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Cold plasma used to kill bacteria on raw chicken

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February 7, 2012

A plasma torch eliminates bacteria from raw chicken

A plasma torch eliminates bacteria from raw chicken

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Judging by the number of folks who fall prey to food-borne illness each year, food safety is serious business, especially when you consider that pathogens such as Campylobacter and Salmonella contaminate over 70 percent of the raw chicken meat tested. Now, recent research from a food safety team at Pennsylvania's Drexel University offers proof-of-concept for what may one day be a common approach to preventing food-borne illness from raw poultry and meat products - the use of high-energy, low temperature plasma to eliminate unwanted bacteria while leaving the food basically unchanged.

The Drexel team, led by assistant professor Jennifer Quinlan and grad student Brian Dirks, applied a plasma torch to uncooked chicken in an effort to reduce its pathogen load. After treating the poultry for various times ranging up to 180 seconds, the plasma entirely eliminated or substantially reduced low levels of bacteria from both skinless chicken breasts and chicken skin itself. Even bacteria levels on highly contaminated samples were significantly lowered.

"If you could reduce contamination on the raw chicken, then you wouldn't have it in the kitchen," Quinlan explained. Keeping pathogens from entering the consumer's home also reduces the likelihood of infection from cross-contamination of other foods, still a major problem in food safety today.

Schematic of plasma torch in operation
Schematic of plasma torch in operation

We reported on cold plasma's anti-bacterial properties some time ago, but the technology still has a long way to go before it becomes cost-effective enough to be deployed on factory farm production lines. As Dirks points out, a major part of plasma's appeal "is that it is non-thermal, so there is no heat to cook or alter the way the food looks." Given the amount of safety this new technique can provide, it's likely only a matter of time before we'll see plasma teaming up with conventional methods to keep bacterial contamination in check. Indeed, one day, chicken tartare may no longer be just the stuff of dreams.

The team's findings are detailed in the paper Treatment of Raw Poultry with Nonthermal Dielectric Barrier Discharge Plasma To Reduce Campylobacter jejuni and Salmonella enterica which was recently published in the Journal of Food Protection.

Source: Drexel University

About the Author
Randolph Jonsson A native San Franciscan, Randolph attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland before finding his way to the film business. Eventually, he landed a job at George Lucas' Industrial Light + Magic, where he worked on many top-grossing films in both the camera and computer graphics departments. A proud member of MENSA, he's passionate about technology, optimal health, photography, marine biology, writing, world travel and the occasional, well-crafted gin and tonic!   All articles by Randolph Jonsson
5 Comments

Gamma-ray radiation is faster, probably cheaper. Just more offensive to Luddites.

Eideard
7th February, 2012 @ 02:07 pm PST

Luddites need to buy the chicken- or else chicken corporations can't sell their hormone laden and often contaminated product.

Carlos Grados
7th February, 2012 @ 04:36 pm PST

"Gamma-ray radiation is faster, probably cheaper. Just more offensive to Luddites. "

I understand gamma gives food a metallic taste. High pressure processing might be an alternative for some applications.

Wombat56
7th February, 2012 @ 05:17 pm PST

Nothing like a cool glass of plasma to ease aches and pains...

agulesin
8th February, 2012 @ 04:49 am PST

...or just cook it to the proper temperature... If someone has the wherewithall to have a kitchen-based plasma torch lying around...they probably have an oven to just cook the food to a bacteria-free state.

Matt Rings
14th February, 2012 @ 11:39 am PST
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