US researchers develop non-destructive chemical-free fruit sterilisation technique

Prolonging fruit shelf life with pulsed light technology is more effective if the fruit are agitated in water while treated, US researchers have found.

Blueberries - image: Daniella Segura
Blueberries - image: Daniella Segura

Applied conventionally to stationary fruit, treatment by short intense bursts of white light can lead to both incomplete coverage and heat damage to exposed surfaces.

But a team at the University of Delaware created equipment to agitate blueberries inoculated with Escherichia coli or Salmonella in water while light bursts were applied, and compared this to the stationary, "dry" treatment.

The pathogens were inactivated in the dry treatment, but at the cost of visible damage on fruit surfaces, whose temperatures reached 65 degrees C.

The "wet" treatment by contrast caused no excess heating or degradation.

"The wet PL treatments were more effective than chlorine washing on inactivating both pathogens," the researchers found, adding that the water used in the wet treatment was subsequently found to be free of pathogens.

"Our results suggest that this new water-assisted PL treatment could be a potential non-chemical residue-free alternative to chlorine washing since it is both more effective and environmentally friendly," they conclude.

The findings are published in the journal Food Microbiology.

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