Original Paper Applied Microbial and Cell Physiology

Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 148-157

First online:

Killing of microorganisms by pulsed electric fields

  • T. GrahlAffiliated withArbeitsbereich Biotechnologie I, Bioprozeß- und Bioverfahrenstechnik, Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg
  • , H. MärklAffiliated withArbeitsbereich Biotechnologie I, Bioprozeß- und Bioverfahrenstechnik, Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg

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Lethal effects of pulsed electric fields (PEF) on suspensions of various bacteria, yeast, and spores in buffer solutions and liquid foodstuffs were examined. Living-cell counts of vegetative cell types were reduced by PEF treatment by up to more than four orders of magnitude (> 99.99%). On the other hand, endoand ascospores were not inactivated or killed to any great extent. The killing of vegetative cell types depends on the electrical field strength of the pulses and on the treatment time (the product of the pulse number and the decay time constant of the pulses). For each cell type, a specific critical electric field strength (E c) and a specific critical treatment time (t c) were determined. Above these critical values, the fractions of surviving cells were reduced drastically. The “limits” E c and t c depend on the cell characteristics as well as on the type of medium in which the cells are suspended. Especially in acid media living-cell counts were sufficiently decreased at very low energy inputs. In addition to the inactivation of microorganisms, the effect of PEF on food components such as whey proteins, enzymes and vitamins, and on the taste of foodstuffs was studied. The degree of destruction of these food components by PEF was very low or negligible. Moreover, no significant deterioration of the taste of foodstuffs was detected after PEF treatment. Disintegration of cells by PEF treatment in order to harvest intracellular products was also studied. Yeast cells, suspended in buffer solution, were not disintegrated by electric pulses. Hence, PEF treatment is an excellent process for inactivation of microorganisms in acid and in thermosensive media, but not for complete disintegration of microbial cells.