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posted on 12.02.2019 by Lei Xu

Multiple studies have demonstrated atmospheric cold plasma (ACP) as an effective non-thermal technology for microbial decontamination, surface modification, and functionality alteration in food processing and packaging. ACP constitutes charged particles, such as positive and negative ions, electrons, quanta of electromagnetic radiation, and excited and non-excited molecules, which corresponds to its predominant reactive properties. However, in many of these applications, the interactions between plasma and the components in food matrix are not well-understood. The overall goals of this dissertation were to 1) evaluate the interactions between high voltage atmospheric cold plasma (HVACP) and microbes in liquid and semi-solid food; 2) investigate plasma transfer into semi-solid foods and determine the relationship between microbial inactivation and plasma transfer; 3) explore the interactions between plasma and proteins.

The first study explored the microbial (Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium, S. enterica) inactivation efficacy of HVACP. The physicochemical interactions between HVACP and biomolecules, including an enzyme (pectin methylesterase, PME), vitamin C and other components in orange juice (OJ) under different conditions was also evaluated. Both direct and indirect HVACP treatment of 25 mL OJ induced greater than a 5 log reduction in S. enterica following 30 s of treatment with air and MA65 gas with no storage. For 50 mL OJ, 120 s of direct HVACP treatment followed by 24 h storage achieved S. enterica reductions of 2.9 log in air and 4.7 log in MA65 gas. An indirect HVACP treatment of 120 s followed by 24 hours storage resulted in a 2.2 log reduction in air and a 3.8 log reduction in MA65. No significant (P < 0.05) Brix or pH change occurred following 120 s HVACP treatment. HVACP direct treatment reduced vitamin C content by 56% in air and PME activity by 74% in air and 82% in MA65. These results demonstrated that HVACP can significantly reduce Salmonella in OJ with minimal quality degradation.

The second study in this dissertation examined the penetration process of plasma into semi-solid food and the resulting microbial inactivation efficacy. Agar gels of various densities (0.25, 0.5, 1.0, and 2%) with a pH indicator were inoculated with S. enterica (107>CFU) and exposed directly (between the electrode) or indirectly (adjacent to the plasma field created between the two electrodes) to 90 kV at 60 Hz for up to 1.5 h. A long treatment time (1.5 h) caused sample temperature to increase 5~10 °C. The microbial analysis indicated a greater than 6 log10 (CFU) reduction (both with air and MA65) in the zone with a pH change. Inactivation of bioluminescence cells in the plasma penetrated zone confirmed that the plasma, and its generated reactive species, inactivate microbial as it penetrates into the gel. A two-minute HVACP direct treatment with air at 90 kV induced greater than 5 log10 (CFU) S. enterica reduction in applesauce.

The third study investigated the interactions between HVACP and protein, using bovine serum albumin (BSA) as a model protein. The physicochemical and structural alteration of BSA and its reaction mechanism, when subjected to HVACP, were investigated. After treating 10 mL of BSA solution (50 mg/mL) at 90 kV for 20, 40, or 60 min, we characterized structural alteration and side-group modification. FTIR spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, and circular dichroism analysis indicated protein unfolding and decreased secondary structure (25 % loss of α-helix, 12% loss of β-sheet) in HVACP treated BSA. Average particle size in the protein solutions increased from 10 nm to 113 µm, with a broader distribution after 60 min HVACP treatment indicating protein aggregation. SDS-PAGE and mass spectrometer analysis observed a formation of new peptides of 1 to 10 kDa, indicating that the plasma triggered peptide bond cleavage. Chemical analysis and mass spectrometer results confirmed the plasma modifications on the side chains of amino acids. This study reveals that HVACP treatment may effectively introduce structural alteration, protein aggregation, peptide cleavage, and side-group modification to proteins in aqueous conditions, through several physicochemical interactions between plasma reactive species (reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species) and the proteins. This finding can be readily applied to other plasma-protein studies or applications in the food system, such as enzyme inactivation or protein-based film modifications.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Food Science

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Bernard Tao

Additional Committee Member 2

Allen L. Garner

Additional Committee Member 3

Kevin M. Keener

Additional Committee Member 4

Brian Farkas

Additional Committee Member 5

Bruce Applegate