOcare, Kennesaw, Ga.-based KES Science and Technology Inc. also is looking at a new segment of the food chain for its AiroCide PPT, which kills mold, fungi and bacteria and removes ethylene.

FoodShare Inc., Bloomfield, Conn., has installed an AiroCide unit in its produce cooler. FoodShare is one of more than 200 food banks in the network of Chicago-based America’s Second Harvest.

“That’s a new twist for this kind of technology,” said Kris Morland, KES director of marketing and communications. “That kind of facility has an even greater need for this kind of technology because once they get produce it’s at an even later stage in its shelf life than what’s going to consumers in stores.”