Plasma activated water (PAW) has rapidly emerged as a promising alternative to traditional sanitizers applied in the fresh produce industry. In the present study, PAW chemistry and storage stability were assessed as a function of plasma operating conditions. Increasing plasma exposure time (5, 12.5, 20 min) and power (16, 26, 36 W) led to a significant drop in pH (2.4) and higher nitrates and nitrites levels (320 and 7.2 mg/L, respectively) in the PAW. Non-detectable hydrogen peroxide concentration, irrespective of the treatment conditions, was attributed to its instability in acidic environments and the remote PAW generation mode. pH, nitrates and nitrites levels in the PAW remained unaffected after two weeks at 4 °C. The potential of PAW for microbial inactivation and quality retention was demonstrated on baby spinach leaves. Rinsing steps influenced colour development during chilled storage to a greater extent than PAW treatment itself. About 1 log reduction in total bacterial counts (5 log CFU/g) was achieved through PAW rinsing, with no variability after eight days at 4 °C (typical shelf-life at retailers). Moreover, microbial levels on PAW-treated samples after storage were significantly lower than those on control samples, thus contributing to extended product shelf-life and reduced food waste generation.
Keywords: PAW composition; PAW storage stability; baby spinach leaves; colour; disinfectant; exposure time; fresh produce; plasma activated water (PAW); plasma power; ready to eat; shelf-life; total bacterial counts.