Reducing poultry pathogens with plasma

Tuesday, 14 February, 2012

Researchers at Drexel University have demonstrated a technique for killing pathogens on raw poultry that could reduce foodborne illness. Using plasma, the research team was able to eliminate or significantly reduce bacteria on skinless chicken breast and chicken skin.

Uncooked poultry is the most common source of bacteria that causes illness, with over 70% of raw chicken testing positive for Campylobacter and Salmonella, according to a media release from Drexel. Cross-contamination in the kitchen could be reduced if pathogens were removed or reduced from raw meat products before they even reached consumers’ kitchens.

“If you could reduce contamination on the raw chicken, then you wouldn’t have it in the kitchen,” said Dr Jennifer Quinlan, senior author of the paper that details the team’s findings.

On bacteria samples grown on agar, plasma was effective on both antibiotic-resistant and wild-type strains of bacteria.

Plasma, according to the media release, is “a high-energy, charged mixture of gaseous atoms, ions and electrons”. According to the release, plasma has been shown to reduce pathogens on fruit and vegetables without cooking them.

While plasma technology is not currently a cost-effective option for food production, one benefit of using plasma is that it is non-thermal, so doesn’t cook the food or affect its appearance, said co-lead author Brian Dirks.

Were plasma technology to become more cost-effective, Dirks claims it could also be helpful in prolonging the shelf life of raw chicken as it could wipe out the microorganisms that cause food spoilage.

“Until these technologies are more fully developed, consumers should assume that raw poultry has pathogens on it and take care to prevent infection,” Dr Quinlan said. “That means cooking thoroughly and making sure not to cross-contaminate when handling uncooked meat and poultry.”

The study was published by the International Association for Food Protection in the Journal of Food Protection.

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