Scientists have found a promising new way to sterilize blueberries. The tasty blue fruit filled with antioxidants can also be a carrier of human norovirus which causes food borne illnesses which can be difficult to cleanse out of produce without changing its' texture and flavor. The new method uses a purple plasma which reaches every part of the fruit, sterilizing it thoroughly.
The work is “very promising,” says Peter Bruggeman, a mechanical engineer at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who was not involved in the study. Plasma has an advantage over other sterilizing technologies like ultraviolet radiation, he says, because the ionized gas can reach every nook in which norovirus might hide on the surface of the berries.
To keep produce clean, companies run water-quality tests and try to make sure their equipment is sanitized. In some cases, workers use chemical washes on fruit, which can leave behind toxic residues and don’t remove some harmful pathogens like norovirus. Just a few infected berries can start an outbreak. The developers hope to have the device in producer's hands in the next 3-5 years.