Chlorine-based decontamination is a technique commonly used for eliminating pathogens from fresh produce, but the damage it does to the products’ cell structure shortens their shelf lives.
As demand for produce continues to increase, one alternative antibacterial technique that shows promise is cold atmospheric gas plasma technology. New research from scientists at Britain’s Institute of Food Research indicates that the technology can effectively inactivate Salmonella but that its power depends to a great degree on the type of produce it’s treating.
“Cold atmospheric gas plasma technology produces small ionized particles that can penetrate the Salmonella organism and damage it, with minimal effect on the produce,” said Arthur Thompson, PhD, research leader of the Institute’s Salmonella group. “It’s a technique that’s been used to decontaminate liquids on surfaces, very effectively, for many years. The recent demand for fresh produce has led us to look at it for decontaminating fruits and vegetables.”
The research, published in Food Microbiology in August, focused on three types of produce: lettuce, strawberries, and potatoes. Inactivating Salmonella on lettuce, with its relatively smooth surface, required a shorter length of exposure than did strawberries and potatoes. “They have these convoluted surface features in which we hypothesize that Salmonella can ‘hide,’” Dr. Thompson said. “Our results suggest scaled up devices or combinations with other mild treatments could provide a very effective solution for destroying bacteria with little or no effect on the produce itself. This study also shows that it will be important to take into account the type of food and its surface structure.”
Learn more about the future of produce testing by reading Maybelle Cowan-Lincoln’s article from the latest issue of Food Quality.