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Pulsed light technology effectively kills harmful pathogens in new study

In a previous experiment, the team designed a new conveyor belt to test their decontamination method in an industrial setting. As the eggs rotated on their long axis along the way, the entire surface of the eggshell was exposed to pulsed ultraviolet light energy. Credit: Josh Casser, Penn State

A light-based, food sanitization technique successfully eliminated multiple harmful pathogens in a new study conducted by researchers at Penn State.

The pulsed light technique holds promise as an effective alternative to the chemical, heat and water-based antimicrobial technologies commonly used in the food industry — and could be applied more broadly in sanitized environments such as hospitals, water treatment facilities and pharmaceutical plants, according to the researchers.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that in the US, more than 9 million people get sick, 56,000 are hospitalized and 1,300 die from foodborne illnesses each year. Despite improvements in technology and increased regulation, food contamination remains a global problem with major public health implications, explains Ali Demirci, a Penn State professor of agricultural and biological technology and a member of the research team.

“Any improvements to prevent disease or save lives would be the best outcome of this study,” Demirci said. “We want to reduce the number of fatalities from foodborne diseases to zero.”

The study, recently published in the Journal of Food Engineering, revealed that targeted pulses of broad-spectrum light elicited a germicidal response in E. coli, Salmonella Typhimurium, Listeria monocytogenes, Bacillus cereus, Aspergillus niger spores, and Penicillium roqueforti spores. The study also defined the spectrum and energy characteristics of pulsed light and found that ultraviolet radiation played an important role in the process.

The work was conducted in Demirci’s lab in collaboration with Ed Mills, associate professor of meat science, and Josh Cassar, a former PhD student in animal science, who has since graduated and works as a food safety consultant.

“I returned to Penn State for graduate school after working for a poultry processor, so for me the research was very applied; we wanted to bring this technique to market,” Cassar said. “In terms of implementing the technology, we have continued to work with business partners to integrate this technology into their facilities.”

Over the past two decades, the lab has applied the technique to a range of foods, including fruits, seeds, grains, cheese, milk, apple juice and multiple poultry products. The team even simulated production conditions to test the technology on eggs, using a conveyor designed to test the process in an industrial setting, with the xenon flashbulbs designed to operate on a commercial scale.

The team said it hopes this technology will be adopted by the food industry sooner rather than later because of its strong potential to make food safer to consume.

Since the 1960s, the food industry has been using low-intensity ultraviolet (UV) light as an antimicrobial treatment, explains Mills. Meat producers used low levels of UV light in meat aging facilities, but the technique could only be used at low intensity for a long period of time.

“This is a very different system,” Mills said. “We’re using pulsed light instead of continuous light, which uses the energy stored in a pulse so we can deliver more power in less time.”

The team’s technique is designed to be deployed on a food conveyor belt, where pulses of light are applied to the product as it passes. The treatment delivers a higher light intensity because it is pulsed, resulting in greater microbial reduction in a shorter period of time than conventional UV light treatment, explains Mills.

“The analogy I use is a dam in a river,” Demirci said. “You open the floodgates and there is a flash of energy. We do that with light.”

Pulsed light is an emerging technology that can serve as an alternative to current antimicrobial interventions in the food industry, but can also be applied more widely in other antimicrobial applications, explains Cassar.

“Pulsed light is another tool in the toolbox,” he said. “When used in a suitable environment, it can offset a chemical or water-based disinfectant. As with any new technology, it will continue to evolve and hopefully it will provide us with an effective and efficient tool for sanitation in a range of environments and industries.”

Pulsed ultraviolet light technology to improve egg safety, help the poultry industry

More information:
Joshua R. Cassar et al, Characterization of pulsed light for microbial inactivation, Journal of Food Engineering (2022). DOI: 10.116/j.jfoodeng.2022.111152

Provided by Pennsylvania State University

Quote: Pulsed light technology effectively kills harmful pathogens in new study (2022, Aug 16) retrieved Aug 16, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-pulsed-technology- Effectively-pathogens.html

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