Improving food quality one light at a time

by ChaNae Bradley

Posted on Dec 06, 2017

Dr. Ajit Mahapatra speaks to students and research assistant about the benefits of using UV light to decontaminate food surfaces.

Dr. Ajit Mahapatra speaks to students and research assistant about the benefits of using UV light to decontaminate food surfaces.

Fort Valley State University aims to make a mark in food safety research with the help of a new pulsed ultraviolet light system that could aid in the decontamination of foods and extend shelf life without heat or chemical preservatives.

The $35,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture funded device is used to conduct research and aid in student learning experiences. It is located in the food engineering lab at the Houston Stallworth Agricultural Research Station on campus. 

Dr. Ajit Mahapatra, FVSU associate professor of food and bioprocess engineering, said the XENON pulsed UV-light, Z-1000 modular sterilization system is unique because it’s a safer and more sanitary method for rapidly killing microorganisms on food surfaces. It’s a non-thermal and non-chemical technology.

Mahapatra and his research assistant, Hema Degala, agreed that the pulsed UV-light is more efficient than the continuous UV-C light because it offers better penetration potential through food products. Pulsed UV-light can kill up to 99.9 percent of pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms, molds, parasites and insects. It can also be used for killing bacteria on surfaces of food packaging materials. The continuous UVC light did not offer the same qualities.

“It doesn’t leave any off flavor,” Degala explained.

Not only is the taste not affected, the pulsed UV-light also doesn’t alter any other properties.

“It has less impact in changing the color of the food and texture, and it doesn’t increase the temperature of the food because of the short duration of exposure to the light pulses,” Mahapatra added. This is important because the appearance and texture of foods influence what consumers select to eat.

Additionally, Mahapatra said the use of the pulsed UV-light could make a huge impact in the food industry for decontaminating not only meat products, but also liquids and vegetables.

He said the technology started with sterilizing indoor air and equipment in hospitals and then moved to liquid foods.

“It’s more effective on liquid foods than solid foods,” he said. One of the drawbacks with the technology is that the pulsed UV-light only sterilizes the surface; however, Mahapatra said most microorganisms live on the surface only.

Furthermore, Mahapatra said the pulsed UV-light is a great opportunity for student training so that they can get hands-on experience.

FVSU biotechnology graduate students Richa Arya and Madalyn Bryant expressed how this new equipment will impact their studies.

“Whatever we’re learning here, we can implement in the food industry and use to enhance our information and incorporate many techniques,” Arya said.

Bryant said they are able to take this information out into communities and explain how to prevent different foodborne illnesses and share how to properly store food.

In addition, the pulsed UV-light could aid in preventing foodborne illnesses by killing microorganisms such as Escherichia coli. Degala said for research, their focus will be on E. coli O157:H7. Most cases of an outbreak are caused by this particular strain common to the United States.

“Most of the meat products will be contaminated with this kind of bacteria, but it can also contaminate other food products due to improper handling,” Degala said.

To help with decontamination, the pulsed UV-light can offer high-speed sterilization.

“There is no doubt that we have improved our level of research from common washing methods to the level of pulsed UV-light in our food engineering lab,” Degala said.

For more information about the pulsed UV-light sterilization of foods, contact Mahapatra at (478) 825-6809 or

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  • FVSU Agriculture College