Scotland business

Plasma device developed to 'sterilise' food

Anacail plasma device
Image caption Plasma is generated by a device held against the surface of packaging

Scientists at the University of Glasgow have developed a prototype plasma device which creates ozone to kill germs in packaged food.

The system uses plasma to briefly turn oxygen inside sealed packaging into ozone in order to sterilise food.

Researchers at the School of Physics and Astronomy claim the new method will make packaged food safer for consumers and last longer on the shelf.

A spin-out company has been formed to bring the device to market.

The system uses a retractable device which is held briefly against the surface of plastic or glass packaging.

It then generates plasma to split the bonds between oxygen molecules inside the packaging, which then reform as ozone.

According to the developers, the ozone naturally returns to its original state after just a couple of hours - enough time for mould, fungi or bacteria on the packaging's contents to be destroyed.

They also claim the process does not adversely affect the taste of the food and extends shelf-life by at least one extra day.

Production trials

The product will undergo trials on production lines at several UK food processing plants over the next 12 months.

Glasgow University spin-out company Anacail is also seeking development partners to scale the product into full manufacture.

Anacail recently raised £750,000 of seed funding from technology commercialisation company IP Group, and the Scottish Investment Bank.

Half of the funding is subject to Anacail achieving technical and commercial milestones.

Anacail chief executive Ian Muirhead said: "We're very excited about the applications of our product.

"It's safe and easy to use, doesn't require any change in current packaging of food products to be effective, and it doesn't require any chemical additives - the sterilisation effect comes directly from oxygen via our plasma head.

"Although ozone can be harmful to humans, it has a very limited lifespan before it returns to oxygen and it doesn't leave behind any dangerous residues so it's perfectly safe to use in food decontamination."

He added: "Although we're initially concentrating on offering Anacail products to the food industry, the process could be equally useful in for the sterilisation of medical and dental equipment and perhaps even for use in the home."

In December, Edinburgh scientists announced they had developed a new way of extending the shelf life of food using microwave technology.

Researchers from Queen Margaret University claimed the technique could have the potential to "transform" global food manufacturing.

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