Researchers are helping the shoe industry to recover from the effects of Covid-19 by understanding for the first time how the coronavirus behaves on leather.
The team at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) worked with the British Footwear Association, which represents the smallest artisan shoe-makers to the largest and best-known brands in the world, to test samples of the most popular leathers used for shoes.
The traditional shoemaking process involves many different stages. Staff were concerned at the possibility of transmitting infection through handling the same materials, and how long the virus could remain on the material and throughout the manufacturing process.
The team, led by DMU microbiologist Dr Katie Laird, Head of the Infectious Disease Research Group, and virologist Dr Maitreyi Shivkumar, looked at how the virus survived on different types of shoe leather and cross-contamination on surfaces such as stainless steel (used in sewing machines) and cardboard to assess transfer from shoes in a shoe box.
This study used a human coronavirus OC43, which the team has previously shown to have a similar survival pattern to that of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The study is published here.
They found OC43 was able to survive on some leathers for up to 48 hours and could be transmitted to shoe boxes and stainless steel surfaces during the manufacturing process.
Dr Shivkumar said: “Although the coronavirus can remain infectious on some leathers for 1-2 days, the risk of transfer is greatest for up to a few hours after contamination of the leather.”
The team brought in Leicester company Micro-Fresh which makes anti-viral treatment. When leather was treated with Micro-Fresh®, , it took the survival time of coronavirus from 24-48 hours to two hours. There was also no transmission from the anti-viral coated leathers to other surfaces two hours after contamination of the leathers.
These findings mean that shoe manufacturers now have the information to alter their health and safety procedures knowing when transmission times are highest and can advise stockists on protecting the shoes in stores.
Associate Professor Dr Katie Laird said: “This independently funded study has allowed us to understand for the first time the way in which the human coronavirus behaves on leather.
“Our findings have huge potential to help the shoe industry around the world.”
Lucy Reece Raybould, Chief Executive of the British Footwear Association (BFA), said: "I am pleased that this study has found some concrete information for the footwear industry that can now be transformed into actionable guidance to boost consumer confidence and give customers greater peace of mind, whether they are browsing, trying on or taking their goods home.
“Similarly, the findings are vitally important for manufacturers across the BFA network, and I hope to see businesses critically assessing their processes to see if any improvements can be made. Armed with this information, we can all contribute towards making the footwear sector more resilient and better able to counteract the influence of Covid-19."
Companies can coat their own products with Micro-Fresh® during the manufacturing process. The technology can be added to the lacquer and applied in-house. Micro-Fresh® is an anti-microbial treatment which prevents bacteria and odours on products globally. The technology has also been tested and confirmed to be effective against human coronavirus.
Byron Dixon, CEO of Micro-Fresh®, said: “Our journey began as a simple formulation to prevent the growth of mould on leather goods. After working with leather for over 20 years, this is a great development and a pivotal point for Micro-Fresh®, especially during the current climate.”
Results from the study will now be shared throughout the industry in an online webinar which will include partners such as the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA), World Footwear and organisations in Europe and Asia.
The research study came about after BFA chief executive Lucy Reece-Raybould spoke about the issue during an online webinar attended by DMU’s Helen Donnellan, director of Enterprise and Business Services, who offered the university’s help.
Further conversations were held between the university and the BFA, bringing in Associate Professor Dr Katie Laird, who had already produced a study showing that coronavirus remained infectious on textiles used in the healthcare industry for up to three days. Investigating the way in which the virus behaves on leather is an extension of that work, and a research paper on this is currently under peer review ahead of publication.
“This is a superb example of solutions-based research,” said Ms Donnellan. “We were able to connect not only the British Footwear Association with Dr Laird but bring in Micro-Fresh to develop an approach that has the potential to have real and lasting impact on the industry.”
Posted on Tuesday 22nd June 2021