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Perfecting food packaging techniques

Packaged food just got safer to eat. A researcher at Purdue University has come up with a novel technique to do away with bacteria in packaged foods like spinach and tomatoes. Kevin Keener has designed a contraption constituting a series of high-voltage coils connected to a transformer, small in size. This device, attached to a sealed food packet on the outside, generates a room-temperature plasma field inside the package, thereby, ionizing the oxygen inside it and turning it into ozone. Ozone kills harmful bacteria such as E-coli and salmonella, organisms which have caused large-scale public health concerns. The time for treatment ranges between thirty seconds to a little less than five minutes. The longer the gas in the package stays ionized, bacteria keep getting pumped off. At the end of the processing, the ionized gas reverts back to its original format.

Written about in a journal for the Swiss Society of Food and Technology, this process, which till now has been applied on only spinach and tomatoes, could be utilized on any type of food. This methodology utilizes only 30 to 40 watts of electricity, which comparatively is less than what is used by most electric bulbs. The contents of the pack do not get cooked or are not altered otherwise since only the outside of the container increases a few degrees in temperature. Till now, other methods of ozone-based treatment call for adding devices to bags before sealing them or pumping ozone into a bag and then sealing it. Keener’s way creates ozone in an already-sealed package, thus, eliminating chances of contaminants entering the pack while ozone is being formulated.

As per Keener, this technology can be made use of for ensuring that pharmaceuticals are free from bacteria. He goes on to add that the next logical step is to develop a commercial prototype of this device that could work on large amounts of food. A patent for this setup, though, at present, is still pending.

kkeener@purdue.edu

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