What if the bacteria thriving on a raw piece of chicken could be wiped out by simply blasting it with a plasma beam? Sound too good to be true? Results from a recent study have been published in the January issue of the Journal of Food Production highlighting the feasibility of such a technique.
Although pathogens on fresh produce have been effectively reduced using nonthermal plasma, food safety researchers at Drexel University recently applied this treatment to boneless skinless chicken breasts and chicken thighs with skin. Bacteria were completely eradicated when present in low concentrations and “significantly reduced” when present in higher concentrations.
An additional important finding showed plasma beams effectively killed both non-resistant and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The treatment can be conducted at room temperature and does not alter the appearance of the meat. Another perk for suppliers: spoilage is also reduced by removing contaminating bacteria, leading to a longer shelf life.
Seventy-percent of raw chicken samples tested show Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria are present, according to a press release put out by Drexel University. Food borne pathogens contaminate incorrectly handled or poorly cooked poultry and lead to tens of thousands of cases of illness a year. Poultry is currently the leading cause of food borne illness.
Although the findings are of interest to consumers and distributors alike, using plasma beams at a commercial level is not an option for chicken processors at this time due to the high cost of treatment. Still, the research lays the foundations for exciting developments in novel approaches to reducing food borne illness.
In the meantime, the Food and Drug Administration urges poultry consumers to thoroughly cook chicken, avoid cross-contamination with raw meat by washing exposed surfaces and utensils, and scrub hands with antibacterial soap throughout meal preparation.