Say goodbye to mouldy fruits and vegetables

plasma treating avocado
© Murdoch University (used with permission)

An Australian researcher has developed a cheap, chemical-free method for treating produce to inhibit mould growth.

Imagine if you never had to worry about mould (a.k.a. mold for American English readers) on your food again. No more icky fridge clean-outs, annoying absent ingredients when you’re ready to cook a special dish, or wasted cash. You could eat fresh food at your leisure, instead of picking through the pantry to figure out what needs to be used first. Does it sound farfetched? Well, it’s not as crazy as you may think. Mouldy food could soon be a thing of the past, thanks to research by Dr. Kirsty Bayliss.

Dr. Bayliss, of Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, has developed a technique for treating fresh food with plasma and electrical currents in order to inhibit mould growth. It’s a chemical-free process that coats the surface of the food, killing off infectious mold spores. While the research so far has focused on avocados, it will eventually extend to other foods, including vegetables, bread, milk, meats, and cheese.

The technology, called ‘Breaking the Mould,’ has potential to reduce global food waste, since mould is a major factor in the enormous amounts of food that get tossed each year – roughly 30 percent of all food grown for human consumption. Dr. Bayliss told ABC News:

“Food wastage contributes to a lot of the food insecurity — a developed country such as the U.S. or Europe wastes around 100 kilograms (220 lbs) of food per person every year. If we could reduce food wastage by a quarter, we could feed 870 million people.”

Killing mould spores could also make produce healthier for human consumption, as some moulds produce toxic compounds that are harmful to health. The plasma technology kills food-borne bacteria, such as salmonella and listeria.

“The technology is based on the most abundant form of matter in the universe – plasma. Plasma kills the moulds that grow on fruit and vegetables, making fresh produce healthier for consumption and increasing shelf-life.”

Dr. Kirsty Bayliss© Murdoch University (via ABC)

Dr. Bayliss has been named a 2017 LAUNCH Food Innovator. LAUNCH is an innovation platform founded by NASA, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Department of State, and Nike that strives to identify and support innovative solutions to sustainability problems. Bayliss is one of 12 innovators chosen this year, out of 280 applicants. She will travel to San Francisco to attend a forum on improving global health outcomes and to meet with investors, philanthropists, and companies interested in using her technology.

After 18 months of preliminary trials, ‘Breaking the Mould’ technology is now at the point of scaling up to larger trials and working alongside commercial production facilities. While there are many DIY versions of this technology, Dr. Bayliss and her team say they've "managed to hit the one that works the best." (via ABC)

Tags: Australia | Food Safety | Food Security | Fruits & Vegetables | Waste

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