Emerging applications of low temperature gas plasmas in the food industry

The global burden of foodborne disease due to the presence of contaminating micro-organisms remains high, despite some notable examples of their successful reduction in some instances. Globally, the number of species of micro-organisms responsible for foodborne diseases has increased over the past decades and as a result of the continued centralization of the food processing industry, outbreaks now have far reaching consequences. Gas plasmas offer a broad range of microbicidal capabilities that could be exploited in the food industry and against which microbial resistance would be unlikely to occur. In addition to reducing the incidence of disease by acting on the micro-organisms responsible for food spoilage, gas plasmas could also play a role in increasing the shelf-life of perishable foods and thereby reduce food wastage with positive financial and environmental implications. Treatment need not be confined to the food itself but could include food processing equipment and also the environment in which commercial food processing occurs. Moreover, gas plasmas could also be used to bring about the degradation of undesirable chemical compounds, such as allergens, toxins, and pesticide residues, often encountered on foods and food-processing equipment. The literature on the application of gas plasmas to food treatment is beginning to reveal an appreciation that attention needs also to be paid to ensuring that the key quality attributes of foods are not significantly impaired as a result of treatment. A greater understanding of both the mechanisms by which micro-organisms and chemical compounds are inactivated, and of the plasma species responsible for this is forming. This is significant, as this knowledge can then be used to design plasma systems with tailored compositions that will achieve maximum efficacy. Better understanding of the underlying interactions will also enable the design and implementation of control strategies capable of minimizing variations in plasma treatment efficacy despite perturbations in environmental and operational conditions.