You walk into the grocery store, you bag up a few apples or oranges or mangoes, cross them off your shopping list and then go on about your business.
Well, that fruit came from somewhere – and a merchant had to cut through all sorts of red tape to get it from that somewhere to your kitchen. One of the most critical – and expensive – steps in that process is making sure there are no foreign insects catching a ride on that fruit.
Dr. Suresh Pillai is a professor of microbiology and food safety at Texas A&M University. He plans to revolutionize that process with his electron beam – the electron gun takes electrons and accelerates them almost to the speed of light, and then can be used to break up the DNA of insects that could be on or in your mangoes – all without harming the fruit itself.
“You fine-tune the dose like a radio dial – you change the different settings and you have different settings,” he says. “In fact, the larger the insect – the easier it is to inactivate them. So actually insects like fruit flies require a very little dose compared to a microbial pathogen such as salmonella.”
Many people don’t recognize how strenuous the other insect-removing processes are. Pillai says the fruits would have to be treated either with chemicals or hot water – which could expose the population to chemical residues or destroy the fruit. Without these treatments – the insects could wipe out U.S. agriculture altogether.
“So by using an electron beam we can actually get a fruit that’s much more ripe and then you don’t have any chemical residues,” Pillai says. “This is the most – in my opinion – the most natural product because we are all made up of electrons.”
Some wonder whether the electron beam technology is the same as radioactivity technology. Pillai dismantles that – saying that while both technologies are on the electromagnetic spectrum, you don’t need to be shielded against an electron beam like you do with an x-ray.
“Obviously the room has to be closed so that the workers around the technology are not exposed,” Pillai says. “It’s no different than a microwave oven that when it’s operating you close the door – but there is no residual radioactivity of the fruit.”
The electron beam technology is currently being used all around the world. Even medical devices are being sterilized using this technology. Pillai is currently working to empower private businesses to use this technology in many ways.
“It’s actually a very green technology – so your carbon footprint is significantly minimized,” he says. “It’s very cost effective – so from a business standpoint – there’s a very high value in companies adopting this technology.”
Written by Amber Chavez.