Location: Food Safety and Intervention Technologies Research
Project Number: 8072-41420-025-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated
Start Date: Feb 10, 2021
End Date: Feb 9, 2026
Objective 1: Complete the industrial/commercial implementation of the Radio Frequency (RF) technology (with partners) to enhance the safety of shell eggs. Ensure that the technology is optimized, appreciating the complexity of the intervention process, the processing conditions, the equipment necessary, and the sensory and nutritional qualities of the food product. Objective 2: Utilization of Cold Plasma, a novel non thermal technology to inactivate microbial contamination on various food products, which can include and is not limited to produce, nuts, meats and ready-to-eat foods. Optimize the technology to allow scale-up to commercial treatment levels, appreciating the complexity of the intervention process in terms of the food to be treated, the processing conditions, the equipment necessary, and the sensory and nutritional qualities of the foods types to be treated. Sub-objective 2.A: Develop and optimize combined treatments of cold plasma with high-intensity pulsed light-based technologies and/or other antimicrobial processes, including chemical sanitizers to enhance microbial food safety and quality.
Our research will develop and optimize interventions for reducing the microbial load associated with produce, meats, shell eggs, and other food products. The ARS-patented radio frequency pasteurization (RFP) process for shell eggs is 3X faster and produces a higher quality egg than currently available commercial technologies. We will optimize the existing RFP process to improve efficiency and throughput, leading to a commercial-scale prototype. Research will focus on RFP operating parameters such as: power applied; RF pulse frequency and duration; electrode contact profile; cooling water conductivity, temperature, and flow rate. For many other foods, sanitizing technologies currently available fall short of desirable efficacy goals, such as the FDA’s target of a 5 log kill for fresh and fresh-cut produce. Cold plasma is a novel nonthermal sanitizing process which uses ionized air to inactivate pathogens on a variety of foods and food contact surfaces. We will build on our existing cold plasma expertise to develop and optimize applications, focusing on sanitizing protocols suitable for commercially promising commodities such as meats, fruits and vegetables, and low-moisture foods. We will optimize several different types of cold plasma in parallel, as dictated by the most suitable commodity/pathogen application. The treatments will establish commercialization potential for cold plasma as a standalone process and in combination with other antimicrobial treatments, including a primary focus of combining cold plasma with high-intensity light-based treatments. After we evaluate the combined intervention strategies for their effects on product quality and shelf-life, the most effective, practical treatment combinations will be transferred to industry to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. The outcomes of this project will be new validated means/technologies for producers, processors, and distributors to produce safer shell eggs, meats, fruits and vegetables, and other food related commodities.