Atmospheric-pressure low-temperature plasma (APLTP) was used to study the bactericidal mechanism against Escherichia coli (E. coli) and its application in the sterilization of fresh-cut cucumbers. The morphological changes of E. coli cells subjected to APLTP were observed by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Cell death was evaluated by fluorescence microscopy (FM). Cell membrane permeability was measured by conductivity changes, and the amount of soluble protein leakage in the bacterial supernatant was determined by measurement of protein concentration. Additionally, the effects of APLTP on the physicochemical and sensory quality of fresh-cut cucumber were studied by assessing the changes of moisture content, soluble solid content (SSC), pH value, color, relative conductivity, malondialdehyde (MDA) level, vitamin C (Vc) content, aroma composition and microstructure. The results showed that the E. coli cell morphology was changed due to the charged particles and active components produced by APLTP. The E. coli cell wall and cell membrane ruptured, cell content leaked out, cells lost the ability to reproduce and self-replicate, and the function of cell metabolism was directly affected and led to E. coli inactivation. In addition, there was no significant effect on physicochemical properties and sensory quality of fresh-cut cucumbers.
Keywords: E. coli; atmospheric-pressure low-temperature plasma (APLTP); bactericidal mechanism; fresh-cut cucumber.