Research project to extend shelf life of produce

23 Nov 2011

The goal of 'Safebag' is to reduce microbes on fresh produce, such as apples

DIT lecturer Dr PJ Cullen of the School of Food Science and Environmental Health has begun breakthrough research that will extend the shelf life of fruit and vegetables and protect their nutritional quality.

The €2.4m EU-funded project, entitled ‘Safebag’, aims to reduce microbes on fresh produce, ensuring that technology does not affect the nutritional properties, texture or taste of the packaged fruit and vegetables.

The goal is to reduce microbial hitchhikers on fresh produce that could ultimately contribute to safety concerns or spoilage.

“It’s difficult to treat fresh produce in comparison to foods such as milk, where you can use heat,” says Cullen. “The classical approach has been to wash the produce and what’s typically done is that it is washed in chlorine.

“Our approach is to package our food inside any type of plastic packaging and then pass that package through a dielectric plasma discharge” explains Cullen. “So we create and use a plasma within the bag for a very short period of time, and make active species within the bag, which deactivate the bacteria.”

The project is co-ordinated by IRIS in Spain and also involves the National Centre for Plasma Science and Technology, DCU, along with several other international partners.

Dr Kevin Keener, a visiting professor from Purdue University, is currently on sabbatical in DIT and involved in building and optimising the system in partnership with the DIT research team.

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