Scientists have finally found a new method that kills the virus that causes foodborne illnesses in a staggering 99.9% efficiency.
One of the viable ways to clean fresh produce without damaging or cooking them is by washing. Sometimes washing does not even remove pathogens much less kill them.
Another method using ultraviolet radiation, another process used for sterilizing does not really get in the nook and crannies. Chemical wash does more harm than good. It's only trying to replace the virus with chemicals. The is a slim chance that a virus such as norovirus can be killed.
The typical approach by companies to keep their fresh produce germ-free is to run water quality tests and ensure their equipment is clean.
The last resort perhaps in getting fresh produce to be germ-free is by using plasma, the fourth state of matter. Plasma is a hot ionized gas made up of equal amount of negative and positively charged ions.
(not the actual plasma used in the experiment)
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania led by a microbiologist Brendan Niemira conducted a study on how efficient plasma can be when used in killing virus hounding fresh produce.
Niemira and his team bought fresh blueberries at the grocery store. They then infected it with two types of surrogate norovirus - a noninfectious norovirus that behave like its pathogen counterpart. It's safer to use the surrogates than the actual virus. Besides, the actual is also nearly impossible to cultivate in the lab.
To start the treatment on the blueberries, they placed the jars of blueberries under a cylinder which fires ionized plasma air, a mix of oxygen stream and plasma air.
(not the actual blueberries used in the experiment)
The plasma killed 99.9% of the virus in just 2 minutes
. It was also found in their previous research that the plasma has little to no effect on the color, texture and flavors of the blueberries. The method also successfully killed most bacteria and fungi found on produce.
See: Plastic-Packed Salad Leaves May Promote Salmonella Growth, and Even Faster!
To also ensure that the researchers don't end up cooking the blueberries, they blow extra neutral air to cool the plasma.
They've used the expensive argon and helium gases to create plasma before. This time ionize air would be the economical approach that when successful can be easily replicated and incorporated in the mass processing of produce before reaching the consumers.
The next problem the researchers have to figure out is on how to scale up this method that can be used by food-processing factories.
The team will soon publish their work in Food Microbiology.