Device improves safety and shelf-life of food products

A device developed in Scotland uses ozone to make food safer for consumers and extend the shelf-life of food products by one day.

Dr Declan Diver and Dr Hugh Potts of Glasgow University’s School of Physics and Astronomy have prototyped a system to rapidly, safely and temporarily turn some of the oxygen inside the sealed packaging into ozone, which acts as a germicide.

Plasma generated by a retractable device held briefly against the surface of plastic or glass packaging splits the bonds between oxygen molecules inside the packaging which then reform as ozone.

According to the university, the ozone returns to its original state after a couple of hours, which is said to be more than enough time for any mould, fungi or bacteria on the packaging’s contents to be destroyed without adversely affecting its taste.

The product’s effectiveness as a germicide also extends food’s shelf-life by at least one extra day, which could help cut down on the seven million tonnes of food discarded in the UK each year.

The product is being brought to market by Anacail, a university spinout company founded in January 2011 which recently raised £750,000 of seed funding from IP Group and the Scottish Investment Bank.

In a statement, Anacail CEO Dr 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. It’s a very effective way to destroy or inhibit the growth of bacteria and viruses.

‘We’re currently seeking development partners to scale our product into full manufacture. 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.’

The efficacy of Anacail’s prototype has been proven at UK test labs including Campden BRI in Gloucestershire. Tests have shown an increase in shelf-life for products including bread and muffins, and a significant reduction of many pathogens in poultry including campylobacter, pseudomonas, and E.coli.