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A Zap of Cold Plasma Reduces Harmful Bacteria

by 5m Editor
3 February 2012, at 7:24am

US - A new study by food safety researchers at Drexel University demonstrates that plasma can be an effective method for killing pathogens on uncooked poultry. The proof-of-concept study was published in the January issue of the <em>Journal of Food Protection</em>.

Although recent high-profile outbreaks of foodborne illness have involved contaminated fresh produce, the most common source of harmful bacteria in food is uncooked poultry and other meat products. The bacteria responsible for most foodborne illnesses, Campylobacter and Salmonella, are found on upwards of 70 per cent of chicken meat tested.

Treating raw meat products to remove pathogens before they reach a consumer's home can reduce the risk of cross contamination during food preparation, according to senior author Dr Jennifer Quinlan, an assistant professor in Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions. "If you could reduce contamination on the raw chicken, then you wouldn't have it in the kitchen," Dr Quinlan said.

According to Physorg.com, past studies have shown that plasma could successfully reduce pathogens on the surface of fruits and vegetables without cooking them.

The value of using plasma "is that it is non-thermal, so there is no heat to cook or alter the way the food looks," said lead author Brian Dirks, a graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences. Dirks and Quinlan worked with researchers from the University's Anthony J. Drexel Plasma Institute to test the use of plasma for poultry.

In the Drexel study, raw chicken samples contaminated with Salmonella enterica and Campylobacter jejuni bacteria were treated with plasma for varying periods of time. Plasma treatment eliminated or nearly eliminated bacteria in low levels from skinless chicken breast and chicken skin, and significantly reduced the level of bacteria when contamination levels were high.

The researchers also tested using plasma to treat samples of bacteria grown on agar, and demonstrated that antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria were as susceptible to plasma as the wild-type strains.