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Cold Atmospheric Plasma Decontamination of the Pericarps of Fruit

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This investigation describes the inactivation by cold atmospheric plasmas of one pathogenic and three spoilage organisms on the pericarps of mangoes and melons. The operating voltage necessary for efficient microbial decontamination of fruit pericarps was first established using Escherichia coli at a concentration of 107 CFU/cm2 on the surface of mango. It was found that, when the plasma was sustained slightly above its breakdown voltage of 12 kV (peak to peak), no inactivation was detected when cells were plated onto tryptone soya extract agar (TSA). However, when plated onto eosin methylene blue agar, sublethal injury corresponding to approximately 1 log reduction was achieved, whereas on TSA supplemented with 4% NaCl a greater reduction of 1.5 log was revealed. When the voltage was increased by 33% to 16 kV, a reduction in cell counts of 3 log was achieved on all three plating media. Further investigations at these new operating conditions were conducted using a range of spoilage microorganisms (Saccharomyces cerevisae, Pantoea agglomerans, and Gluconacetobacter liquefaciens) all at a surface concentration of 106 CFU/cm2 on the pericarps of mango and melon. P. agglomerans and G. liquefaciens were reduced below the detection limit (corresponding to 3 log) after only 2.5 s on both fruits, whereas E. coli required 5 s to reach the same level of inactivation. S. cerevisae was the most resistant organism studied and was reduced in numbers below the detection limit after 10 s on mango and 30 s on melon. The optical emission spectra generated by the cold atmospheric plasma at both high and low operating voltages were compared in order to identify putative lethal species. It was shown that an increase in the applied voltage led to more efficient production of reactive plasma species, particularly oxygen atoms, and the production of oxygen atoms was related to the level of bacterial inactivation achieved. Production of atomic oxygen could be used as an indicator of inactivation efficiency for scaling up cold plasma systems for whole fruit.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Chemical Engineering, Loughborough University, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK 2: Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Loughborough University, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK

Publication date: February 1, 2008

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