Keeping food safe

Two food safety technologies for detecting and killing pathogens can cut costs for produce, fruit and vegetable processors, say researchers.

Arun Bhunia, a professor of food science, led the team. “Current technologies are insufficient to prevent food-borne illness,” he said. “In the present system, once produce is contaminated with something like E. coli, that’s it.”

The first method uses a laser to detect and identify many types of bacteria, and is about three times faster and one-tenth as expensive as current technology, they claim. A second innovation uses chlorine dioxide gas to kill pathogens on produce, fresh fruits and vegetables. Both have been developed by researchers at Purdue University in Indiana.

Patents are pending on both technologies, and the laser technology is available for licensing.

Increasing concern about food safety has led to a boost in research into quicker and cheaper methods of detecting and killing pathogens.

Richard Linton, a professor of food science at Purdue University in Indiana. “As for using this gas as a disinfectant, I would say that in my 13 years of doing research, it is 10,000 to 100,000 times more effective than any process I have seen.”

While different in nature, the two methods have the common goal of keeping food safe and preventing people from getting sick, and have each progressed to the point where they could be commercialized.

“This would be a large step up from current technologies, which mainly involve washing and scrubbing, and cannot completely rid a product of a pathogen like E. coli.