Cold Plasma: The Future of Food Processing Industries

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The ongoing pandemic has changed the on-ground scenariosand operating models of the major industries. There is an enhancedscrutiny on hygiene and cleanliness in healthcare and food processing &handling. One of the emergingnon-thermal technologies gaining a lot of interest to   enhance the food safety is Cold Plasma (CP).This method is becoming a subject of great interest for several technologiesincluding the food industry. This is a non-thermal technique used for foodprocessing, especially disinfection and decontamination of food.There are many food applications of cold plasma to ensure food safety. Some ofthe applications are decontaminating the food, removing the pesticide residues,inactivating the enzymes, removing the toxins and modification of the food packaging.

 Previouslycold plasma was used only for sensitive materials. The cold plasma process usesenergetic, reactive gases for inactivating the microbial flora present ondifferent food items like fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry etc. Thegeneration of cold plasma occurs upon application of electrical energy sourceto a gas. This leads to production of several reactive species such asultraviolet photons, charged particles, radicals and other reactive nitrogen,oxygen and hydrogen species.  The atmospheric cold plasma could be used fordecontamination of fruits and vegetables without altering their organolepticand sensory properties.

The demand for fresh fruits is ever increasing, andthis poses a challenge to the food industries for supplying safe food which isminimally processed. As the fresh fruits are eaten raw, it becomes quite importantto ensure that these fruits are free of unwanted microbial load.  The technique of cold atmospheric plasma possessesthe potential for inactivating the microbes. This enhances the food safety   while maintaining the physicochemical orsensory properties of the fresh food commodities. Another benefit of cold plasma technology is the low heatgeneration during the process. This renders it suitable for a variety oftemperature-sensitive applications, short-lived reactive species. This methodleaves no residue or waste, hence, its a  clean technology. The operating cost of this method are also low ascompared to the energy-intensive thermal processes. Some of the benefits ofcold plasma have been enlisted below:-

-This is a novel, super quicksterilization/preservation process as the sterilization takes a fewminures/seconds

-This method operates at ambienttemperatures, hence rendering it suitable for thermo labile products

-This method works on thesurface, hence, the nutrients and vitamins within the food are not affected

- Operating this method is quite economical

-Different types of pathogens canbe inactivated based on plasma type

-This is an environment friendlymethod

Coldplasma is effective against the foodborne pathogenic micro-organisms such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella typhimurium, Tulane virus inromaine lettuce, Escherichia coliO157:H7, Campylobacter jejuni, and Salmonella spp. in meat and meatproducts, and fruits and vegetables.  Coldplasma technique leads to lipid oxidation in fish and degradation of theoligosaccharides in the juice. Despite these, cold plasma has been found to bean efficient alternative method for food decontamination and should be furtherexploited as an alternative technology for the decontamination of foodbornepathogenic microorganisms in food commodities.

Thereis an urgent requirement for regulating the safety of foods by effective sanitizationwithout compromising on the quality of food. This has led to an increasedinterest in cold plasma processing for meat, poultry, and dairy products. The optimization of the cold plasma andits scaling up to the commercial treatment levels calls for a detailedknowledge of the processes involved. This technology seems promising and is beingactively researched for enhancing the efficiency.

Dr .Loveleen Kaur Sarao 
Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana