New process can decontaminate fresh produce postharvest with supercharged air

A team of food scientists led by NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has developed a new ‘cold plasma’ process for decontaminating fresh fruit and veg post-harvest that is safe, speedy and sustainable.

“Postharvest washing operation is not a complete solution to minimise the microbial hazards associated with the field-grown horticultural commodities,” project lead and food-safety scientist Dr SP Singh told Fresh Plaza in mid-June.

Moreover, chemical sanitisers currently used in postharvest decontamination can be limited in their effectiveness and some, such as chlorine, leave residues that are harmful to the environment and, potentially, to consumers.

The new process, which took three years to develop, involves treating produce with regular air that has been ‘supercharged’ by applying an electric current to it. This results in the formation of various types of reactive species that interact with any microbial pathogens present on the produce surface, killing or deactivating them.

The technology is currently being scaled-up and validated prior to commercial release. While it won’t be available for a few more years, Dr Singh is optimistic about its potential.

“At this stage, we can confidentially share that this will be successful in a wide range of products,” he said.

The project is funded by the Hort Frontiers Health Nutrition and Food Safety Fund, part of the Hort Frontiers strategic partnership initiative developed by Hort Innovation, with co-investment from NSW DPI and contributions from the federal government.

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