February 3, 2012
PHILADELPHIAZapping raw poultry with a dose of plasma effectively kills pathogens, including Salmonella and Campylobacter, according to a new study published in the Journal of Food Protection.
Researchers at Drexel University treated raw chicken samples contaminated with Salmonella enterica and Campylobacter jejuni bacteria with plasma for varying periods of time. Plasma treatment eliminated or nearly eliminated bacteria in low levels from skinless chicken breast and chicken skin, and significantly reduced the level of bacteria when contamination levels were high. The researchers used plasma to treat samples of bacteria grown on agar, and demonstrated that antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria were as susceptible to plasma as the wild-type strains.
Plasma, a high-energy, charged mixture of gaseous atoms, ions and electrons, has a wide range of potential applications, including energy production and control, biomedical treatments and environmental remediation. The value of using plasma is that it is non-thermal, so there is no heat to cook or alter the way the food looks.
The researchers described the plasma treatment of poultry in this study as proof of concept." Current plasma technology is expensive relative to the narrow cost margins involved in food production, and the technology is not currently being developed for processing poultry on a large scale. If plasma technology becomes cost-effective for use in treating poultry, it may be used in conjunction with existing methods to reduce pathogens, the researchers said, and it may also help prolong the shelf life of raw chicken if it can be honed to remove more microorganisms responsible for spoilage.
Until these technologies are more fully developed, consumers should assume that raw poultry has pathogens on it and take care to prevent infection," they said. That means cooking thoroughly and making sure not to cross contaminate when handling uncooked meat and poultry."
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