If your kitchen counter is secretly harboring E.coli or salmonella, a new technology promises to banish infectious germs from your household. Meet Ellumi, the LED bacteria-killing under-cabinet light.
Colleen Costello, president and cofounder of biotech company Vital Vio, was personally inspired to battle nasty germs following a family connection: Her grandmother contracted a MRSA infection, caused by a type of resistant staph bacteria, during a routine hospital stay. It was while putting on a mask and gloves to spend time with her weak grandmother that Costello vowed to put her biomedical engineering degree to good use.
Preventable infections in hospitals are “the No. 1 patient killer in the U.S.,” explains Costello. In fact, 1 in 25 patients under hospital care contract a preventable infection, reports the CDC. That’s an estimated 648,000 people, and about 75,000 die.
“Surface contamination plays a significant role in transmission of infection throughout facilities,” Costello adds.
Countless amounts of invisible germs live on surfaces, often doubling in growth before anyone has a time to clean them away. E.coli, for example, multiplies every 20 minutes. A single bacteria cell can grow to 8 million cells in less than 24 hours.
Generally, germs are not pathogenic, but in some cases, they are. The issue is that most people clean, but fail to disinfect. Costello saw gaps in the tools available to combat such germs, and was determined to come up with a simple, convenient solution.
“There were different intermittent solutions, like wiping or washing [the area] once a day or large ultraviolet or chemical systems that would bomb the room, but they’re harmful to be used around people,” she explains. “I know I’m busy just like everybody else, and I don’t clean my countertop every single day.”
In 2013, Costello put together a team of engineers and scientists to found Vital Vio, Inc. The startup then collaborated with Evolution Lighting, LLC, a lighting technology company, to create Ellumi, a light that provides continuous surface disinfection with just a flip of a switch. In lieu of UV or chemicals, it relies on LED light with specific wavelengths of visible light that are safe for humans but deadly to bacteria. Ellumi eliminates up to 99% of bacteria and over 23 germs.
Costello spent the last few years testing the product in medical facilities and operating rooms, which now depend on the technology. But she’s set her sights on more than just hospital patients. With more than 160,000 people in the U.S. dying yearly from infectious diseases, she wants her technology present in kitchens, gyms, locker rooms, and even food processing plants.
The Ellumi lights are now available to consumers, starting at $89.99 for a nine-inch display all the way up to $179.99 for 24 inches. Costello doesn’t advocate setting up lights all over one’s home, rather just in targeted areas that might be prone to potentially problematic items, like raw eggs or meat. Hopefully, she says, the lights will become just another kitchen tool, like a microwave or blender.
“There’s a whole host of different applications for our technology, and we look to change the lighting industry to think about how lighting can be used in a more powerful way than it is right now–beyond illumination,” says Costello. “There’s really no space that we wouldn’t be able to help people protect something that’s valuable to them.”