New packaging technology can extend shelf life and decrease pathogens in raw poultry, according to research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, Meat + Poultry reported. The research project, funded by the USPOULTRY Foundation, found that using electrical current to create ozone in sealed poultry packages results in less spoilage and fewer pathogens.
According to Meat + Poultry, the atmospheric cold plasma-based antimicrobial packaging technology "is an alternative to traditional, non-thermal antimicrobial interventions such as water-chilling poultry in a chlorinated solution and maintaining safe temperatures during the processing and storage of the products."
"There are a number of advantages with this packaging system compared to alternative treatments, such as eliminating pre-packaging treatment requirements, adaptability for use with any size and type of package and treatment time, having no chemical residues after treatment, and cost effectiveness," a summary of the findings stated. The summary added that the system could result in a more than 90% reduction in spoilage microbes and campylobacter and a 60% reduction in salmonella after five days of refrigerated storage.
Any new packaging technology that can extend shelf life and improve product safety would be welcomed by the poultry industry, so it's understandable that the USPOULTRY Foundation would want to support this research.
According to the summary of the research findings, more than 144 million pounds of fresh poultry are lost annually due to microbiological spoilage. A number of techniques are used to cut down on this problem — chilling the poultry with chlorinated water during process and cold-chain management — but this cold plasma-based system sounds like an approach that could go a long way toward helping to solve shelf life and pathogen challenges.
Researchers described the antimicrobial packaging system as using high electrical voltages to generate plasma with ozone and other bactericidal components within sealed food packages. They said that published experiments show that treating boneless, skinless chicken breast meat in modified atmosphere tray packs at 75 kilovolts for three minutes can double microbiological shelf life at refrigerated temperatures.
Cosmetic changes in the products were observed during the research. Experiments with various packaging atmospheres showed that ozone generated within the poultry package made the treated raw poultry look paler or lighter, the summary of findings noted. "The system can result in ozone formation in raw meat packages and may result in changes in meat appearance after storage," researchers said.
While routinely applying this system could make a big difference in cutting down on spoilage in the poultry business, the cost factor would be of major interest to any companies looking at adopting it. Consumers might seek out the new packaging if it didn't add too much more onto the cost of the poultry products. Also, given the weak poultry market and record stockpiles right now, this packaging technology might be an appealing addition if consumers understood the goal of safer products with fewer pathogens.
It could be quite a while before cold plasma-based packaging technology is widely adopted in the food industry because of the required investment. Expensive equipment and vacuum pumps are needed, so only the largest companies are likely to have the necessary capital. Still, R&D is moving forward when it comes to food-related applications, so such packaging systems might eventually become commonplace.