Cold plasma could minimise fungicide use
New technology in development could improve food safety across the supply chain. Whilst contamination in citrus is less frequent the technology could eventually do away with post-harvest fungicides reducing costs and adding to our ‘clean green’ image in export markets.
Cold plasma technology is a new tool being developed by Dr Sukhvinder Pal Singh’s research team, who work on the application of innovative technologies to improve food safety.
The cold plasma investigations are happening under Horticulture Innovation Australia’s Health, Nutrition and Food Safety Fund, part of its new strategic co-investment initiative.
The project is funded by Hort Innovation with co-investment from the NSW Department of Primary Industries and funds from the Australian Government.
SP spoke at the recent 2017 Citrus Australia Technical Forum and Field Day in Mildura.
Cold plasma technology has been used effectively in other industries, such as sterilising medical equipment and treating polymers and textiles. The 5-year project is looking to see how the technology can be applied in the food industry, testing its application on vegetables, nuts, and fruit including citrus.
Though in early development, research is showing some promise in using cold plasma to treat microbial contamination of horticultural produce.
Cold plasma is a gas-like substance that displays broad anti-microbial activity. It is effective near room temperature.
“The benefit of cold plasma technology is that it kills bacterial, fungal and viral pathogens and is non-chemical, leaves no residues and has a short treatment time. Using this treatment can minimise use of fungicide,” SP said.
This makes the technology a potentially effective food safety tool for packers and growers.
Advances in food safety technology have also arisen in attempts to minimise food fraud and improve traceability. These attempts follow fruit in China being falsely branded as Australian citrus.
“At the moment, market surveillance and QR codes are two possible solutions to tackle food fraud,” SP said.
“Market surveillance is too expensive. The size of the market means this is not a practical solution.”
“QR codes are a good option. You can put QR codes on fruit and consumers can scan the code and know the authenticity of the product”.
But this solution has its limitations. “There is a risk that people develop fake QR codes, and continue food fraud.”
Safetraces is new US technology that presents another solution to improve fruit traceability. It is a liquid barcode sprayed on fruit at post-harvest.
“The barcode is invisible, edible, tasteless and odourless.”
Safetraces is a cheap and effective way to guarantee traceability, and make sure consumers and those within the supply chain can authenticate horticultural produce.
At present, this technology is only approved in the US. SP predicts regulatory hurdles for implementation.
These new developments in food safety will complement Australia’s current food safety practices, which are key to unlocking competitive access to the market. “Food safety is a shared responsibility which everyone must take part in”.