Although the research is ongoing, much depends on interest and demand for new solutions from industry.
“There would need to be a push-pull to do the engineering necessary to scale up cold plasma equipment from the lab scale to the pilot scale to the commercial scale,” Niemira said.
“The USDA is always interested in working with commercial partners to license existing technologies and to do collaborative R&D to solve problems in the real world. For this to move from the lab to the supply chain, it needs to achieve significant kill of pathogens in a reliable, consistent manner, and to do it in a way that preserves the color, aroma, texture, etc. of the foods.”
The USDA researchers also are developing cold plasma systems for food contact surfaces, such as conveyor belts.
“Since it’s more straightforward to treat plastics, metals and ceramics than it is to treat tomatoes, cantaloupes or lettuce, it may be that, in the short term at least, treatment of food contact surfaces could be where cold plasma finds its first applications for the food processing industry,” Niemira said.