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The Technical University of Cartagena patents a surface decontamination method to increase the shelf life of food

The method is compatible with organic food because it uses vapours of essential oils

The procedure has been developed by researchers of the Food Safety and Refrigeration Engineering group, led by Antonio López Gómez. It extends the shelf life of packaged products of fish, meat, salads and minimally processed fresh fruit. With this new procedure and in combination with ultra-clean packaging techniques, the shelf life of ready-to-eat packaged foods could be doubled or even tripled.

The vapours applied, which can be of rosemary, thyme, orange, or other essential oils, are natural antimicrobial agents that inactivate pathogens such as Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and Escherichia coli. They also destroy spoiling flora such as bacteria, fungi and yeasts.

The registered patent refers to the method of generation of the vapours and to the systems (or machinery) needed for its implementation. These vapours can be applied to the food during its modified atmosphere packaging, mixing with the gases when these are applied to the container.

Decontamination with vapours of essential oils is compatible with the packaging of organic products, and it has proven to be effective as an alternative to washing with chlorinated water, which can leave toxic waste.

In collaboration with the company TECSELOR S.L. (Lorca, Murcia), the researchers have developed the machinery needed to implement this decontamination system at an industrial level. With this machinery a large number of trials have been conducted for the treatment of packaged foods with essential oil vapours and they have proven to extend the shelf life of food, especially when combined with ultra-clean packaging. These tests have been carried out at the White Room for Ultra-clean Processing and Packaging that belongs to the Engineering Department of Food and Agricultural Equipment of the Higher Technical School of Agronomic Engineering of the UPCT.

The patented procedure, currently in marketing stage, has been developed thanks to a project of the Centre for Industrial Technological Development and to the collaboration of Tecselor S.L.

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