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Can Sound Destroy Bacteria? Here’s What’s New in the Food Industry

An alternative to the traditional chlorine wash and thermal processing of food

Photo by CDC from Unsplash

Imagine putting your food in the microwave like you always do, but this time your food also gets bombarded by sound waves to make sure it’s safe to eat.

You know how the military uses specifically designed filtered bottles to get water from any source, whether it’s clean or dirty?

Well, think of something similar for your food, but using sound as you filter.

And those are sounds you can’t even hear. They’re above our audible range.


Getting quality meat with an ultrasound treatment

Researchers at the Fort Valley State University have been studying the effects of sound frequencies on meat infected with E. choli bacteria.

Remember that E. choli lives in our intestines, and most types are harmless, but some can cause severe damage, especially in young and older adults.

Meat is usually washed in chlorine and other disinfectants to remove harmful bacteria (like E.choli) but this practice brings some concerns:

  • Certain bacteria, like listeria and salmonella, are not 100% eliminated after a chlorine wash. And after it, detecting the bacteria in labs is almost impossible.
  • Relying solely on a chlorine wash can encourage farmers to keep poor standards during the rest of the production process.

This brings us to the use of sound as a substitute disinfectant for meat.

The lead researcher Dr. Mahapatra and his team used sound frequencies above 20,000 kHz to kill E.choli in goat meat.

They call this process, sonication. They expose meat to ultrasound waves for 20 minutes which allows them to kill 88% of the E.choli in goat meat.

It’s the first time that sound has been used to kill E.choli bacteria!

To raise the effectiveness of this treatment of meat, they added 30 seconds of pulsed ultraviolet light after those 20 minutes of sonication.

And the results?

A higher effectiveness! They achieved 99% of E.choli reduction with these combined techniques.

Using sound in this manner is certainly innovative and preliminary results are promising.

And it’s one step further along the idea of having sound as a filter or disinfectant at home for everyday use.

How can we improve the efficiency of sonication?

Today we use mainly the processes of pasteurization and sterilization to inactivate microorganisms in food.

But in this thermal process, we lose nutrients and develop undesirable flavors so we need a more cost-efficient and eco-friendly solution.

Ultrasound treatment could be that alternative.

If researchers can combine it with pressure treatment (manosonication) or heat treatment (thermosonication), they’re confident that any resistance from microorganisms to these effects can be overcome.

By combining these techniques and ensure a product is safe for human consumption, we’ll need less time and exposure frequency than if we used them separately.

It’s like the saying, stronger together, right?

Future applications

Ultrasound has been successfully used to kill E.choli in goat meat, and this is just the beginning.

We’re essentially using high-frequency sounds to kill bacteria like an opera singer would shatter a glass of wine.

That’s literally shaking the bacteria until it dies.

And now think of applying this technology to viruses.

What if we’re able to calculate the resonant frequency, the frequency at which the oscillation amplitude of an object is greatest, of a virus’ shell and induce such a vibration that will eventually destroy it?

Physicist Otto Sankey and his student Eric Dykeman have developed a more efficient way to calculate these vibrational motions of every atom in a virus’ shell.

For instance, these researchers calculated that the tobacco necrosis virus resonates strongly at 60 Gigahertz. Once they know the resonant frequency they can find a way to induce such a motion that will neutralize it for good.

We would be able to develop a technology that is much safer for patients, reducing all those awful side-effects drugs usually have on us. Plus, viruses would be less likely to develop resistance to this kind of treatment.

Sound treatments seem to be the future of the food and health industry.


By Pavle Marinkovic on .

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