Declan Diver, PhD, and Hugh Potts, PhD, of the 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, an effective 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. The ozone naturally returns to its original state after just a couple of hours, which is more than enough time for any mold, fungi or bacteria on the packaging’s contents to be destroyed without adversely affecting its taste.
The product’s effectiveness as a germ-killer also extends food’s shelf-life by at least one extra day, which could go a significant way to cutting down on the seven million tonnes of food discarded in the UK each year.
The product is being brought to market by a university spinoff company called Anacail, founded in January 2011.
“We’re very excited about the applications of our product,” said Ian Muirhead, PhD, CEO, Anacail. “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 sterilization effect comes directly from oxygen via our plasma head.”
Although ozone can be harmful to humans, Dr. Muirhead said that the limited lifespan of the ozone and the fact that it leaves no residue on the product makes it safe to use in food packaging.