Growing Innovation: Issue 12, July 27, 2016

Electrifying new technology for sanitising fresh produce and nuts

With food safety a top consideration for growers – and a key competitive advantage across Australian growing industries – a new $5 million project is set to investigate innovative technology for quickly and effectively decontaminating fresh produce and nuts.

The research will put the spotlight on ‘cold plasma’ as a chemical-free and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional chemical sanitisers, which have their limits when it comes to effectiveness, residues and environmental impacts.

Cold plasma is generated when an electric current is applied to normal air or a gas. This produces reactive oxidising agents, such as ozone, which are found to be able to inactivate  or eliminate microbial contaminants including bacteria, viruses, moulds and yeasts.

As well as the potential to improve food safety, cold plasma decontamination technology could also help reduce post-harvest losses due to decay. It represents a rapid, chemical-free approach to sanitising fresh produce and nuts, that’s energy efficient, dry and non-thermal.

Hort Innovation Chief Executive John Lloyd said the new project was important for the horticulture industry as a whole. “Though there are good on-farm and post-harvest practices already in place with growers and suppliers, microbial contamination can still occur – and when this happens, the well-earned reputation of Australian fresh produce being clean and safe can be tarnished,” he said.

“This technology may give growers more certainty in consistently supplying safe and healthy fresh produce and nuts. It’s a measure that has the potential to limit product recalls, minimise trade disruptions and ensure consumers are confident about the produce they’re buying .”

Hort Innovation will be working with the NSW Department of Industry, Skills and Regional Development (NSW DPI) on the project, which will be carried out over five years.

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