Anuga FoodTec 2015

Fresh produce plasma bug blaster set for next step

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

So far, the treatment has had negative effects on vegetable quality
So far, the treatment has had negative effects on vegetable quality

Related tags: Research, Vegetable

A plasma project to kill germs on fresh vegetables is poised to start trials suitable for commercial applications later this month, according to a leading researcher on the programme.

The approach uses plasma processed air applied with a microwave torch for wet and dry applications. Research began in 2012 and is scheduled to continue until September this year.

Dr Jörg Ehlbeck, head of the plasma bioengineering department at the Leibniz Institute for Plasma Science and Technology, said the technique could be tested on industrial-sized crates of vegetables from the end of April. He was speaking at the Anuga FoodTec 2015 trade show in Cologne.

Pilot system

“We can treat boxes and trays, which are used in the industry, at the size our ​[commercial] partners use,”​ he told FoodManufacture.co.uk. The pilot system would be able to handle 600mm x 400mm x 240mm crates, he said.

“We will then have to develop the software. The project is running until September and the focus will be on upscaling the system. We are looking forward to showing some promising results from then. The next step will be to go closer to a prototype.”

The research team were aiming to build a cost-effective system tailored to the production processes of their industrial partners, said Ehlbeck. “The efficiency will depend on the kind of vegetable, the amount of dirt and so on.”

Effects on quality

Another aspect that needed to be addressed was whether the treatment would have negative effects on the quality of the vegetables, with some varieties likely to be more sensitive than others, he said. Tests so far had shown negligible detrimental effects, he claimed.

Any workable system would have to be designed according to regulations with the help of commercial partners, he added.

Depending on the length of time products were treated, the system could achieve reductions of, for example, five or six logs in the case of E.coli​ contamination, Ehlbeck said. That meant the number of microorganisms on a product could be reduced by up to one million-fold.

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1 comment

Have they actually attached organisms properly?

Posted by Kaarin Goodburn,

So many claims like this have been made over the last 2 decades and so often it has transpired that researchers have not actually properly attached bacteria to fresh produce, so massive reductions are apparent but not real. Unfortunately bacteria, once attached, are very hard to remove, not even detaching when killed. Our protocols for attachment and decontamination assessment were developed with IFR some years ago and are the benchmark approach. Science before publicity please!

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