A process developed by plasma physicists and applied by an Auburn University (AU) associate professor that shoots a room temperature cold plasma ion stream at meat products and processing surfaces to suppress illness-causing bacteria has attracted the attention of meat processing industry magazine MeatingPlace.
“Plasma contains highly reactive oxygen and nitrogen species which interact with bacteria and have the ability to alter its metabolism, genetic material, cell wall and normal functions of the cell, leading to cell death,” says Dr. Morey. “When we stream plasma on foods, meats and surfaces, it will eliminate foodborne pathogens as well as spoilage organisms that affect food safety and shelf-life.”
The process could be used at all levels of the meat processing and retail meat industries. He says it will be at least two or three years before the plasma ion pathogen suppression technology sees commercial use.
Dr. Morey’s research was funded by Future Technologies & enabling Plasma Processes (FTPP), an Alabama coalition of nine universities and a research corporation, supported by a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation and managed at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. It aims to transition plasma research into agricultural, manufacturing, space science, space weather prediction and other applications, establishing Alabama as a Southeastern regional hub for plasma science expertise and creating thousands of high-paying technical careers in the state and region.
The process is undergoing additional testing to gather more data, he says.
“Our project is the perfect example of convergence science where plasma physics will have astronomical impact on the food and agriculture sector,” says Dr. Morey. “Plasma technology can take various forms. We can use it in a gaseous form to eliminate bacteria or use it to activate chemicals and sanitizers which can then be sprayed on food or food contact surfaces,” he says.
“Plasma offers the next-gen technology to solve the complex issues of food safety and spoilage to ensure safe and sustainable supply of food.”