Exposing packaged liquids, fruits and vegetables to an electrical field for just minutes might eliminate all traces of foodborne pathogens on those foods, according to a Purdue University study.
Kevin Keener, a professor of food science, looks for new ways to kill harmful bacteria, such as E.coli and Salmonella, that contaminate foods and cause serious illnesses and deaths. His method uses electricity to generate a plasma, or ionized gas, from atmospheric gases inside the food package.
This process creates a wide variety of bacteria-killing molecules including ozone, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen peroxide and others. These molecules only exist for a few hours and then revert back to the original atmospheric gas, leaving a bacteria-free product.
In findings published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, Keener and researchers at the Dublin Institute of Technology demonstrated that sealed-package atmospheric plasma works well to kill bacteria in growth media. Their experiments showed that bacteria on these surfaces were eliminated with 20 seconds of treatment and 24 hours of exposure to the gases it creates. Keener said the cost of the process should be comparable to current chemical and heat treatments used to sanitize foods.