A zap of cold plasma reduces harmful bacteria on raw chicken

February 2, 2012

A new study by food safety researchers at Drexel University demonstrates that plasma can be an effective method for killing pathogens on uncooked poultry. The proof-of-concept study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Food Protection.

Although recent high-profile outbreaks of foodborne illness have involved contaminated fresh produce, the most common source of in food is uncooked poultry and other meat products. The bacteria responsible for most foodborne illnesses, Campylobacter and Salmonella, are found on upwards of 70 percent of tested.

Treating raw meat products to remove pathogens before they reach a consumer's home can reduce the risk of cross contamination during food preparation, according to senior author Dr. Jennifer Quinlan, an assistant professor in Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions. "If you could reduce contamination on the raw chicken, then you wouldn't have it in the kitchen," Quinlan said.

Past studies have shown that plasma could successfully reduce pathogens on the surface of without cooking them.

The value of using plasma "is that it is non-thermal, so there is no heat to cook or alter the way the food looks," said lead author Brian Dirks, a graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences. Dirks and Quinlan worked with researchers from the University's Anthony J. Drexel Plasma Institute to test the use of plasma for poultry.

In the Drexel study, raw chicken samples contaminated with and Campylobacter jejuni bacteria were treated with plasma for varying periods of time. Plasma treatment eliminated or nearly eliminated bacteria in low levels from skinless chicken breast and chicken skin, and significantly reduced the level of bacteria when contamination levels were high.

The researchers also tested using plasma to treat samples of bacteria grown on agar, and demonstrated that antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria were as susceptible to plasma as the wild-type strains.

Plasma, known as the "fourth state of matter" (after solid, liquid and gas), is a high-energy, charged mixture of gaseous atoms, ions and electrons. Plasma has a wide range of potential applications including energy production and control, biomedical treatments and environmental remediation.

Quinlan described the of poultry in this study as "." Current plasma technology is expensive relative to the narrow cost margins involved in food production, and the technology is not currently being developed for processing poultry on a large scale.

If plasma technology becomes cost-effective for use in treating poultry, it may be used in conjunction with existing methods to reduce pathogens, Dirks said, and it may also help prolong the shelf-life of raw chicken if it can be honed to remove more microorganisms responsible for spoilage.

"Until these technologies are more fully developed, consumers should assume that raw poultry has pathogens on it and take care to prevent infection," Quinlan said. "That means cooking thoroughly and making sure not to cross contaminate when handling uncooked meat and poultry."

Quinlan holds a a Ph.D. in food microbiology from North Carolina State University and bachelor's and master's degrees in food science from Rutgers University. Her research focuses on the microbiological quality and safety of food. Her ongoing work focuses on safe consumer handling of .

The A.J. Drexel Plasma Institute recently received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to expand its research.

Explore further: Frozen, raw chicken entrees sicken 29

More information: Dirks, B.P., Dobrynin, D., Fridman, G., Mukhn, Y., Fridman, A., & Quinlan, J.J. Treatment of Raw Poultry with Nonthermal Dielectric Barrier Discharge Plasma To Reduce Campylobacter jejuni and Salmonella enterica. Journal of Food Protection. DOI: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-11-153

Related Stories

Frozen, raw chicken entrees sicken 29

July 21, 2006

State health department officials are blaming undercooked frozen chicken dinners for sickening more than two dozen people in Minnesota since August.

Recommended for you

Calcium channel blockers caught in the act at atomic level

August 24, 2016

An atomic level analysis has revealed how two classes of calcium channel blockers, widely prescribed for heart disease patients, produce separate therapeutic effects through their actions at different sites on the calcium ...

New electrical energy storage material shows its power

August 24, 2016

A powerful new material developed by Northwestern University chemist William Dichtel and his research team could one day speed up the charging process of electric cars and help increase their driving range.

Bio-inspired tire design: Where the rubber meets the road

August 24, 2016

The fascination with the ability of geckos to scamper up smooth walls and hang upside down from improbable surfaces has entranced scientists at least as far back as Aristotle, who noted the reptile's remarkable feats in his ...

Selecting the right house plant could improve indoor air

August 24, 2016

Indoor air pollution is an important environmental threat to human health, leading to symptoms of "sick building syndrome." But researchers report that surrounding oneself with certain house plants could combat the potentially ...

LiH mediates low-temperature ammonia synthesis

August 24, 2016

Nearly half of the world's population is fed by industrial N2 fixation, i. e., the Harbor-Bosch process. Although exergonic in nature, NH3 synthesis from N2 and H2 catalyzed by the fused Fe has to be conducted at elevated ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.