Resource Efficient Innovations Database (REID)

Cold plasma technology could eliminate mould on soft fruit

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Cold plasma technology could eliminate mould on soft fruit
Cold plasma technology can extend shelf-life by killing micro-organisms and sterilising surfaces.
In Development – The team will have assessed relevant parameters within the next six months to a year (starting from March 2011). It will then have a better idea about how the technology works and will be able to assess when it could begin to be used within food production after viable machines are developed.

Benefits
Product Waste Reduction, Shelf life extension

Product Categories
Food

Relevant Materials
Not Applicable

Relevant Packaging Formats
Not Applicable

Supply Chain Phase
Processing, Storage

Details

Mouldy fresh fruit could become a thing of the past thanks to cold plasma beams that extend its shelf life by up to five days.
Millions of tonnes of soft fruit, sold in both its native state and added to various food products, are wasted each year after mould develops on fragile produce that deteriorates rapidly after picking.
 
A six-month collaborative study between the universities of Nottingham and Loughborough and fruit association Berry World is looking at how cold plasma technology could help address the problem, potentially revolutionising supply chains and effecting massive cost savings for food manufacturers, retailers and consumers.
 
The technology is already used in medical applications. Cold plasma technology is used to clean bacteria from wounds. The research team made a chance discovery that it could be applied to food when looking at how the tiny controllable plasma beams (which are similar to lightning) can be used to kill micro-organisms and sterilise surfaces.
 
Soft fruit is notoriously difficult to keep ‘fur free’ for long, as it bruises easily when handled and becomes contaminated. Cold plasma technology would present a way of eradicating moulds early in the packing process. Initial results have been uneven but encouraging, with fresh fruit shelf life extended by up to five days in best-case scenarios. A lot depends upon the state of the fruit, humidity levels, temperature and storage issues that affect the food surface. All these issues affect the optimal application of the technology. 
 
The research data is mainly observational to date. More food processing and safety data is required to prove that it causes no changes in fruit or leaves residues before this technology goes mainstream.
 
The team will have assessed relevant parameters within the next six months to a year (starting from March 2011). It will then have a better idea about how the technology works and will be able to assess when it could begin to be used within food production after viable machines are developed. They are working on a small scale right now, but there is considerable interest in scaling-up the technology.

Potential Benefits

This technology can help to reduce food waste in the home and in the supply chain.

Intellectual Property

This is a six-month collaborative study between the universities of Nottingham and Loughborough. The study is being funded by a grant from the East Midlands Food and Drink iNet, which is based in Nottingham.

Consultant View

This is an example of how technology transfer from other high-tech sectors such as medicine can help improve food processing, food preservation and food packaging.
 
Although the current work is focused on soft fruit it is possible that this technology could also be applicable to other fruit and vegetable products.
 

Contacts and Further Information

Technology contact:
Dr Cath Rees
University of Nottingham School of Biosciences
University of Nottingham
Sutton Bonington Campus
Loughborough, Leicestershire LE12 5RD
Tel: +44 (0)115 9516400
email: biosciences-enquiries@nottingham.ac.uk
 

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