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USDA Evaluating Cold Plasma Technology


Cold plasma offers potential to decontaminate a wide range of food products including fruit, leafy greens, seeds and nuts.  The principle of the technology is based on the application of high voltage electrical power to ionize air to create a mixture of ozone and free electrons with reactive radical products.  The mixture is effective against a wide range of foodborne bacterial pathogens including Salmonella, E.coli, Listeria but in addition will inactivate Cryptosporidium and norovirus.


Forced air can vent cold plasma over food products in a dry environment.  Cold plasma can be combined with water sanitizers to allow the reactive chemical species to interact with pathogens on the surface of foods and on food-contact surfaces.  Plasma activated water is an essentially ‘green’ process without residues since the only components are air, electricity and water.  For specific applications, cold plasma can be combined with chemical sanitizers for a synergistic action.


The FDA is attempting to reduce the risks of foodborne pathogens from leafy greens irrigated using water contaminated with feces from runoff from CAFOs.  Without a positive kill step, any attempts to reduce contamination are essentially “lettuce roulette”.  The USDA Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, PA, has a strong scientific record in applying innovative technology to enhance the safety of foods.  This laboratory and its personnel should intensively investigate the technical and financial aspects of applying of cold plasma and electron beam technology to decontamination of food products susceptible to pre-harvest bacterial infection.